In which I spend a little time talking as though I know something.

Yesterday, at the zombie-uprising commemorative gathering, we were talking about Dave’s current problem with his work laptop – specifically, the fact that he can only access the internet via Internet Explorer 6 (an affliction that I suspect I would quite literally be unable to cope with) – as part of the litany of ill effects this problem caused, he mentioned that he couldn’t use the Google Talk application and parenthetically noted that it was a small blessing that GMail embedded a kind of GTalk-lite that DID still work (albeit in IE *shudder*).

In response, I confessed that while I got a lot of use out of the GMail-embedded version, I had almost no use for the standalone GTalk application.

To which Dave replied, “Which might be because you are ALWAYS flagged as Busy.”

Me, usually.

There was general chuckling at that, because it’s true. I am usually flagged as Busy, but as I explained at the time, that’s entirely intentional.

For me, the Busy flag is there to tell people “Don’t Bother Me Unless It’s Important.” I’m not an inherently anti-social person (somewhat the opposite), but the fact of the matter is, IM conversations require attention and nigh-immediate response, and (except in those situations where someone has decided what they need to talk to me about is important enough to justify ignoring that “Busy” flag) they very rarely deserve it. The “busy” status is my filter – one that I very consciously put in place.

One of the things that I don’t talk about too much is the work I do that pays the bills. It’s not that I dislike it — I find it pretty interesting, actually – but I’m not entirely convinced that other people will (and that’s really saying something, considering some of the niche-obsessions I go on about on here). I’m going to break that non-rule for just a few minutes to talk about one section of one of the classes that I teach, and how it led me to use that Busy Status the way I do.

“Time Management” is sort of the perennial New Hotness in corporate America – a catch-phrase that makes people nod along when it’s mentioned and roll their eyes when no one’s looking. Books like First Things First or Getting Things Done are often quoted, rarely read, and even more rarely put into use.

Time: Ur Doin' It Wrong.
Time: Ur Doin' It Wrong.

I read both books, but only because I was putting together a class on Time Management and my audience (a lot blue-collar guys in management roles) needed to get better at it but were never going to take the time to read a couple books and boil all that stuff down to something they could use. The end result of all that research was a two-hour class during which the students get a blank pocket notebook and a double-sided business card on which I printed the entire ‘manual’ for the class.

Most of that class focuses on Doing, because we suck at Doing.

Between coworkers walking in and babbling away with no provocation, dinging reminders from Outlook, our phones, IM clients, and all that junk, it’s just hard to block out uninterrupted time and then actually use it for whatever task it was intended to be used for.

So here’s a few things I (try to) do that help me DO during those times.

1. Focus on one task at a time.

  • This doesn’t have to go on for hours at a time; for now, just try to block out 30-minute blocks during which you’re devoted to a single task.
  • Eliminate all distractions. That means shut off Twitter, Outlook, Gmail, YIM, AIM, GTalk. Close your door, if you can. Make sure the cat, dog, kids, spouse, and coworker are all are fed.
  • Don’t multi-task, and don’t let yourself get interrupted.

2. Seriously, don’t #*$#ing Multitask.

Multitasking: the fine art of avoiding two things you don’t want to do by working on both of them simultaneously.

The supposed efficiency of multitasking is an illusion — it hurts productivity, increases the chance of error, slows down your reaction time… plus it makes you go bald and lowers the production of pheromones that make you attractive to the opposite sex. Don’t do it.

This man enjoys multi-tasking... and swallowing kittens whole by dislocating his envenomed lower jaw.
This man enjoys multi-tasking... and swallowing kittens whole by dislocating his envenomed lower jaw.

The human brain is amazing in many many ways, but it positively sucks at concentrating on two things at once. As soon as you try, you can practically guarantee you’ll miss something important.

3. Control Who Has Access to You

Stop and think about something for a second: who (barring some kind of technology failure) has unrestricted access to you at virtually any time?

NOT what I meant, and you know it.
NOT what I meant, and you know it.

Ask yourself, seriously, because it says a lot about who you are.

I set my GTalk Status as Busy, because I know that there are very few people who will be comfortable sending me an instant message anyway (provided they feel they have a good reason). Here’s a happy (non-)coincidence: the people that know me well enough to ignore that message are the people on my All Access list.

4. No one else gives a crap if you get your stuff Done.


No they don’t.

Not even that guy. Not her either. No one.

Not even your Boss – who is probably emailing you right now to remind you to get your stuff done – actually gives a crap if you get it done, if they have something they want to ask you right now.

It doesn’t matter if The Stuff You Need To Do is the daily TPS report or the Next Great American Novel; you are the only person who even has even a small chance of caring about getting it done, and the only way to make that happen is to viciously (perhaps anti-socially) defend the blocks of time you set up to Do Things.