Productivity, Interruptions, and Mark Twain

One of my favorite books is Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. It is a riot of funny writing and interesting perspectives on Europe and travel. Twain is a favorite author of mine and I have acquired a number of books of his other writings, letters and that sort of thing. I was reading some today and laughed to see his writings on when his creativity is interrupted. Talk about learning from a maker!

The piece is a part of Life as I Find It, a collection edited by Charles Neider.  Twain discusses the number of letters he receives and how they pile up, and distract him from his own work:

They are letters of all sorts and descriptions, and they treat of everything.  I generally read them at breakfast, and right often they kill a day’s work by diverting my thoughts and fancies into some new channel, thus breaking up and making confusion of the programme of scripbbling I had arranged for my work hours.  After breakfast I clear for action, and for an hour try hard to write; bu there is no getting back into the old train of thought after such an interruption . . .

One of Mankind’s Bores

This struck home because it is the same issue so many people have with e-mail and that many e-mail philosophies counsel against:  skip your e-mail first thing in the morning (like Simplehuman, 4 Hour Work Week).  I try to skip my e-mail first thing in the morning because, like Twain, I find it too often knocks me off my scheduled list of tasks for the day as well as becoming a sinkhole, where my morning disappears as I triage and respond to what are usually non-critical messages.  By waiting, I have a better perspective on what is truly critical.  And the reality is that, in my case, very few e-mails are that critical.

What about the really important ones?  Those are usually telephone calls.