Does Instant Messaging Hurt or Help Productivity?

Atlanta Professional Organizer, Allison Carter, recently alerted me to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution entitled "Biz (off)beat: Instant Messaging Among Co-Workers Hikes Productivity" written by Bill Hendrick.

The article describes the results of a research study of 912 people conducted by professor Kelly Garrett of Ohio State and James Danziger of the University of California-Irvine in which they found that instant messaging (IMing) led to fewer interruptions of workers and increased productivity. "The key takeaway is that instant messaging has some benefits where many people had feared it might be harmful," Garrett said. Those in the study who used instant messaging reported being "interrupted less frequently" than colleagues who didn't.

I wonder what each study participant's definition of "interruption" is. Are they referring to the frequency that they received and read emails, answered phone calls, or spoke to a co-worker who stopped by to ask a question? Do they consider each instant message an interruption?

This article reminded me of another that I read called "The Multitasking Generation" in the March, 2006 edition of Time magazine. The piece described the results from studies done by David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognitive, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. He found that "when people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer--often double the time or more--to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially. " Seems to me that answering instant messages while performing other job duties would qualify as "trying to perform two or more related tasks."

As we often see, two different research studies can show two very different results. IMing may reduce the total amount of time a single communication may take, but I question whether it reduces the total quantity of interruptions. Also, the number of in-person interruptions may be decreased by IMing, but does this reduce the number of times per day one's attention is pulled away from the task at hand?

I rarely participate in IMing because I personally enjoy getting absorbed in a task, and I find it a bit difficult to get back into the zone once I'm interrupted. What about you? Do you find IMing helps or hurts your productivity?

The Gardener's Notebook

Earlier, I posted about planting strategies that you can use to make gardening easier and more fruitful.

One of the organizing tools that I have used since I first began gardening in our yard some fifteen years ago, is a Gardener's Notebook. I started with a gardening hanging file and after quickly outgrowing that, I upgraded to a three-ring binder with a cover that zips closed. When choosing my notebook, I gravitated towards the kid's section of the office supply store because their notebooks are always so much more fun. The one I use is covered in some kind of heavy-duty microfiber with fuzzy flowers on the front. You could also make your own like the ones in the flickr photo above. The photographer, Lana Stewart, uses cool scrapbook paper to dress up her three-ring binders.

Inside my handy Gardener's Notebook are:

  • Tabbed pages to divide the sections. My sections include:
    • Annualized Schedule - list of when to fertilize and prune different plants. I've also loaded this schedule into my Outlook calendar to help keep me on track with these chores.
    • Hosta (I LOVE hosta so they get their own tab)
    • Misc. Shade Plants
    • Soil Amending
    • Landscaping Plans
    • Feng Shui Gardening
    • Vendors for Plants, Stones, and Supplies
  • Plastic 8 1/2 x 11" sleeves to hold gardening catalogs. I only keep a few and throw out the old when the new one arrives. I mostly use these for the inspiration that the pretty photos provide.
  • Zipper pocket to hold receipts and plant markers. This has been helpful when I have needed to determine what variety of a particular plant I have. Because we have so many leaves in the fall, garden markers get raked up in my garden. So now I just slip them in my notebook for safekeeping.
  • Plastic picture sleeves to hold photos of the garden. My favorite feature of my Gardening Notebook! It's so inspiring to see how small plants, shrubs and trees fill out over the years. If you stick with it and are lucky enough to stay in the same place for a few years, gardening really teaches you patience.
By keeping all of my research notes and plant lists in one spot, I have saved myself lots of time and energy whenever I have built a new bed in the garden or have needed to replace a plant that has outgrown its space. The notebook also helps me stay on schedule with all of my gardening maintenance chores and enables me to better track which plants work and don't work in my yard. What tools do you gardeners out there use to keep your info organized?

Law of Attraction in Action: The Lost Briefcase

About twenty years ago, I was on my first trip to New York City for a trade show. Because the business trip coincided with my step-mother's birthday, I brought her along so we could spend a couple of days before the trade show exploring the city.

As anyone who has ever visited NYC can attest, the first visit is a bit overwhelming. Heck, the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel had us wide-eyed and fearful for our lives. As we piled out of the cab, I grabbed my carry-on and my suitcase out of the back of the cab, not realizing the my briefcase that contained the trade show booth assembly instructions was still in floorboard of the cab. While standing in line to check into the hotel, this realization swept over me, and thus begins my story of the law of attraction in action.

I immediately ran outside to see if the cab was still there. The bellman, seeing my panic, asked what cab company I rode in on. "I don't know! It was a yellow cab," I said. He chuckled and said, "Ma'am, that covers about 90% of the cabs in the city." My cab was long gone. So I went back to my room and began the process of wishing my briefcase back to me.

* Write it down. I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote that I would have my briefcase and the trade show booth instructions by Monday since that's when I needed to assemble the trade show booth.

* Visualize. I sat down, closed my eyes, and spent some quality time visualizing the briefcase back in my hands.

* Take Action. I checked with the hotel's Lost and Found a couple of times per day to see if it had been turned in. I even checked with the local police precinct. Keep in mind that this was before every person over 10 years of age had a cell phone. It's not as though someone could find the briefcase containing my business card and call my cell to arrange pickup.

* Let it Happen. Then I let the universe, spirit, angels (insert your version of your higher power) take over. Over the course of the weekend, my step-mom and I went shopping, took in a Broadway show, and explored Chinatown and Little Italy. All the while, I kept seeing myself with that briefcase back in my hands.

First thing Monday morning I checked with the hotel's Lost and Found again and the concierge suggested that I try calling Port Authority since that's where cabbies often take items left behind. I called. "What was the contents of the attache case?" the Port Authority officer asked me in a robotic tone. As I described the stuff inside, he said, "Yeah, it's here. Come on in and pick it up."

Believe. Visualize. Act. Receive.

Photo of NYC from Elwin W's flickr account.

Saving Time and Gas

As gasoline prices in the U.S. have risen to $4 per gallon, we're all feeling the pinch when filling up our tanks. I'm especially feeling it after acquiring a zippy car with a turbo engine last year! My fifty dollar fill-ups have gotten me thinking about ways that I can increase my efficiency and reduce my drive time.

Using David Allen's ideas from his book "Getting Things Done," I keep an ongoing To-Do or Action list of errands that must be done while in the car. Allen suggests we keep Action lists according to the context or equipment needed. For example, you may keep one list of calls to make (the equipment needed is a telephone), a separate list of topics to research online (equipment needed is a computer with internet access), and a list of groceries to buy and errands to run (equipment needed is a car unless you live within walking distance to the grocery and other necessary stores).

As I make my list of errands, I think about where the stores are located so that I can pick the route to most efficiently run the errands. For example, if I have both office supplies and groceries to buy, I will go to the nearby Publix (I have THREE within a few miles of me) that shares a parking lot with Office Depot. On my way home from there, I have two routes I can take. If I also have dry cleaning to pick up, I take the route that takes me past the dry cleaner.

While making my day's Action list each morning, I also consider the time of day that is best for me to venture out. If I have banking to do, I schedule my errand run before 4:00 in afternoon so that I can swing by the bank as well. Even better, my credit union is in the shopping mall where my Goodwill drop off is located. This mall is located within about a mile from my home.
So by carefully choosing a nearby bank, dry cleaner, grocery store, seamstress, office supply store, pet supply store, and drug store I've managed to minimize the number of trips I take and the miles I drive thus saving me both gas and time!

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