Dave Winer’s Scripting News pointed me at Ole Eichhorn‘s article, The Tyranny of Email:

I maintain that programming cannot be done in less than three-hour windows.  It takes three hours to spin up to speed, gather your concentration, shift into “right brain mode”, and really focus on a problem.  Effective programmers organize their day to have at least one three-hour window, and hopefully two or three.  (This is why good programmers often work late at night.  They don’t get interrupted as much…)

…One of the key attributes of email is that it queues messages.  Unlike face-to-face conversation and ‘phone calls, people can communicate via email without both paying attention at the same time.  You pick the moments at which you pay attention to email.  But many people leave their email client running continuously.  This is the biggest baddest reason why email hurts your productivity.  If you leave your email client running, it means anyone anytime can interrupt what you’re doing.  Essentially they pick the moments at which you pay attention.  (Even some random spammer who is sending you a crappy ad for a get-rich scheme.)  This is bad.

…There are three stages to this badness.  Stage one is configuring your email client to present alerts when you receive an email.  Don’t do this.  Stage two is configuring your email client to make noise when you receive an email.  Don’t do this.  Stage three is running your email client all the time.  Don’t do this, either.  To be effective, you must pick the moments at which you’re going to receive email.  I know this goes against common wisdom.  Just about everyone I know runs their client all the time, has it configured to make noise, and may even have it present alerts when an email is received.  Don’t do it.

Thanks, Ole! I needed that. The same is true of RSS news aggregators, but even more so. I’m quitting Eudora and NetNewsWire right now, and will leave them off for at least four hours. Just one more update, and I’ll quit. Yes. I swear.