The martial art of emailing

Does IM stand for Instant Messaging or Instant Messing?

central telephone exchange - Hello men - State Library of Victoria - Small I will start this post by thanking you. Why? Chances are big that you will be disturbed during the reading of this article as I was personally disturbed during my writing it. Personally, I was interrupted by a lovely distraction while writing this article: my daughter wanted me to color a drawing.

Today, how long can you work without being distracted by the phone, by an instant messaging alert or simply by someone who enters your office to ask a question? If you are supposed to be a knowledge worker, it means that you should be able to analyze carefully a situation for some minutes in order to ponder it and make a decision.

Now, look closely around you.

Do you see the one who is jumping on his mobile phone because he has just received a SMS as he was in the middle of a conversation with one of his colleagues?

Do you think that he cannot wait a bit before  jumping on his phone to see in fact that it was the shopping list his wife sent for tonight? Not to mention that he receives a bip on his phone every time he gets an email.

Do you see the one who switches to his inbox or his browser every time he cannot find a solution to a given problem? Will it help him to solve the problem he was struggling with? Why did he not take a walk to think about it?

Have you noticed that the person you were speaking to is answering the phone in the middle of his response? I am sure you are pleased to see that you are less important that the unknown caller at the other end of the line?

Finally, did you see the one who spent 30 min in an IM conversation with someone who actually sits in the office next door? Just tell me frankly that this conversation could not be done in a 5 min call or in a quick face to face meeting.

These people are you and me and we all look like old telephonists in the middle of the last century going back and forth between tasks 24/7.

At home, when I decide to be disconnected, I go downstairs in my office to write or read attentively a white paper. Usually, after 10 minutes, I hear small steps in the stairs and see the face of my daughter at the door asking me “what are doing daddy?”. I do not mind being disturbed when I am home but at work, any disruptions that can be avoided is a plus for the efficiency of my work.

Still reading my blog post? Thanks again.

A long time ago, I have removed one distraction at work: the “jumping to the email that just arrived” reflex. I have still to get rid of the “Hey Seb, did you see the email we all just received?” distraction but globally email is not a distraction factor anymore.

For a few weeks now I have also disconnect my IM while I am in a doing phase (which is what I am paid for) but I may also decide to disconnect completely form this tool until people have learnt how to use it properly

In fact, if emails are still misused today, Instant Messaging is even worse since it requires real time attention. A misuse of this media will definitely increase the number of interruptions of task flow in a company. I do not blame the users of this media who were never trained properly to use it. But I rather blame the ones who are telling: “everybody knows how to use IM !”. I do not care if they know how to use it. I care if they know how and when to use it and there is the big difference.

Exaggerating again? Then start writing down how many times you are distracted by your IM and how much time you spend on it. Now tell me that a phone call would have not been more efficient for most of those IM discussions.

The worst is when people who are texting in their IM for half an hour with a guy 2 floors above (a 2 minute walk). Did we forget social contacts? Are we now afraid of the others? Staying in your office may mean less work for you. Maybe but this is not efficiency! Right?

Some may even think that IM is a cheap way to communicate and that’s why your company had to implement it. My answer would be: VOIP is certainly cheaper since this kind of communication channel is by far more efficient than texting.

Some arguments are also made on the fact that IM lowers the communication barriers between employees spread internationally. I tend to agree but only if these people met before in a face to face meeting. IM does not initiate anything except disruption and is especially dangerous when you do not know the person you write to since chances are that he/she will misinterpret your text or the tone of it.

So please, pick up your phone if a face to face can not be done or write an email if it’s not urgent but pay attention not to distract and spend too much time in your IM software. Use IM for planned meetings when you have to exchange your desktop as a complementary tool to another communication channel but not as primary channel.

There once was a time when information was a scarce resource. Nowadays I believe that human attention is the scarce resource. So, stop being a dog of the pavlov’s experiment and start being more concentrated on your work (Now I am sure I lost some of you who certainly opened another tab in their browser to see who was Ivan Pavlov).

So if you reach the end of this article, could you please send me a short notice on twitter (@swiertz) or in the comment of this post? I would love to hear your feelings about that.

4 Responses to “Does IM stand for Instant Messaging or Instant Messing?”

  1. Emeric Nectoux

    Hey Sébastien,

    It’s been a while… but yes! I’m still alive and reading the complete article. ;)

    Well, one thing I like with IM is that it allows you to give the head’s up to someone without disturbing him too much. I explain:
    IM: “Hey, are you free for a talk?” is usually what I write in IM. It avoids disturbing the person you want to talk to by a phone call (to me a phone call is much more disturbing than an IM, esp. when people insist and let the bell ring…) It’s ok to get an anwser like “not now, I’ll tell you when it’s ok” or even no answer.

    So, I agree that IM is not good to replace a face to face or even a phone call, but as a “starter” it’s good. Less disturbing than having a phone call or even someone who rush into your office. (the phone you can let it ring… which is already annoying you (and your coworkers), but it is difficult to slap the door in the face of your visitor… ;)
    Also, using IM status is a must. Telling to the others, “I’m busy” “don’t disturbed” or it’s free.

    Well, to conclude, as usual, we have wonderful tools, the only things is that we need civilized people to use them! :)

    Take care

  2. Jessica Chandler

    I think you are missing a big point about IM – it’s a great tool for social interaction. I can communicate with other colleagues without having everyone in the cube farm listen. Also, if I get up and leave my desk to go speak to that person, my boss wonders where I am. It’s also really effective for small questions and requests. The receptionist can quickly let me know that a guest has arrived while still fielding incoming phone calls.

    • Wiertz Sébastien

      “There are always ears on the other side of the wall.” – Chinese Proverb

  3. Wiertz Sébastien


    Thanks a lot for your comment

    I am not sure I have missed that point since the main goal of my article was not to list the benefits of instant messaging. In fact, I wanted to highlight the misuse of IM inside some companies where people were not trained to use it properly. They were already misusing emails and were offered a new communication means that relegates the phone to a lower rank in the list of preferred communication channels.

    You give 2 good examples of good usage of IM. The clerk alerting you of the arrival of guests does not disturb your work since this visit was planed in your calendar.

    However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that your first example shows that you wanted to hide some conversations but you chose a channel which did not guarantee your privacy.

    Are you sure that no “copy/paste” of your secret conversation will be made (since apparently nobody should hear it in your cubicle farm)? Or, are you aware that every IM made inside your company may be archived on the server and accessed by your IT department? Nothing is confidential inside a company.

    Finally, what kind of superior would not agree that from time to time, you need to chit chat or having a face to face conversation with someone? It’s for me the essence of productivity in any company. A leader who does not understand that should not be at that position.


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