Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Martin Kolb

The Flow – Working Without Instant Messaging

Let me start with a confession: I’m German 😉

As Germans we have a lot of abbreviations that have been used for horrible stuff in our history. For example my job as a Software Architect isn’t called Software Architect in my German company, because the abbreviation “SA” has a very bad heritage on German history:

This blog is about instant messaging and its abbreviation IM also has a very bad heritage in Germany:

So I will be using the full written form “instant messaging” throughout this blog, although it looks a little clumsy from time to time.

Instant Messaging – That’s the Way I Like It

In private life I’m kind of addicted to instant messaging. On my smartphone I am actively using four variations of messengers: WhatsApp, Threema, Google-Hangouts, and Facebook-Messenger. Of course I prefer Threema, because it’s the most secure messenger. However I still have some buddies that insist on using the other ones. 😯


What’s Up? – The “Flow”

My job needs a focused mind. Humans need some time of focused work to get into an effective working mode. Psychology research calls this mode a “flow”. How a flow works in the IT industry is illustrated very well in Tom de Marco’s famous book “Peopleware”. I strongly recommend that everybody working in the IT industry should read this book.


The explanation of “flow” from “Peopleware” is:

People are ideally in a state that psychologists call flow. It is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement, a gentle sense of euphoria when one is largely unaware of the passage of time. For anyone involved in engineering, design, development, writing or similar tasks, flow is a must. These are high-momentum tasks that only go well when you’re in flow. Unfortunately, it can’t be turned on like a switch, it takes a slow descent into the subject, 15 minutes of more of concentration before the state is locked in. Each time you’re interrupted, you require an additional immersion period to get back into flow. During this immersion, you’re not really doing work.”

I Need the “Flow” at Work

In my work experience I found out that this is not only a theory, but actually it is reality for me. I need this flow to get work done effectively. Distractions like “mail notifications” or “phone calls” break this flow. Therefore I turned off Outlook’s mail notifications already a long time ago. I check mails a few times a day, typically within breaks that end the flow anyway, for example the lunch break or scrum meetings.

Fortunately the number of phone calls that I am getting in my work environment is so low that I never perceived them as a “flow killer”. The phone was always the “emergency access” if someone really needed to contact me instantaneously.

Until recently instant messaging was not used in my corporate environment. But then my employer decided to use Lync as the telephone technology. In Lync there is also an instant messaging technology that was officially introduced as a tool for collaboration. Although I used instant messaging in private for years I never missed using it for working with my colleagues.

Where Did All the Flow Go?

In fact, it turned out that Lync instant messaging became my number one flow killer. Among my colleagues it became very popular to quickly “ping” someone via Lync. Of course I could have simply ignored the “ping” but it still distracted me from work and kicked me out of the flow. Alternatively I could have turned my status in Lync to “Do not disturb” so that I don’t receive instant messages. But in Lync that also turns off the ability to call me via phone.

I Need My Flow Back!!!

There is no obvious explicit way to disable the instant messaging functionality in Lync. Uninstalling Lync is also not an option because then I cannot make phone calls.

But I needed my flow back and therefore I had to get rid of instant messaging in Lync. Like with everything nowadays: Googling has helped me 😀

There is a Windows registry key that can turn off the instant messaging functionality of Lync. For my version of Lync (Lync 2013), this specific value needs to be set:

    HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Lync\DisableIM = 1

With this knowledge I was now able to make some decisions for my future working mode:

  • I disabled Lync instant messaging on my computer
  • People who need my instantaneous attention can call me on the phone
  • Things that can wait some hours until I react should be sent to me via mail

With that, I can now happily work in a flow mode again.


I would be interested to hear about other people’s experiences on that topic.

Do you experience similar thoughts? Or do you experience instant messaging at work as an improvement because it enables effective quick communication with colleagues?

Leave a comment below!


Cheers and happy working 🙂



Assigned Tags

      1 Comment
      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I would partly agree to your opinion, but completely switching off instant messaging is in my opinion also not the perfect solution.

      I have two options missing in Lync (Skype for Business)

      You can arrange your contacts in groups.

      1. Why isn't it possible to set the status visibility to each group separately?

      2. Why isn't it possible to also set instant messaging active or not to each group separately?

      These two options would help even more.

      I like instant messaging for very short questions commonly towards one of only a handful of colleagues. One sentence question, and one sentence answer, that's all. Taking the phone for this leads often in longer calls discussing also other stuff.

      One third option would also be great. Don't allow instant messages for people not in my contact list