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Summary:

Yesterday, for once I decided to shut off my instant messaging client and see if I could live without it. It was a drastic move, because these are drastic times. Over last few weeks, despite what I did, I found myself being constantly interrupted by the […]

Yesterday, for once I decided to shut off my instant messaging client and see if I could live without it. It was a drastic move, because these are drastic times. Over last few weeks, despite what I did, I found myself being constantly interrupted by the IM pop-ups. People either sending me tips, or my team alerting me to their posts, or some people who just wanted to chit-chat.

It was the casual chit chat which started to grate on me. In fact, the tool which was supposed to replace the telephone, and help keep casual chats to a bare minimum has become a massive time suck. It is cutting into productivity, and also is affecting my general disposition. Let me explain – I am a fairly social person, and feel that it is rude not to answer someone’s IM message. But when the messages pop-up every few seconds, it became impossible to deal with them.

Shutting down the IM client for a day might be fine, but it is not a permanent solution. Is there a way to better manage IM communications and deal with IM’s every day annoyances? I have some ideas, but since I have not tried them out, I would rather wait and listen to what folks like yourself have to say.

  1. I handle IM differently from time to time. Sometimes I don’t open IM before noon to keep focused and undistracted. Sometimes when I have to focus at an other time I just shut it off. And people totaly get that.

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  2. Put your IM on busy when you are busy and refuse to acknowledge any messages that come through until people get the point.

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  3. I think it very much depends on what you set as the expectations about IM. I don’t use it heavily (for whatever reason people I know don’t always remember I’m on IM) but when I do, and I have more the last few days, I find it a very useful and highly productive tool.

    A few things I find that help:

    – use relatively accurate and useful status messages – I’ve taken to changing my gtalk status on a nearly daily basis – and people have both noticed and chatted with me directly as a result (friends that is)

    – when someone skypes me without IMing first, I fairly routinely ignore them and IM them back (and try to train them to always IM first to check if I’m somewhere I can talk – or if I”m in a public space and IM is best)

    – if someone IM’s me and I can’t reply, I either send them a simple one line “sorry, finishing a project, let’s talk later” type reply, or I just ignore the IM’s and perhaps get back to them when I can. (if I’m really fancy I’ll either go “invisible” or set Trillian’s auto-reply rules

    (oh and to save the IM – I just updated my blog… http://shannonclark.wordpress.com with a longish post on modern entrepreneurship :) )

    Shannon

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  4. I am surprised that you consider IM so essential to your work. Not only do I avoid IM, I also keep my email client shut for the most of the day – whether I am working, or browsing the Net like right now. I do not like people intruding on my time. I read my mails early in the morning and prepare my To-Do list for the day.

    I even keep my phone ring tone to very low (or mute) so that I am not disturbed. This is only part which is tough because I realize that I might miss an emergency call from a family member or loved one.

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  5. I hate rude IM’ers that don’t even ping to check if you have some time and just start talking. These days, sometimes, I just ignore people when I don’t have time. I let them assume I didn’t see their message..

    I figure everyone should just learn to ask “do you have a moment?” before interrupting people.

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  6. All very good points above. I just use meebo to keep the suck on my computer down, then I actively manage my status during the day so that people know I am serious about “working on project, do not disturb”, etc. I love the comments above about “training your IM contacts” … excellent. But, their may be times when you do need the interrupt because it is a key piece of news from a key source, so I guess what you might need is someway to priortise your contacts. If there is anyone out there who knows how to do that, perhaps they might contribute to the thread. I’d be interested to know how to do that myself!

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  7. There’s some work to be done by IM operators here too- upgrades tend to give us more smileys and other facile features when many of us actually need more sophisticated presence tools.

    How about, mechanisms that expose presence to different people in different ways? For example, between 8am and 6pm, I want to be ‘invisible’ to my friends and family; at weekends, I wanna be invisible to coworkers etc.

    Our buddy lists are sparawling social networks and yet the tools offered to manage them are crude and autistic. I beleve it’s an area ripe for innovation :)

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  8. I use IM at work to keep in touch with my suppliers/agencies and some key colleagues. I find it invaluable as my suppliers are all over the world and it is quicker and easier than picking up the phone in so many cases.

    I do use IM at home but very rarely.

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  9. [...] Chime in with your ideas on how to improve IM on Om’s rant on Web Worker Daily. [...]

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  10. IM is our mobile office’s water cooler. We’ve got a small number of employees 50 miles apart and rarely in the same physical place, but, thanks to IM (and other websites/tools), we can interact and collaborate as a group in ways that would have never been possible before. Like mentioned above, my friends know that chit-chat is best late night is best if you want the not-so-time-crunched version of me.

    Agree with the post above that there need to be more status icons and less smilies.

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