This morning I had to take my son Zachary to Manitowoc, WI for a 3 hour event. Since Manitowoc is an hour and 1/2 drive from our house it did not make any sense to try and drive home. My plan was to bring my laptop and do some work while waiting for him to finish up. Through a series of comical errors, I would up in Manitowoc with 2 laptops, but no cell phone which I was going tether and use my data plan to get Internet access (as a quick aside the AT&T 3G network is amazing, I get close to DSL speeds when I tether). My plan B was to find a place that would have Internet access was fruitless (Manitowoc is a decent size city, but the concept of free wi-fi hotspots has not arrived here based on my short search). McDonald’s is usually very good, but the girl behind the counter had not even heard of wi-fi (she said at one point, “I know what the Internet is, I just didn’t know you could get it wirelessly”). Frustrated, I ordered a cinnamon melt and sat down to see what I could get done.

The most productive 3 hours of my life (or at least the last few months)

My first thought was about all the things that I was not going to get done: “Can’t check my e-mail”, “Can’t upload those photos to Flickr”, “Can’t check the price of Guitar Hero III that I want to buy the family”. But then I started to see what I could get done and was amazed at what I accomplished. Even though I could not get my new e-mail I could work on that back log of e-mails that were in my inbox (I had 16 messages in there that I had to take action on - I had already deleted the fluff). I have replied to a great majority of them and they are waiting to go out when I connect the the Internet. I use RSS Bandit as my RSS Feed Reader and it caches the posts locally on my computer, so I was able to catch up on about 25 unread blog posts that I have been meaning to read. I addition I was also able to do a bunch of other stuff like organize all the of the podcasts that we have been recording lately (The show will launch very soon) and sync the photos off my camera and get them organized so when I do get a connection, it will be easy to upload them.

Online can be distracting

I attribute much of this great burst of productivity to the fact that I was offline. My IM clients (Office Communicator for the corporate contacts, Live Messenger for the personal contacts) were silent for the full duration. I love being able to “ping” people with quick questions and like to make myself accessible in the same way, but every time you get an IM it causes you to “task switch”. I have heard studies that say it can take up to 20 minutes to get back in “the zone” when you task switch like this. E-mail is just as bad and it seems like all e-mail clients have multiple ways to distract you when you get a new message:

  • Would you like us to put an icon in the system tray?
  • Would you like us to play a sound?
  • Would you like us to pop-up a message box?

Plus there is a tendency to follow hyperlinks when you are online. You have done that, start looking for a place to buy Guitar Hero III and the ADD kicks in and next thing you know you are reading about Scientology on Wikipedia. 🙂

The Magic of Software and Services

Windows Live Write Screenshot

The other thing that I attribute this burst of productivity to is the ability for much of the software I use to work in a connected and disconnected fashion. Today I used Outlook, RSS Bandit and Groove all of which tap into services on or over the Internet to make them work, but all of them have the ability to “degrade” nicely and work in a disconnected fashion when those Internet services are not there. I am even writing this blog post offline and Windows Live Writer lets me do that and even see a preview of what the post will look like when it is published (the image on the right is a very existential screen shot of this blog post that shows how the post will appear when it is posted).

This ability for software to work in this fashion is one of the tenants of the software and services (s+s) vision that we will be discussing at the next ArcReady event. ArcReady is a free in person seminar for architects and developers coming up in Indianapolis (December 6th), Milwaukee (December 12th) and Chicago (December 14th). Check the ArcReady site for registration and for dates in other cities.

Note: There is a new version of Windows Live Writer that is available and I understand that they have taken the Beta sticker off the product (I am still running a version from a couple months ago).