@Max: Oh the joys of the good old days. When I first worked at London Transport Research Laboratories.
I well remember having to ask my head of department if I could have a chit(hand written) to have my hand written, in pencil, report typed by one of the ladies in the typing pool, along with a covering letter. The typeing would take a day and probably required changes taking another day. The final report then went to the head of department for his siganture to be appended to mine, another day, and then the whole thing went to the post room for dispatch another day.
Memos were hand written and went in the internal post and took on average two days to cross London.
Any number of phone calls were allowed if internal, 2 local external calls were considered maximum per day. Calls out of England were only made via the head of the laboratories phone.
Computer PDP 11 not connected to external internet.
Talk about being able to focus on a task, I think I was never more productive than then.
@Crusty: Oh the joys of the good old days. When I first worked at London Transport Research Laboratories.
Hi Crusty -- how is life at Crusty Mansions? I trust Mrs. Crusty is in good voice (LOL) I remember when I went on my first co-op placement as a student -- we had to beg permission to make an external phone call and we were billed for any calls we made at the end of the month...
Crusty Mansion is again under siege from the builders.
Whilst much of America has been blasted into the deep free, England has been lashed with wind and rain storms of 50 to 100 year severity, no doubt your Mum can tell you about it.
Christmas Eve found us with buckets an mops collecting the rain as best we could, that had come through the first floor window frames. The 50 year old lead flashings had finaly decided enough was enough and the little dribbles we had not noticed turned into torrents that could not now be missed.
Suffice to say my attic workshop aka (pleasure dome) has now become a resting place for all the two upstair bedrooms, which have had to be vacated so the windows can be pulled out and reset with new lead flashings, along with general repairs to all the roof bits that could leak water in the future.
Blogging has had to go on hold while I project manage the builders and get state of the art building materials in to replace the old and tired structures.
I have pictures but they might frighten our readers with a delicate nature.
Once the building repairs are complete then the redecoration will have to be done.
Looks like I will be picking up e-mails at lunch time only, now was that not the whole point of your article?
@Crusty: ...I have pictures but they might frighten our readers with a delicate nature....
I'm sure they would, but let's focus on the problems with your house. Seriously, I'm terribly sorry to hear about your trials and tribulations, and I hope you get thing ssorted out real soon -- maybe afterwards you can think about taking a vacation ... how about coming to EE Live! 2014 at the end of March?
I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.
Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.
On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every three months. So if you want to write to me about any topic, please use good ol' snail mail and send a letter to the following address:
Prof. Donald E. Knuth Computer Science Department Gates Building 4B Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305-9045 USA.
@ Bill Holland: Don Knuth famously closed his email account on January 1, 1990...
Quite some time ago (10 or more years I think), I was invited to a Computer History Museum occasion in CA when Konrad Zuse was elected to the Hall of Fame (posthumously, of course -- I was invited by Konrad's son, Horst Zuse).
As part of this there were several speeches by people who one would class as "pioneers of computing". As part of his presentation, one old guy said that he was tremendously proud of all that he had achieved, and he was amazed by the ways in which computers and technology in general had evolved, but that one of the happiest times in his life was when he retired and got rid of his cell phone and email account.
He pointed out that now people couldn't leave things until the last minute before dumping them on him. If they wanted him to talk at something like this induction ceremony, for example, they had to think about it long in advance and write him a letter. As the years go by I think about this more and more... LOL
Your thesis reminds me a bit of a "time management tip" that circulated around the office a decade or two ago. It was a picture of someone shooting his telephone. Now that instant messaging and email have replaced the phone for quick communications, perhaps that graphic should be revised.
Let us know how your experiment works out. Quantify, if possible.
Note: posting this comment will automatically generate a notification email to you. My apologies.
Max, try turning off the bings. That wah, you only know that hou have a new message when you take the time to look. Then, process them in batches, say once an hour. remember it mail, which is not real time. Unfortunately, some people think mail is real time. Even texting isn;t real time. (tell that to a teenager).
Do NOT read your email before you go home. 9 times out of 10 there will be something you just have to do something about and cannot do it till the next day. And will definitely disturb your evening.
I went to another city for a wedding recently and was away for 5 days. I did borrow my firend's computer to book a hire car, but apart from that did not look at anything on the computer for the whole 5 days. I missed EETimes more than the email, but managed fine without both. As long as you're busy with something else, it's not difficult.
So true..checking your emails at home immidiately raises the stress levels. Yesterday my husband came home late evening and checked his emails and opened a status xl sent by his manager and said "oh my god I have many actions open need to go back and fix it". And he went back to office. Was thinking if he hadnt checked emails at home his stress would be less.
A few years back, the British IT news site, The Register UK, had a story on a mid-sized British company whose owner had forbidden email. After looking at things, he decided the time his people were spending reading and replying to email was far better spent staying close to the firm's customers, and being sure they were happy and their needs were met, so they would stay customers. After the iniyial "What?! How can you work without email?" response, I thought about it and said, "You know, he's got a point."
Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, and most of us are fooling ourselves when we think so. We aren't anywhere near as good as we'd like to believe.
In computer terms, the reasons are simple.
First, context switches are expensive. When a process is interrupted, the system must save its state, handle what ever the interrupt was, then restore the previous state and resume. Computers can do that far faster than humans, and even a computer can suffer if there are too many interrupts, and things slow down because it's spending more time and effort context switching than it is on any particular process. For humans, the same issue is an order of magnitude worse.
