In the world of twitter, facebook, email, cell phones and IM, I sometimes wonder how anybody gets anything done. Too many studies to count mention the effects of multi-tasking and interruptions on getting work done. Think about it for a moment – you’re deep in thought writing code, testing a complex feature, or writing an important paper. Your IM window pops up with a friend asking if you’re free next Thursday for lunch, or you’re distracted by a phone call from your mother. You stop to deal with the questions and get back to work…sort of. The problem is that a few minutes ago you were “in the zone”. Now, you need to take 10-15 minutes to get you back in the zone. Get interrupted enough, and a whole day is gone and you don’t have much (if anything) to show for it.
My feeling is that if you want to be productive, you need to allow yourself to stay in the zone. this means that you have to turn off reminders, turn off popup messages – and focus on your work. I just wiped my laptop this week and installed the Windows 7 RC (which is fantastic). I also installed office, and immediately brought up the taskbar context menu for outlook and turned off all of the ways it wants to keep me informed. I swear turning off these four checkboxes gives me an extra 5-8 hours of productivity per-week.
look – no checks
Then (after I mute my phone, and turn make sure Office Communicator is on “do not disturb”, when I want to focus and crank out work, nothing is left to distract me. I can get in the zone and stay in the zone. If I didn’t do this, I’d never complete anything other than the most trivial projects.
Of course, I don’t work like this 40 hours a week. I have plenty of work that lends itself well to interruptions (catching up on blog reading, cleaning out my inbox, reading and posting to twitter, reading research papers, etc.). So, if I know I’m in a situation where I have the potential to be interrupted, I choose to work on interruptible tasks. I can’t imagine what my day would be like if I didn’t do this, but I see people all the time who allow themselves to be interrupted far to often when they’re doing work that suffers from interruptions.
I’m not saying I’m a pro, but it’s something I work on. It’s funny (and sort of weird) that I get a lot of personal satisfaction from working through my todo list and keeping my inbox empty. If I didn’t have a plan, I’d never get it done.
But that’s just me.