I've been studying myself. What makes me effective? What do I spend time getting lost in?
I get all philosophical when I get into these kinds of thoughts. What is effectiveness? Is it only my effectiveness or those of my team? Is effectiveness limited to my project or does my taking time to help another department and upltimately the company also count?
I think there is a balancing act that must be done. I need to be open and available to help others, but not let myself get pulled too far off of what my main task is, in order to help the company both directly and indirectly. My paycheck and job depends on me doing what's best for the company, which may not always be what's best for my current project.
GTD would have me shut off email and instant messaging, however, I must be available to respond to issues that crop up, and those are the notification mechanisms. GTD isn't the only program out there telling you to turn off email. Sure it's great when you can do it, but me, and my co-workers can't do it, and most other office workers can't either. However, you can make email work more effectively for you. I use the notification for Outlook, despite being told not to. Probably 80% of the email I get, I don't need. When I see one of those pop up with the notification, I take advantage of the delete button and send it straight to the trash. I'm still notifitied, but I spend 5 seconds or less removing that email from my life as soon as it happens.
Instant messages happen, and they need to. I can chat effectively on the side while still focusing mainly on my task, and still help someone else solve a problem. It may slightly slow me down, but I don't work for myself. I work for my company, and me being able to work non-stop for 30 minutes while someone else is stuck waiting for me is not useful. Instant messaging is a much more effective way of interupting me without taking me completely away from my thought than just walking over to my desk. I think this is part of why telecomutters tend to get more done.
I find that I'm effective when I already know how to do what I want to do. I'm not talking just needing to copy and paste, but having done something similar to what I'm working on will help me get results a lot faster. That's why I spend a lot of time at home reading and playing with code. I will push myself to solve problems and try things that I haven't needed to do at work, and that I'm not doing for anything in particular. Each time I do this it adds one more tool to my effectiveness toolbox.
I'm at least 50% more effective with music on to help drown out the background noise. Even when I'm working with someone that I'm talking to, if there is music on that I enjoy I'm more effective. I've tried it in total silence, and even tried wearing headphones to help block out the sound and work in silence. When it's too quiet the chaos in my mind takes over and I have a harder time focusing on the task at hand, music helps drown out both background noise and inner noise.
TV is a huge distraction. Probably because it's visual. At home my office is in the bedroom, and when I'm lucky enough to work from home during the day, the TV never comes on, but at night my wife goes to bed with the TV on. Even though she turns on something that I don't like, and I want to sit at the computer and work, I am still extremely distracted. I hate the TV, and wish I could have an automatic TV off button when I sat in my chair, I doubt my wife would like that one though.
But where do I get distracted? There's a ton of things that I want to do, but most of the normal time sinks don't apply to me. I'm almost never on mySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social networking site. I have accounts, but only rarely stop by for any kind of update. I find that a majority of my time on the internet is actually usefully spent learning about something new related to what I'm working on. The few exceptions are News and blogs that I read. However, I don't try to keep up with Digg or any other extremly busy news site, I just take in the headlines at new.google.com Then I read the blogs of people that I follow. Total those take less than 30 minutes a day. Internet distractions are rather small for me, and I like that.
Oddly, being such a computer nerd and not a people person, I find that my biggest time sink is talking with co-workers. It always starts about work, but when the problem is solved the conversation turns to chit-chat and continues. I noticed the other day that I spent nearly 40 minutes talking to the same person about almost nothing. It's awesome that I can connect with people like that. Growing up I was such an odd duck that I couldn't spend that much time with almost anyone, now I could drop an hour on conversation with just about anyone.
My effectiveness is best when I'm available to help others, but technology keeps me at enough of a distance from them that I can answer without getting sidetracked with banter about life.