Second, how is state saved? Often on a stack. If the stack isn't large enough, or something trashes it, the system might have Pushed, but all Hell breaks loose when it tries to Pop. In humans, the stack is usually short term memory. How many times has an interruption completely derailed your train of thought, leaving you groping for what you were doing before it occurs? How much of your time was spent recovering?
People who think they are good at multi-tasking will be sobered if they actually do the analysis about how much they accomplish trying to multi-task vs how mush they accomplish if they concentrate on one thing at a time and finish it.
On a different line, at a previous employer, I flatly refused to install the IM client IT staffers were supposed to use to stay in touch with users and each other. My job often required me to spend concentrated time thinking through an issue and developing a solution. I got too many interruptions as it was. The issue was finally put to rest in an IT conference call where a co-worrker said "The nice thing about Dennis is that if he's at his desk, he picks up the phone first ring. If he doesn't pick up, he's not at his desk, and you won't get him in IM, either." Bless him.
I broke myself of the habit of obsessing about missing phone calls decades ago. "Gee. I just missed a call. If it's that important, they'll call back." I feel the same way about email. It can damn well wait till I get around to it. If it's so important it requires an immediate response, call me. Otherwise, I'll respond when I can. (And I can't offhand recall any email, business or private, that couldn't wait till I got to it.)
I take pains to classify my email, and make sure I see important stuff, and that the important stuff does get answered. I don't obsess about how quickly that happens. Depending on circumstances, it might be immediately, or it might be later or a day or so. The important thing is that folks I deal with know I will answer.
Robert Townsend had some sage advice on related topics in his book "Up the Organization", a memoir of his time as CEO of Avis Rent A Car in the days it was a distant number two to Hertz, and came up with the legendary "We Try Harder" campaign. Among other things he arranged his day in blocks. There were blocks for concentration on things to be dealt with, where he did not answer the phone. Calls during that time were handled by his assistant, who said "He's not available at the moment. May he call you back?" (and asked that before she asked who was calling.) She noted all names and numbers, and when he was available, he returned the calls in the order received, and it didn't matter who the caller was. You called him? He returned your call. He suggested other CEOs might try calling themselves from outside to see what obstacles they had placed in the path of people trying to reach them. (It might be very important indeed, but you won't know because the caller couldn't reach you.)
Substitute "read and reply to email" for "answer the phone" above, and the advice is still applicable. You learn to prioritize on a project as an engineer, and concentrate on the most important current part. The same applies to everyhing surrounding the project. Email might not be the most important thing you have to do at any parrticular moment, and it can wait.
I forwarded your blog to my chum Erik, a senior electronic engineer at CERN and he told me that he had already heard about checking email only three times a day in management courses. He had already disabled the pings and pop-ups for new emails, and he is now considering to be stronger and testing your new email policy too ;-)
About myself... I've just acquired my first smartphone, and the temptation of being continuosly connected is so strong for trying this -- shame on me!
Jack wrote an article about removing distractions while doing things that require intense focus, such as coding. I think I remembered he suggested to shut off the email/IM app's, unplug the phone, and put tape with a sign across your cubicle opening saying "Do not disturb until xx:xx". And he also agrees with someone's research which shows that it would pay for employers to give all developers an office with a closeable door as opposed to being forced to work in the distraction-ridden cubicle farm. I couldn't agree more. Especially after my last experience having to listen to someone sniffling every 10 seconds for days instead of simply blowing their nose to eliminate the problem. Drove me absolutely insane. I had to leave work to buy a set of earphones so I could listen to white noise on YouTube while working to block it out.
I check it first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and right before I go home.
That, IMHO, is often enough to be somewhat responsive but not so often that it's a distraction. The reason that is difficult is because I have a 12 year archive of email messages that needs to be referenced several times/day. This often causes a perturbation to my 3x rule...
Now, this would be a tough rule for people who basically do nothing but check their email all day ;-)
OK. Either I am getting older or wiser. But I believe that all of these recommendations as it relates to checking your emails and taking your work, home were presented in articles years ago when many people started using email like they now use text messages today. Very interesting. But I must admit, I am one who must check his email regularly...And yes, I do have a wonderful family and we do have regular sit down family dinner at night with the children (just like my parents use to do). I think it has to do something with a word "balance."
I believe that turning off email for blocks of time during the day is the most sustainable approach. It provides period for accomplishing tasks that require concentration and thinking. At the same time, periodic access to email prevents a flood from building up that is not sustainable. Taking a vacation from email for a few days is great ... until you return to a thousand emails and are wedded to the computer screen for the next two days. The other critical approach is to seriously explore ways to reduce the email volume. How many of the emails are under your control to stop? If they are not necessary, they should be unsubscribed. That frees up a little more bandwidth for the interesting email from readers and for the email that matters. All too often I hear about people with thousands of emails - and then discover they're being flooded with alerts and reports that they delete upon receipt (rather than blocking them at the source).
Hello, I completly agree with your comment & the article. I myself does the same & found tremendous improvement in my productivity. Many times I found that - if we donot reply to a email immediately, some one else will reply & after that you donot even need to reply to that. (offcourse email should not be intended to you only)...
& I extensively improve my email filters so I can separate useful emails from all of the emails.