How do we get anything done?

So today I was feeling frustrated that I hadn't crossed many items off my todo list. I'd been really busy and felt like I had a pretty productive day, but I'd only managed to cross a couple of items off my list.

So I took a break to see exactly what I'd been doing. And ended up tweeting this:

As of 2:30pm
today I sent 46 emails, got email in 128 threads, posted 9 tweets + 8
Facebook comments + had 4 phone calls + 5 IM chats.

And I forgot to count IRC chats.

So then I got to wondering what a normal day looked like. Unfortunately I don't have an easy way to count  threads (email, IM, IRC and Facebook) and I think threads are most likely the most indicative of work done. (It's fascinating how many different conversations we can carry on at once. Often on very unrelated tasks.)

What was easy to count was how many emails I received in a day and how many I sent. What was surprising was how consistent the numbers were!


Also, look how good I was at not working over the weekend – I don't normally do so good at that.

The next thing that surprised me was how many people commented on how productive I was. So I looked up productive in the dictionary and saw they were right:

productive: producing or capable of producing (especially abundantly);

The problem is I measure productive by how many things I cross off my todo list, not how many emails I send or I'd be in reactive mode all day. Now most of the emails I sent were working towards getting things crossed off my list, but in and of themselves they aren't something I want to measure in order to measure productivity.

The third thing that struck me was how many different topics I handle every day. Those 46 emails were in 37 different threads. Over the course of 6.5 hours, that's almost 6 different topics an hour. Or at least 6 different conversations an hour. And again, that's not counting IM, IRC, twitter … If multitasking is inefficient, how much more effective could I be if I managed to focus on one topic for an entire day?

So what was the point? I don't know, but if it takes me 50-100 outbound emails a day (and at least that many inbound emails) to get my job done (not to mention IM, IRC, Identica, Twitter and Facebook) whatever did people do before email??

P.S. And I'm not complaining. Feel free to continue to communicate with me as often as you want in the medium you find most comfortable. I feel like whatever I'm doing is working well for me at the moment. (Except for that pesky todo list that grows as fast as I cross things off of it!)

I'm just contemplating what this means … your thoughts and insights are welcome.