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10.TyrannyOfEmail

10.TyrannyOfEmail

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Published by Jefferson Andrade

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Published by: Jefferson Andrade on Sep 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/20/2014

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by Ole Eichhorn
The Tyranny of Email
Email is one of the greatest things the computer revolutionhas done for personal productivity. Used improperly, it canalso hurt your productivity. This article discusses ways to useemail effectively. Then it goes beyond that and talks about how to be productive, period. 
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When Email Goes Bad
I'm not going to list all the reasons email is good. You know them already: I assume you arean avid email user. I'm also not going to tell you email is evil, because it isn't. The nega-tive productivity impact of email comes from the way you use it, not the medium itself.There are two ways email impairs your productivity:
1. It breaks your concentration.2. It misleads you into inefficient problem-solving.
Let's take the concentration impact first. I'm a software engineer, and programming requiresextended periods of concentration. Actually, this isn't unique to programming, a lot of fieldsrequire that you concentrate. (Probably just about everything worth doing requires someconcentration!)
I maintain that programming cannot be done in less than three-hour windows. It takesthree hours to spin up to speed, gather your concentration, shift into "right brainmode," and really focus on a problem. Effective programmers organize their day tohave at least one three-hour window, and hopefully two or three. (This is why goodprogrammers often work late at night. They don't get interrupted as much....)
One of the key attributes of email is that it queues messages. Unlike face-to-face conversa-tion and phone calls, people can communicate via email without both paying attention at thesame time. You pick the moments at which you pay attention to email. But many people leavetheir email client running continuously. This is the biggest, baddest reason why email hurtsyour productivity. If you leave your email client running, it means anyone anytime can inter-
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rupt what you're doing. Essentially, they pick the moments at which you pay attention. (Evensome random spammer who is sending you a crappy ad for a get-rich scheme.) This is bad.There are three stages to this badness. Stage one is configuring your email client to presentalerts when you receive an email. Don't do this. Stage two is configuring your email client tomake noise when you receive an email. Don't do this. Stage three is running your email clientall the time. Don't do this, either. To be effective, you must pick the moments at which you'regoing to receive email. I know this goes against common wisdom. Just about everyone I knowruns their client all the time, has it configured to make noise, and may even have it presentalerts when an email is received. Don't do it.Spam is the best kind of email to get, because you look at it quickly, see that it's spam, anddelete it. Then you get back to work. Personal email is the second best kind of email to get,because you either respond quickly ("Hi Jane, great hearing from you. See you at the clubtonight.") or set it aside for later. Task-oriented work email is the worst kind of email to get.It often requires thought, and because it is work there is some immediacy to it. But as soonas you take the time to respond, you've interrupted yourself. You've shifted back to "left brainmode," and you've lost the thread of your concentration.
Unlike
face-to-face
conversation and
phone calls
,people can communicate via
email
 
 without
bothboth
paying attention
at the
same time
. You pick the moments at which you pay attention to email.
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