Is Group Chat Killing your Flow?

Do you remember the last time you had a sizable block of uninterrupted time at work? Time you got to really concentrate?

Have we slowly accepted a working culture of constant interruptions. I think so, and it’s easy to understand why. The instant gratification of getting an answer to your question — immediately — is intoxicating. This, coupled with task-switching, and you have an unhealthy cocktail of “working hard all day” yet realizing nothing meaningful got accomplished.

We’ve adopted methods of communication that allow us to chat asynchronously yet we expect immediate answers. We thought email and an overflowing inbox was bad. In reality, being constantly pulled into group chat by pesky notifications does far more damage to a productive workday. The expectation that we must be instantly available — at all times — to respond to chat messages is the real culprit.

We’ve replaced collocated offices with a distributed workforce, yet in some cases, we have established a culture of continuously distracting one another with non-emergencies. Even scarier is the digital-analog to a megaphone, the widely adopted @here / @channel (or some other alternative means of grabbing the attention of entire groups of people). At a whim, you have the power to take 20, 40, 60 people out of the concentrated flow. What could possibly go wrong?

We can certainly get this under control. I’d like to share three strategies I have been experimenting with:

  1. Before shooting off a chat message, consider if you need the answer right now? Consider if you really need to ping the entire channel about this. Can you batch a few questions or discussion topics as part of an email or a call instead?
  2. Can you get the answer you need from previous emails, the internal wiki, or the internet?
  3. Cutback on the expectation and desire to have every question or comment addressed immediately. In case of a true emergency, sure, ping the appropriate people — otherwise — ask and wait. Going from one person to the next every 5 seconds until you get an answer goes a long way to distract everyone, simultaneously.

Let’s attempt to avoid the ASAP culture and have more chunks of uninterrupted, focused time. This initiative will go a long way to foster creativity, focus and enable us to feel fulfilled by the work we’ve accomplished at the end of each day.

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