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In part 1 of Using Technology to Tame Your Email Inbox, I discussed email management, both a methodology and a new tool I love.  There is another type of technology that takes communication you receive in one format, such as time-sensitive emails, or DMs on Twitter, and turns them into different communications that are more likely to alert you to their existence (such as phone or text).  In theory, these tools free you from having to check email “all the time,” while still being alerted to important messages.  Some examples are a new service called AwayFind, and the Twitter and Facebook settings that allow you to get status updates by text or email.

When I try any new tool, I ask myself an important question: will this support or sabotage personal productivity?

One one hand, I agree that being chained to your email or other communication medium by the fear that you may miss something important is inefficient and unproductive.  However I think that these solutions will actually exacerbate the problem.  I believe these services create four problems for your productivity (your ability to achieve your significant results.)

First and most importantly: email and social media should not be used as immediate communication devices.  If people send you urgent or time-sensitive information this way, and it works, they will continue to do it, virtually guaranteeing that the problem of being chained to these channels will continue (and even if you’re using these services, if you allow this behavior to continue, pretty soon your phone will be ringing off the hook about urgent emails – not exactly more productive.)  The most efficient way to free yourself from the chains of email is with your own behavior.  First, have a good email management methodology, such as the Review, Process, Do process I mentioned yesterday and also detailed in my book.  Second, remember that people will do what works. If they need you for a time-sensitive or urgent issue and you don’t respond to their email, they’ll try another communication vehicle.  And the one that works is the one they’ll probably use next time.  So “train” them in the way you’d prefer to be contacted for time-sensitive information.

The second reason I don’t think these tools will add to your productivity is because they increase the amount of communication you get by duplicating your initial message, like email, into some other format, which means more communications for you to process.

The third problem with these “alert” services is that they encourage you to create more distractions for yourself.  You literally program them to interrupt you with some piece of information that you’ve received, instead of reinforcing the more productive habit of checking it when it’s convenient for you.  This sets you up to allow your attention to be stolen, and means that your technology is in control of you, rather than the other way around.

Lastly, the amount of time it takes to decide what you want to interrupt you, and set the filtering in these tools, is time better spent on working toward your significant results.

The real reason that email and, in some cases, social media, is so overwhelming is that most people spend all of their time “skimming” messages, but virtually no time “processing” them.  There are some technologies that can help you manage your communications better, and these “alert” services might be a perfect solution for some people.  But for most, I believe they’ll just create more distraction.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading!

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