Managing distraction: OS X Mail unread count
There is only so much time in the day and if you're not careful small distractions can chip away at your ability to accomplish tasks. I'm always looking for ways to reduce distractions for myself and my team.
# Distractions break "flow"
We are big fans of 37 Signals (opens new window) and they have written about distractions (opens new window) extensively over the years (opens new window). The nature of our work requires a balance of requests from many constituents around campus and the actual work those requests require. If we can't accomplish the desired work we might not bother taking it on at all. The desired effect is to get in to a "flow (opens new window)" throughout the day to concentrate on the task at hand and complete it with the clarity and attention that every task deserves.
# It takes a village
We have done many things as a team over the years to improve the amount of flow the Web team is able to obtain each day. It may seem like simple things but reducing the amount of sensory input is a huge help. If you've been to the Web office at any time you've noticed ten of us work in one open area, which is an efficient use of space but is a slippery slope for distractions. We all work in the dark to reduce visual noise, most everyone wears headphones to reduce auditory noise, and there is very little talking before lunch. It takes the entire team to ensure the environment is respectful of everyone's personal flow.
# "Managing Distractions" series
I though I would start a series on the small things that make a big difference when it comes to managing distractions. The first and what I feel is the most important is the ability to get out of your inbox.
# Get out of your inbox
Email is not a to-do list or an immediate trigger for action. If someone needed something this second they would call or rush in to your office. Emails never stop and reading/responding to them as they come in will keep you caught up in the thick of the thin all day. Before your know it, no real work actually gets done.
I've found the best way to remove the distraction that an email is "waiting to be read" is to get rid of the badge on the OS X Mail dock icon. Many would argue that never opening the Mail app in the first place accomplishes the same goal. But it doesn't, because if you need to send an email or reading through a folder other than your inbox, that unread is there just begging for your attention.
Removing the badge is actually quite easy, just go in to the Notification Center and click Options. In here you can manage all the annoying alerts that each app can produce. Find "Mail" and uncheck the "Badge app icon" to remove it completely.
Overall I recommend turning any "push" type of alert off except for the absolutely necessary ones. But this one alone can make a world of difference. Try it for a week, my bet is you'll focus more on the task at hand and check email only when you have a few minutes to dedicate to it.