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Another "interruption" to programming: email?

As noted on slashdot and elsewhere, Ole Eichorn has written a provocative essay lambasting email as interruptive and therefore "considered harmful" to programming. His words are here:

He gives some suggestions for handling email.

There was a spirited discussion about telephones and programming in this forum. Do people generally agree with his thesis that being interrupted by email does more harm than good?

Does anybody have strategies for getting into and staying in "the zone" without being interrupted by emails?


Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Wednesday, March 12, 2003


John Topley
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Uhh, close your email?

Robin Debreuil
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Can't close the email.  We have a company wide policy about answering emails in a timely manner.

Gotta love big companies.

big bob
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Apparently focussing on one's work and getting stuff done is not company policy?

Sign me up for a job like that ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Interuptions from email wouldn't be so bad if it were possible to set up a filter that does not notify you for unimportant emails.

Going slightly off topic:

Everywhere I've worked has required that we use MS Outlook. The problem with Outlook is that it has no filtering rules that TURN OFF THAT DAMN SYSTEM TRAY NEW MAIL NOTIFICATION.

We have a policy here that everyone gets email notifications everytime someone checks in code. This results in a lot of useless spam (on top of the usual CC-every-man- and-his-dog spam one gets in an office).  But no matter what filtering you do, you cannot stop Outlook from popping up that icon on the system tray. I would switch to a different email client just to get rid of that icon, if I could.

Email interruptions wouldn't be so bad if you could make it so that you only get notified immediately is actually of immediate importantance to you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Add a "little" dll, AutoRead ( ) in conjunction with Outlook Rules and that icon will disappear.  Works like a charm for those  "less than urgent" emails

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Big Bob,

>Can't close the email.  We have a company wide policy '
>about answering emails in a timely manner.

A timely manner for me really can be translated into "my earliest convinience", which is in the morgning, before luch, after luch or right before I leave.

Email should be handeled like voicemail. All voicemails I ever heard said "I will get back to you at the earliest convinience yada yada...". Email is the same.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

>Everywhere I've worked has required that we use MS Outlook

Same here. I just ignore that and use whatever I please. 

Usually nobody cares if you don't use the standard office tools as long as it doesn't impact anybody else (and you use free software).

Eric Moore
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

>Same here. I just ignore that and use whatever I please. 

My place uses Outlook as well, but they wont allow IMAP email fetching. Otherwise I would have used Pine doing IMAP to read my mail.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

sure it is Patrik.  See how far that would get you where I work though. :)

big bob
Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Outlook 2002:

Tools/Options/E-ail Options/Advanced E-mail options:

"When new items arrive ..."

Uncheck "Show an envelope con in the system tray"

I dunno if this existed in older versions.

Karl Perry
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I have Outlook XP at home, and you can turn the system tray notification off. At work, I have Outlook 2000 and the system tray notification is not an option.

Worse, Outlook's default behaviour when you close its window is to keep running, so the system tray icon will show up even though you think you got rid of Outlook!

Oh well...


Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Mike: Muchas gracias - that app may well prevent me from sliding into complete insanity (mind you, insanity has its benefits - it means I could become a professional Lisp programmer).

Karl: Yep, that's an Office 2002 feature (and anyway, wouldn't that feature mean that you don't notified of any email at all, no matter what its importance is?).

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Outlook has (or had) alternate notification mechanisms. So if all mail marked 'urgent' is urgent and you want to be notified, set up a rule to play a sound/bring up an alert/whatever when urgent mail arrives. And ignore/disable the tray icon.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Well big bob, what does "timely" mean to you?

To me. it doesn't mean hovering over the email client just in case a mail comes in but it sounds like that's what it means to you, or what you think it means to your employer?

What's not timely about reading your email and replying to it 3 times a day? That's every couple of hours after all which imho is as much as anyone could expect.

Do you expect to get disciplined if an email requires a few hours of research before you are in a position to reply to it? After all, it could be argued that you didn't reply to that in a timely manner.

Robert Moir
Thursday, March 13, 2003

The policy in a nutshell is to respond to email in the same manner as if someone had phoned you.  We are to keep our email open at all times, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

If something is going to take several hours, then you send an email saying "this is going to take several hours, let me get back to you".

You sound like you have a problem with me.  Do you?

Keep in mind this isn't a policy I designed, nor do I get to define what 'timely' means.

big bob
Thursday, March 13, 2003

big bob,
where do you work so that I can make sure I never apply there?
I thought the whole point with e-mails is that you could live without having the answer right away. If you need an answer right away, you can always call.

Anyway it is obvious that who ever came up with that policy at your company never read Peopleware.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

how do you handle the issue of keeping Outlook closed, but then also getting notified for meetings and appointments? 

is there software that will ping your calendar on exchange and notify you of your appointments, so you can keep the email closed?

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I don't have a problem with you. I was having a mildly frustrating time when I took a break to read JoS and posted the first time. My apologies if it sounded like I was having a go at you.

Now we've got that aside, do you not think I was asking a fair question (which you've now answered, thanks). I thought it was important to the discussion as a whole - let alone any thoughts I myself might have - to understand exactly what that meant. We too have a policy of checking and reading email "in a timely manner" for all staff where I work, and timely here means "thou wilt log in at least once a day".

With your answer to hand I have to admit I'm staggered by how short sighted your managers appear to be.

Is programming a portion of an overall "computer support" function where you work? To me that's the only possible rationale for expecting you to behave in the way they expect you to and even then it's not a good reason.

Are you in a position to work at home or some similar place without interuption and demonstrate the difference in productivity?

Would the possibility of a group of like-minded people going to the management together as a group to suggest a modification to this policy work?

There are plenty of references from well respected people you could cite to show that constant interuption like that kills productivity but I suppose managers boneheaded enough to have a policy like this in the first place are probably also boneheaded enough not to listen to complaints about it.

Robert Moir
Thursday, March 13, 2003

I'm the author of "Tyranny of Email".

I received tremendous feedback in response to this article (thanks everyone!), and have posted a summary of the most interesting observations and comments as "Tyranny Revisited" at in case you are interested...

Ole Eichhorn
Saturday, March 22, 2003

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