How Instant Messaging Can Make You More Productive

Web Worker Daily writer Leo Babauta suggested recently that the best way to be productive with instant messaging may be just not to use it. Yet many web workers find that instead of decreasing their productivity, instant messaging enhances it.

Researchers R. Kelly Garrett and James N. Danziger argue that far from making interruptions more frequent and disruptive, IM can be used to manage interruptions:

Based on the evidence, we argue that, contrary to prevailing concerns, IM generally does not contribute to higher levels of workplace interruption. While the technology makes certain types of interruption easier, it can also allow users greater control over when to communicate, with minimal disruption to their ongoing work, and can afford them the opportunity to create new patterns of communication that sustain necessary linkages while reducing off-task distractions.

Garrett and Danziger surveyed 1200 computer-using workers about their experience with workplace communications and communications tools. They found that IM users reported lower levels of interruption than those who didn’t use IM. The researchers conclude, “instant messaging in the workplace simultaneously promotes more frequent communications and reduces interruptions.”

How can instant messaging do that? By allowing for:

  • Quick exchanges that aren’t perceived as disruptive
  • Negotiations over when to communicate (as in “let’s talk on the phone in 15 minutes”)
  • Plausible deniability of availability allowing workers to ignore interruptions when they’re focused on something else
  • Personal communications with friends and family throughout the day that can replace phone calls that could be more disruptive

What’s your experience with instant messaging — is it a productivity help or hit?

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