My computer, like most, is normally connected to the Internet, and since I’m on quite a few mailing lists and subscribe to quite a few feeds, I get a lot of traffic. In general, we really haven’t figured out how to manage traffic in such a way that we know what’s going on and still get work done.

Earlier this year, I noticed that as I got more deeply connected at Sun, my email traffic was getting more interesting, and on a couple of days I cleaned up my interesting email and my high-value RSS feeds and (maybe with an intervening telecon or two) realized it was 2PM. I suppose there are those whose job is all about communication for whom this would be sensible, but I need to do some writing and some coding too.

My first cut was to hide the Dock, so I couldn’t see the visual indicator that there was mail available. That’s OK, but I’m reaching for it often enough that I still see the little unread-count numbers.

Next, I brought back the Dock but turned off polling for both mail and news-feeds. That was quite a bit better, and I was more frequently able to drop into flow state and get some output happening.

It wasn’t perfect, though. Given my mail volume, the email tends to lock up for an irritatingly long time when I turn IMAP back on. And when I decided to plow through my incoming feeds, sometimes an urgent email would go ignored for half-an-hour; irritating since feed-reading is by definition interruptible.

Also, sometimes my flow state would get interrupted by a chat message. I could turn off chat when trying to concentrate, that’s kind of tedious.

So now I’m relying mostly on Growl, and a bit of self-discipline. I assume there is the equivalent of Growl on Windows & GNU/Linux? If so, drop me a line or a comment and I’ll update here. Growl is this wonderful thingie that aggregates notifications from any other program that might want to notify you about anything, and notifies you in a way that’s quite programmable. Often you’ll need a little add-in or extra to make an app talk to Growl, but they all seem to have ’em. In my case, I have, Thunderbird, Adium, and Google Notifier (for GMail) talking to Growl.

I use the “Music Video” notification style by Jose Salvador Caffarena; thanks Jose! This slides a transparent band up across the bottom of your screen with the gist of the notification, holds it there for a selectable amount of time (I use four seconds), and then slides it back down. I think it looks great, but for those who disagree, Growl has lots of other flavors.

So, what I do is, when I’m reading (mail, feeds, interruptible stuff) I turn Growl on and I hear about anything that happens right then as it happens. When I want to buckle down and work on something I turn it off, and nothing interrupts me.

Finally, I hid the Dock again, so I don’t get the little red numbers telling me about the unread inputs. I mentioned self-discipline? By force of will, I’m ignoring the red numbers when I reach for the Dock for something. Do-able, with a little effort.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rob Sayre (Dec 16 2006, at 20:22)

I think the equivalent on linux is D-BUS, but Miguel de Icaza has threatened to replace it with apps sending HTTP POST requests to each other.


From: Adam Polgar (Dec 16 2006, at 20:56)

The Windows equivalent of Growl is Snarl, which is available here:


From: drew (Dec 17 2006, at 01:54)

I don't know anything about growl, but in my own home-made notifier, I have the messages slide down from the top of the screen, and they stack up until I mouse-out of that window. That means I always have to do something to acknowledge the messages, but my acknowledgment is as fast as waving the mouse through them.


From: Laurence Tratt (Dec 17 2006, at 03:53)

I agree that this is an increasingly common problem and one that there is very little support for solving. For the last couple of years I've tried something a little different, using an e-mail-on-IMAP downloading program to download all e-mails at the beginning of the day, but during the rest of the day only downloading the most important folders. This has certainly improved my efficiency dramatically: it decreases both context switching and the tendancy to distract oneself with trivial e-mail.

I documented my "strategy" a little while back at


From: Jesper (Dec 17 2006, at 04:15)

Self-discipline is at least as great as Growl. I wish I could compile more of it, though.

I take it you're using my Gmail+Growl plugin to hook up Google Notifier to Growl?


From: Sawan (Dec 17 2006, at 18:53)

Why even use thee dock when you have Apple-Tab and spotlight?


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