Filter, Focus, Forward: Tip #3 – Avoiding the Impulsive Glut

By: Chris Lacinak
March 29, 2020

Filter, Focus, Forward is a new AVP blog series about filtering out distraction and negativity, focusing on positivity and priorities, and continuing to move forward with progress and momentum while working as part of a distributed team.


Here’s the scenario:You walk from the kitchen with a cup of hot coffee, sitting down at your newly setup workspace. The lighting is good, the background is good for videoconferencing, you have your new headset, and while the desk is a little small it will work just fine. You breathe a sigh of relief, feeling like you’re getting into the groove of this whole working-from-home/distributed-team thing. 

Better yet, your calendar shows that you only have one 30-minute meeting today! That’s good, because you have a big deadline this week and you need the time for deep work. You decide you’re going to skip looking at email and just dive right into your project work in order to avoid getting distracted.

30 minutes into your work you get a message on Slack (or Microsoft Teams, or whatever you use) from a colleague who says they don’t seem to be able to find an email that you were both on from a few days ago. It has a critical piece of information that they need and they ask if you could quickly find it for them. You launch your email to go retrieve it and see an email at the top of your inbox from your supervisor pinging you because you haven’t responded to a question that they asked you a few days ago about a budget request you had put in. Better take care of that right away. You go to Google Sheets (or whatever spreadsheet application you use) to retrieve that information and when you open the spreadsheet you remember that you weren’t able to fully finish filling it out because you were waiting on someone else to get back to you. You send an email pinging that person, asking if they can get back to you ASAP. You go back to your email, responding to your supervisor letting them know you’re waiting on one final piece of information and will be in touch. Better go and retrieve the information for your colleague now. Your phone rings. You pick it up and it’s the person that you emailed asking for the budget information. While they are explaining the situation to you, you glance at Slack and see that your colleague is wondering if you saw their earlier message. They also mention that you hadn’t responded to another thread in Slack that took place at 9AM Eastern time (you are on Pacific time), which they note that you probably didn’t see because your snooze notifications were on. The Slack message could use your feedback when you get a chance. You realize that you hadn’t listened to the last 15 seconds of the phone call you were on and have to ask the caller to repeat themselves. While they do that you go to the missed Slack thread…..

I think you get the point and I bet this all sounds familiar. This type of chaotic stream-of-consciousness “work” can go on for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours and take up your whole day, leaving you feeling exhausted and unable to complete the important work you need to get done.

This scenario is the result of struggling, and failing to manage the impulsive glut: the impulsiveness of others and the impulsiveness of ourselves compounding on each other and working us into a dizzying frenzy that steals control of our priorities in a given day, week, month, or year.

This isn’t particular to remote working or distributed teams, but the lack of physical proximity and ability to sense how busy other people are makes this more of a problem. There is no closed door, no ability to see that someone has their headphones on and is working intensely, no audible sighs or grumbling out loud to oneself, all of which signal that you might want to leave someone alone.

Here are some things we do to manage/avoid the impulsive glut:

1. Setup routine check-in meetings. And use them.

Use routine meeting times as a time and place where things that are not truly time sensitive can be discussed. These can be weekly check-ins* between colleagues or routine project meetings. Either way, before you send that message to your colleague, really think about if you need to do it right now. If not, go to the agenda (we use a standing meeting log for all of our routine meetings so no need to share new links) for your upcoming meeting and jot the note down there. It takes time to change your behaviors and habits, but stick to it, give each other feedback, and put in the time to change. It will pay off.
* See previous post for rundown of routine AVP meetings

2. Have no-meeting, no-Slack, no-fill-in-the-blank hours that everyone commits to

We block out four hours every Wednesday morning for this. This time is dedicated to deep work. The “no-meeting” part here really means that no-one can simply add someone to a meeting because they see an open spot on their calendar. If two or more people decide that they want to use this time to do deep collaborative work on a project and all involved parties agree that’s in bounds then that’s great. Having no Slack interaction means that you don’t have to worry about being left out of something or feel guilty for not contributing. We all discussed what was and wasn’t in-bounds and the talented and hilarious Rebecca Chandler drafted up the following guidelines.

Slack usage during designated “No Slack” hours

So it’s “No Slack” time and you’re not sure if it’s appropriate to use Slack? Read on.

When it is cool to use Slack

  • You and a colleague or colleagues have all agreed to do deep work together on a project. Use private Slack messages unless all members on a project channel are in on the deep work. If you think you might disturb someone not in your deep work session, it’s best to stick to private channels.

When it is most definitely not cool to use Slack

  • Find a totes amazing article you just have to share with the group? Don’t even think about it. Under no circumstances are you to use any group channels during this time.
  • Just want to drop a note in a channel so you don’t forget about it later? Save it. Putting notes in channels can be a distraction for those of us suffering from FOMO.
  • Running out for a minute? Sorry, but no one cares right now.
  • On fire? Get your priorities straight, drop, and roll. Your colleagues can hear all about it later.

Personal Slack choices

  • You may choose to quit Slack during this time in order to avoid any possible distractions. You do you.
  • If you choose to keep Slack open for group deep work purposes, you may wish to mute certain channels with automated messaging or external users who don’t know the rules.

3. Share calendars 

If you’re about to ask your colleague whether or not they are available to chat this afternoon, first look at their calendar and possibly avoid an unnecessary interruption. Using the shared calendars is equally important to sharing them.

4. Make appointments with yourself

You know those beautiful sections of your calendar with no meetings? To you these look like times when you can finally make some headway on your highest priorities. Guess what that looks like to everyone else? Time where they can schedule you for a meeting. Instead of keeping those totally open, schedule the time you need to do your highest priority work as actual appointments on your calendar. Treating an appointment with yourself is as important as keeping an appointment with others.

5. Establish expectations around use of Slack

Expectations on how fast someone should respond on Slack differ by person, day, and circumstance. Discuss this among your group so that people aren’t guessing, feeling unnecessarily ignored, or unnecessarily guilty. Pick up the phone or schedule a meeting to tackle something that is urgent or requires the productivity of a meeting.

6. Use a to-do list

It doesn’t matter how simple or complex you want to get. It’s just a reality that you are going to think of 100 things a day that will want to grab your attention. How you respond when they occur is what matters most. Instead of giving them control, jot them down on your to-do list so that you can get back to your priority and focus.

Do you have other tips? Please share them!

Catch up on other posts on the series home page.

Filter, Focus, Forward –