Microprocessing

Now Is the Time to Bring Back Away Messages

Life is totally online — we need ways to politely disconnect

Angela Lashbrook
Debugger
Published in
8 min readSep 9, 2020

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Photo: mikroman6/Getty Images

I spend most Thursdays heads down writing. The task is one that, at least for me, requires absolute focus, a quality that I have to essentially beg some corner of my brain to extend to me for a few hours. This usually fails, making the draft take twice as long as it has to. Even now, my phone is lighting up with a text; several Twitter direct messages are awaiting my response; I have an email open in another tab that I actually want to answer.

There are a number of things I could do, some of which I’ve suggested in other columns, like turning off notifications (off for everything but texts, at the moment) and setting an alarm that dictates when I can look at any social media (I usually do this by the hour). Both methods help, but there’s a tool that, if more readily available and widely used, would make perhaps the biggest difference of all: away messages.

In the glory days of online communication (2002 to 2009, in my rough, highly personal estimation), away messages were popular on AOL’s instant messaging service and acted a bit like digital Post-it notes stuck to a door: messages that would pop up next to a user’s handle indicating that a person was unavailable to chat. Yet they’ve largely fallen to the wayside, foregone in favor of constant connectivity that’s distracting and stressful. If I could easily apply away messages to iMessage, Twitter, and any other form of messaging app or social network, I’d rest easy while drafting, comforted by the fact that anyone trying to reach me will know by my away message that it’ll be some time before I respond.

“If you think about that over the span of even just a day, if we’re getting distracted even five or six times, that’s a couple hours of lost productivity.”

Anything that makes it easier to disconnect and focus on work will help ensure that you’re able to accomplish tasks in a more efficient manner and, ideally, get done earlier. As it stands, every distraction — a text message, checking your email, whatever — comes at a high cost, causing you to…

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Angela Lashbrook
Debugger

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.