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Plug in to unplug

Plug in to unplugRecently, more people are trying to unplug, and they’re chronicling their experiences for the rest of us. Paul Miller of The Verge spent a whole year without the internet, Mashable‘s Vignesh Ramachandran just attended a tech-free summer camp for adults called The Digital Detox, and we’re inspired by Fast Company’s #unplug series.  

We can relate.

Information overload is real, and it’s important to #unplug for creativity and sanity. Stated, we also realize most people don’t always have the luxury of doing so, and that includes most of us at Microsoft.  One of our dev teams even built an internal app, called Focus Time, to shut off electronic distractions.  The app, which was downloaded internally thousands of times, switches Outlook to offline mode and sets Lync to “Do Not Disturb,” so we can work without electronic distractions.

For those who can’t escape to a tech-free summer camp, here are some tips on how to put your technology to work for you – stopping it from distracting you and helping you harness it as a force for good.

  • Pick the right tools for your tasks. E-mail is perfect for one-to-one or small group communications, but for collaboration or broader conversations at Microsoft, we turn to Yammer to eliminate silos and ensure the right people are always in the know. And, when something is highly urgent and we haven’t heard back in mail, we hit the Lync call button to talk things out face to face(s)
  • Go ahead, put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign. We’re not kidding. In Microsoft Lync, you can change your presence to show availability as being green for “available,” yellow for “away,” red for “busy,” and when you’re in a crunch, there’s no shame in putting your presence on “do not disturb.” Like a mind shield, this will block people from sending you Lync messages, route calls straight to voice mail and prevent Outlook email reminders from popping up in the corner of your screen.
  • Press the e-mail mute button. There’s no penalty for throwing someone on the cc: line, so e-mail sometimes gets out of control (though I want a feature like this to “thank” the people who add me). With the new Outlook, you can manage the madness by simply clicking Ignore. Those strings of conversation that never seem to end are kept out of your inbox without anyone noticing.
  • It’s OK to tune out sometimes. When you really need creativity to strike or you’re under a hard deadline, Outlook comes with a handy “off” switch. Simply select “Work Offline,” and you’re free from incoming e-mail for a while. Coupled with “Do Not Disturb” in Lync, you can create a virtual cone of silence.

We thought it was only appropriate to close this post with our favorite “cone of silence” scene from the remake of Get Smart. Case in point- technology can help and hurt, but we think you’ll be able to find some peace of mind with these tips. What are your secrets to sanity? Talk back to @Office about what helps you #unplug.