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Pimp Your Work - Improving Your Work Day Efficiency

How to be a lean, mean instant messaging machine

by Celine on April 17th, 2008


You’ve installed them all - Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, Google Talk, etc. Now, if you’re very popular (or you just have annoying contacts) you find that you get interrupted by instant messages constantly. Some of the messages are essential, while others can wait. How do you filter out the distractions while remaining accessible for emergencies?

Take advantage of selective invisible or stealth modes.  Most instant messengers allow you to selectively block contacts from seeing you. Use this feature as much as possible. While you’re working, temporarily block out your annoying cousin, while remaining visible to your boss who might need you.

Use status messages wisely.   While you can be invisible to people who have nothing to do with your work, the few people you’re visible to might abuse their “power”.  You’re busy working on something, but since your colleague Joe can see you’re online, he’ll message you about the latest office gossip.  You want to be there for Joe because of a project you’re working on together, but you don’t want to be disturbed for something unimportant.  This is where status messages come in.

If there’s an icon for “busy” or “do not disturb”, use it.  Also, modify your status message to say something like “Working on Project X, please send ONLY relevant mssgs. For other queries, please email.” - or whatever applies.

Use an all-in-one messaging system.  It’s a bit confusing (and too colorful) to use so many messaging programs at once.  Use programs that allow you to access all your isntant messaging accounts from one interface.  Examples of such programs: Pidgin, Miranda IM, and Trillian.

Remove unnecessary notifications.  When someone sends you an instant message, the most common notification is that the conversation window flashes on top, the task bar lights up like a Christmas tree (or menorah, take your pick), and a chime plays.  You don’t need all that.  Limit it to the bare minimum setting you can find, and remove the option to have the conversation window come up on top of your other windows.  You should be the one in control of when you will read/access your instant messages, not the sender.  Look for the “Preferences” or “Options” menu in your instant messenger to tinker with these settings.

Train people to use email.   Sometimes, an entire chat will eat up your time.  If that happens, cut it short and tell the other person to just email you about it.  That way, you can respond properly without letting the conversation interrupt your work.  Tell people that this will help you focus your undivided attention on them.  After all, it’s much better than shifting from work to chatting and back again.

I’ve used these tips with success for the past few months.  Are there any special techniques you use to limit instant messaging distractions?  Share them with us in the comments.

Photo Credit: Image by Celine Roque from Blue Rabbit Media

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POSTED IN: Instant messaging, Software tips, Workplace hacks, Workplace pimps

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