IM is a powerful tool that allows you to quickly ask questions or send comments to colleagues anywhere in the world within a second. However, it can also turn into a huge time waster, as Leo Babauta mentions in a recent post about ways to become more productive over at Zen Habits.
However, while I see some value in his IM tip, I think he’s overdoing things her and costing himself productivity potential:
Schedule your IM time. Same thing applies to IM. I’m not a huge fan of IM, especially if you have your IM program open all the time. That’s because it encourages people to interrupt you whenever they want, instead of you valuing your time. If IM is important to your work, then schedule IM meetings, or have certain times of the day when you’re available for IM and tell your colleagues and friends about it. And have it for a limited amount of time and then end it.
Using IM effectively involves balancing attention with access.
First, I highly recommend turning off all audio alerts other than incoming messages. Everything else seems like fun the first day but quickly becomes a distraction since it’s worthless information.
Second, hide your IM window so you won’t be distracted by the movement of people logging in and out of their accounts throughout the day. This, again, is worthless information.
Third, use status updates. If you’re online but busy, let people know that. They’ll honor that unless they have a true emergency or are just jerks (this is a good way to verify which is which).
Those are my top three tips. If I added a forth it would be to ask your question or give your comment in your initial IM to someone rather than sending them a message that says, “Hi.” If you’re the type of person who has to say, “Hi.” do so within your initial IM rather than waiting for a response to your “Hi” message.