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.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.