Tools that improve productivity

There are many ways to organize your work and depending on what you do and how you feel more comfortable, you might be happy with a Moleskine or you might need something different.

I don’t really have many appointments and my calendar generally lists 3-4 things in a full week. On the other side my daily work is mostly driven by some tasks that I have to regularly work on and, most of all, e-mail (we could call it an event-driven work).

E-mail is really my number one companion and often I send out an e-mail instead of calling. In my mind most people live in front of their computer and will most likely read the e-mail within 10-15 minutes. Sometimes I realize that this is not the reality for many people, but actually for most of the people I work with, this is true.
Today, if you are often away from a computer, you can read your e-mail from your mobile phone or via a Blackberry so you are not really off-line.

In my case, I spend most of the time at my desk. Aside from e-mail I also use other software to communicate such as Skype (do you have an idea of how much money we save when calling overseas?) and AdiumX to cover all the IM networks such as Y! Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ, AIM and GTalk.
These clients are very useful and allow me to keep in touch with a lot of people, I can immediately get in touch with colleagues and other developers around the world. It’s really unbeatable.
When I’m traveling it’s good to keep in touch with my girlfriend of course.

Speaking of how I organize my work, I have never been good at keeping a well defined list of things to do, a precise schedule and everything well organized. I tend to have on the back of my mind a list of things I know I need to do and then, according to the e-mails and requests that I receive I “automatically assign” a higher or lower priority to new tasks and add them to my list. In order to get all the notifications immediately I use tools such as Growl or MailTags.
I simply love and am addicted to Growl. I know it’s a Mac-only software, but you should really want it for other systems too. In two words every time there’s an event you will see a message on the screen for a few seconds. You can configure growl as you like and there are many parameters and skins, I actually go for a very basic configuration and have bubbles appearing on the top right of my screen. I receive alerts of messages from AdiumX, Skype, new e-mails and so on.
Any time anything happens I will see a little alert that will also vanish in a few seconds so won’t bother for too long. I have gotten so used to it that I read the notices and don’t even remember I did, it’s like a subliminal message.

Recently, during the 3GSM World Congress, I saw a very nice user interface for Symbian devices and I think that in some way it goes the same way as Growl. It’s been developed as a pilot by Favourite Systems AS and it’s called FLUID. The new UI overrides the normal stand-by screen of your phone and changes it into an empty space where bubbles pop-up when new events happen. If you receive a new SMS a bubble will appear. If you receive 5 SMS messages, the bubble will grow and take more screen space that you should more likely notice it. If you have an appointment or a new e-mail, more bubbles will pop-up. Much like the Apple Dashboard and Konfabulator (now known as Yahoo! Widgets) you may also pick some applications and have a little bubble just for that. Bubbles will not cover each other, but move around as new bubbles appear. You may also move them around manually and zoom in to read the full text.

So, my question is, do these tools really improve my productivity? How much are they improving it and how much are they effectively taking my attention away from my main task?
Applications like AdiumX and Skype are great and let me keep in touch with a lot of people from around the world, but it is probably obvious to anyone that this often mixes up with chatting with friends or being pinged about topics or tasks that you would actually postpone or consider at a later time.
The same happens with the Blackberry (or Crackbeery) as I know people that involuntarily keep their eye on the BB and wait to see the little LED change color to immediately read the new message. How much of their attention and concentration is this taking away?
I am a Growl-addict, but would I work better without it? What would I miss?