The other day, as I was IMing with a couple friends, filling out a forwarded “10-things-you-didn’t-know-about-me” survey and replying to a group email thread, I got to thinking, what did people do before all email, IM, and YouTube? Maybe they actually got all their work done.
It is important to take short breaks from work to stretch, take your eyes off the computer and your mind off work for a couple minutes. Taking too much time away from work to do other computer related activities is not such a good idea, however. Excessive IMing, MySpacing, YouTubing, and email forwarding during the work day can be addicting, incredibly distracting, and ultimately dangerous to your ergonomic health. I am guilty of it, I must admit. We all are.
Jakob Nielsen, the usability guru, gives 6 tips for time management at work and avoiding information overload:
In most companies, employees squander an hour or more each day simply “doing email.”
All time-management courses boil down to one basic piece of advice: set priorities and allocate the bulk of your time to tasks that are crucial to meeting your goals. Minimize interruptions and spend big chunks of your time in productive and creative activity.
Unfortunately, current information systems encourage the opposite approach, leading to an interrupt-driven workday and reduced productivity. Here are six steps to regaining control of your day:
- Don’t check your email all the time. Set aside special breaks between bigger projects to handle email. Don’t let email interrupt your projects, and don’t let the computer dictate your priorities. Turn off your email program’s “Biff” feature (the annoying bell or screen flash that notifies you every time an email message arrives). If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, go to Tools > Options > Preferences > E-mail Options and uncheck “Display a notification message when new mail arrives.”
- Don’t use “reply to all” when responding to email. Abide by the good old “need to know” principle that’s so beloved by the military and send follow-up messages only to those people who will actually benefit from the reply.
- Write informative subject lines for your email messages. Assume that the recipient is too busy to open messages with lame titles like “hi.”
- Create a special email address for personal messages and newsletters. Only check this account once per day. (If you’re geeky enough to master filtering, use filters to sort and prioritize your email. Unfortunately, this is currently too difficult for average users.)
- Write short. J. K. Rowling is not a good role model for email writers.
- Avoid IM (instant messaging) unless real-time interaction will truly add value to the communication. A one-minute interruption of your colleagues will cost them ten minutes of productivity as they reestablish their mental context and get back into “flow.” Only the most important messages are worth 1,000 percent in overhead costs.