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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

SBJ: Filtering interruptions to enhance focus

Emerging Technology - Discover Magazine - E-mail Making You Crazy?

Steven Johnson on battling the email and interruption avalanches with smarter technology. He also cites the King's College study suggesting that "multitasking" makes you less productive than if you'd been doing bong hits.

But full-screen mode is limited. You may not want to eliminate the outside world entirely. If there’s an urgent staff meeting called, you don’t want to miss the e-mail. On the other hand, you don’t want to be distracted by 15 other e-mail messages that could be read later. People already prioritize by thresholds of concentration. That’s why you may say to an assistant: “Please, don’t bother me with calls—unless it’s my spouse.”

Computers should be better at this kind of filtering, but they’re not programmed to anticipate how your attention shifts from one minute to the next. Your e-mail client doesn’t know that you’re trying to focus on another, more pressing problem. But it would be easy enough to create protocols that define different modes of concentration. Many laptops have location settings that allow you to switch from office mode to home mode and thus change a whole host of settings. Why not offer a comparable option for defining different mental states?

I do not disagree.

[ thanks, David Kuykendall ]

Matt's picture

@Merlin: I believe that what...

@Merlin: I believe that what you're asking Mail.app to do already exists. Mine is set up as follows:

  1. Set up group foo or bar in Address Book.
  2. In the General preferences window, set "New mail sound" to "None." This will prevent Mail from notifying you with a sound on every message.
  3. In the Rules preferences, create a new rule (add rule).
  4. Make the rule say: If "any" of the following conditions are met: "Sender is member of Group" "foo" Perform the following actions: "Play Sound" "New Mail Sound"

You are now free to work away and will not be disturbed with a peep from Mail (or a ping, pop, purr... whatever sound you use to notify you) unless someone from group foo sends you a message.

The only thing missing is the easy ability to turn this filter on and off. Personally, I've found that I can just leave it this way all the time and I don't seem to have any trouble remembering to check the other lower-priority mail.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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