I remember when I was first introduced to a business instant messaging system – good ‘ol NWSend from Novell. You could send a short message to another user and it would pop up on their … well … we didn’t call ’em “Desktops” back then … pop up on their “screen”. It was fairly unobtrusive. I even coded some TSRs that used NWSend in other ways.

Now the communication tool choices we have feels endless, and every time a new VP or Director is hired, their favorite tool gets added to the mix. Email, Slack, JIRA, Confluence, Github, Bitbucket and a nearly endless lineup of others tools for communicating something to you – information you need, tasks to do, questions to answer, or even answers to questions.

I’ve been asked, “How do you keep track of all of it?”

One things that’s important to remember is that you are a Professional. You can’t do the passive-aggressive thing and ignore some requests and fulfill others. If you are requested as a code reviewer, ignoring it isn’t an option for a Professional. Certainly you have the option to refuse to do the code review, but you cannot ignore the request. Whether it comes in email, a JIRA comment – wherever — you must respond.

Whether I’m a Product Owner or SCRUM Master, a developer or tester, I use the same four tricks to keep up with everything.

First, keep a Clean Inbox
And by a “Clean Inbox”, I don’t mean move it or categorize and filter it. I mean leave the message in your Inbox until it’s Done. Getting Done might be creating a task, an appointment, reading that Article that was emailed to you, responding or forwarding, or, deciding that it isn’t relevant to your work and deleting it. Strive for a clean inbox.

Second, keep a Clean Messaging System
This is similar to the Inbox, but with an messaging system like Slack. Read the Unreads, even if just to glance at them. Change your Notification settings to make sure you are alerted for messages sent directly to you. If you have some action you need to take later, then move on to Trick number 3 to see how to deal with that.

Third, keep a Clean Desktop
Don’t clutter your computer Desktop with dozens and dozens of shortcuts and apps. Keep it clean. I use the upper left corner of my Desktop, shown to be the area that the eye is least drawn to, for links to stuff I’m working on now. Shortcuts to JIRA tickets, a link to a Confluence page with an upcoming product demo agenda, and a permanent link to a Slack message where I needed to take some action “later”. I have JIRA tickets for code that’s in QA or Review — all sitting in that Work Area of my Desktop. Once they’re Done Done, I delete the shortcut. It’s a fantastic way to keep track of what needs my immediate attention — but it’s only possible because the rest of my Desktop is clean – just a few MOV files for the upcoming Demo and a some Test folders where I’m messing around with Xcode stuff.

Fourth and finally, Schedule Time if you need to
If an email sits around too long, if I’m not getting to requested Code Reviews, then I know it’s time for the Calendar app. I create some specific time to work on that thing I’m behind on, and I Get It Done.

It’s a simple process that’s always Front and Center since it’s really about “Keeping it Clean” – Clean Inbox, Clean Messaging System, Clean Desktop.

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