Where’s My Interruption Manager? Not In One Place, I’m Afraid

March 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Posted in Attention Management, email, interruption science | 1 Comment

Larry Cannell pointed me to a good posting by Daniel Tunkelang called “You Can’t Hurry Relevance“. Mr. Tunkelang obviously believes in the idea of attention management.  I especially like the way he states the holy grail of attention management: a system that understands what is important to the user and dispositions messages accordingly.  Well, I’ll let his own words shine here:

As an information consumer, I’d appreciate an interface that explicitly and transparently adapts to my priorities, and that manages interruption of my workflow accordingly

Here’s what I commented back on his entry regarding the statement above:

There will not be one tangible “thing” that manages interruptions based on priorities.  But there will be a collection of technologies and capabilities that, taken together, can be used to manage attention.  I call this collection of technologies and capabilities that manage attention the Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture.  I posted this architectural model on the KnowledgeForward blog in 2006.  You can find it here:


Since it is not one, purpose-built, tightly integrated set of pieces, it takes a walk-through to apply it to any particular problem.  The problem you mention in this posting is e-mail, and you’ve provided 3 good suggestions on how to take advantage of urgency.  I applied the EAM model to e-mail as an example and yielded 15 examples where technology could help, many of which are indeed available in some e-mail systems (although often buried or cludgy).  You can see my list and how the EAM architecture helped derive it here:


I really like your thought that urgency should be taken into account in the e-mail process.  You have some good ideas for the receiving end of e-mail.  I still wouldn’t give up on the sender’s side too.  When sending letters and packages, people don’t mind picking between a number of options (ground, express, signature required, etc.) that indicate urgency.  If we can do a bit of behavior change (or possible force people via a token system), it’s interesting to think about how much e-mail could be improved.  Easier said than done though.


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  1. […] to gain control over the messages sent, received, and discovered by its information workers. It is implemented as a system of systems  that broadly divides working units into those that help pull important information forward to […]

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