Guy Kewney points towards an IBM research project called Remail, which attempts to solve a problem that’s been around since the dawn of email: the fact that email is a medium which interrupts, and which most people find hard to control. Remail splits email into alerts and work: alerts goes into the instant messaging system, while work goes into a work pile.
I’m not sure that it works. Distractions will continue to pile up, just punted to the IM system (which is an even worse distractor). The key thing is really educating people to be a little more disciplined in how they use IM and mail, and that takes work, rather than technology.
Here’s my tips for using a combination of IM and mail to minimise interruptions.
1. Only check your mail once an hour, on the hour – and give yourself no more than five minutes to sort through your mail.
2. During those five minutes, answer only work mail, unless it comes into the urgent/personal category. And yes, sometimes telling someone you love them very much is urgent/personal
3. On IM, always mark yourself as busy. If you have an IM client that’s capable of personal status messages, make one that says "Working, urgent interruptions only". Use it!