Incoming! Drowning in a dearth of signals.

Posted by kdow on Jul 5, 2016 11:17:11 AM

Signal versus noise.

I was doing something very dangerous today: thinking. I normally have a list of items I need to get through in my morning routine. One of them is to do a 30 minute workout, another drink coffee. These set me up for the day. Today, beyond my 6.30am workout (that was a humble brag) was a call with one of my colleagues in Australia, followed by a bunch of digging into Salesforce to do some reporting on how my team’s time is spent with sales reps.

Then one of the SVP’s shot a note over to me on Slack asking about something else, which distracted my attention for about 30mins while I figured out an entirely different reporting mechanic for him (which also benefitted me). Afterwards I had a meeting, checked my emails, etc. etc.

Then my thinking kicked in. I wondered how many ways people can route tasks to me. And the answer wasn’t great. I have my inbox (and technically I have 4 inboxes), Slack, Skype (still the most reliable way for EMEA & APAC to talk), desk phone, iPhone (and that boils down to calls, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.), Twitter, github notifications, Wunderlist tasks, calendar, and probably more. That’s a total of 14 known ways to route tasks to me. And sometimes there’s duplicates, which require a brief moment of figuring out where to respond (e.g. an email that indicates a new calendar item).

No one’s really figured out the best way to route the right messages at the right time through the right channel. In work, my preferred method of short communication is Slack, but that’s not a replacement for one-on-one conversation (for humans, a quick chat scales much nicer than a chat room). Outside of work, my preferred method of communication is iMessage/WhatsApp. By far my least favoured method is email, but such is life.

My thought then continued: how would I explain how I manage all of this? I must be half decent at it because I’m almost always at inbox zero and rarely have a queue of things to reply to in Slack. And the answer was worse than my count of inboxes. I’m just constantly online. I had a coffee with a friend yesterday evening, outside of work. And there I still checked email, responded to Slack messages and checked in on things in my teams’ Slack channel.

I don’t mind. A lot of this is voluntary. And I run a team that spans four continents so that kind of effort is required. But it’s not a fun answer. There’s no productivity tips here. It’s just a lot of time input to get the right output. And the right output is simply knowing where to best spend your time. Which means my ultimate source of truth (a phrase I always use when talking to people about their databases in businesses) is my calendar. Which is private, mine exclusively and un-editable by anyone else. I should add coffee, workouts and email checks to that!


Quick note: The title refers to the fact that the messages coming from 14 sources are noise, not signals.