An interrupt or interest driven day?

A couple of days ago I was attempting to finish off some work when Outlook’s cheery notification chime prompted my Amygdala to seize control of my mousing hand and force me to verify that yes, I could indeed get “ridiculous crazy cheap Viarga[sic] right to my box”.

It was around about this point when I was confronted by the realisation that my irrational need to not miss a single update of anything had dis-empowered me into letting my services dictate to me when they would take my attention away from what I was doing.

So what was interrupting me? Well, more than I was expecting as it turned out. Just off the top of my head I came up with:

  • Outlook (via built in email and calendar notifications)
  • MSN/GTalk (via the Digsby client)
  • Gmail (via the Digsby client and Firefox add on)
  • Twitter (via Tweetdeck)
  • Yammer (via Yammer Air Client)
  • Google Reader (via Firefox notifier)
  • Google Calendar (Via iPod touch notification and web client)

A management facilitator once told me that we generally lose some stupid amount of time in our working day to interruptions – not just the physical time taken by the interruption itself, but the also time to wrench your brain back into the mindset you were in when interrupted.

So while I absolutely want the information from all of these feeds, I want to access it when it is convenient for me.

My initial knee jerk reaction was to just yank all of the notifications. On reflection I realised that this was an overly simplistic view – some services (such as IM) are entirely based around notifications – so I decided to look at it on a case by case basis:

Outlook Calendar and and Goggle Calendar events
In the context of my working day, I actually rely on my calendars to track and remind me of appointments and events, which is a very good example of where an interrupt is appropriate. But maybe I don’t need to be notified in quite so many different ways and places.
Action: Sync Outlook with my Google Calendar and rely on a single source of notification for all of them.

Outlook email
Ideally I only want to look at my emails two or three times a day (where I triage back to a zero inbox), so I neither want or need notifications at all. If people need a fast response to an email that, then they should follow it up with a phone call because they’re using the wrong medium.
Action: Turn of Outlook notifications and poll the client as desired

This is my personal account, so I don’t really want to consolidate it with my work email and contaminate the feed it with all of my work noise, but like Outlook I really only need to check in a couple of times a day.
Action: Remove the notifications from Firefox and Digsby and poll the web client as desired

Google Reader
I generally only want to dip into reader a couple of times a day, so the notification is just a distraction.
Action: Dump the Firefox notification and poll the web client as desired.

The air clients for these feeds are great and bundle up a lot of useful functionality (like instant short URL service), but the medium is a constant flow of data and I want to be able to dip my bucket into it from time to time, not have it dripping on my head all day.

Action: Bin the Air clients and poll the feed in web clients as desired


IM is all about immediate communication – without notification it’s just pointlessly clunky email – so in this case the only real choice isto use it or not use it. I will however continue to use Digsby for both (thereby keeping the different forms of notification to a minimum).

Action: None

So the final setup is as follows:

  • Outlook with no notifications – Calendar synced to GCal which is synced to my iPod. All notifications via iPod
  • Twitter, Yammer, GMail, Google Reader all open in browser tabs with no notifications (poll only)
  • MSN/GTalk configured in Digsby with standard IM notifications

The verdict?  Well it’s better than it was, but it still feels a bit clunky – lo0ks like this is going to be a work in progress.


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