How to Be a Supremely Productive Person: A Chat With John Halamka

John Halamka has two CIO titles, a family, passionate rock-climbing and wine-making interests and a major-league blog habit. We discuss his celebrity turn in a BlackBerry ad, his tips for e-mail triage, how he sleeps three hours a night and why he now understands Britney Spears.

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For real?

For real. I have since the age of 18. So even though I'm 45 years old, in chronological wake time I'm actually 60. It's actually a time management thing. There are 168 hours in a week, and it's just a question of how you divide them up. I also haven't had any caffeine for seven years, and I've been vegan for six years. So I think the three and a half hours of sleep per night thing is just genetic adaptation. I'm just lucky.

I recently wrote about the information overload that CIOs face. One of the suggestions to minimize the overload is to "discontinue BlackBerry use." What do you think of that?

I have a blog entry that specifically answers this question—"My Top 10 Rules for E-mail Triage." I do everything in real-time. Like when you e-mailed me, and I responded in real-time. [Editor's note: Halamka responded in less than six minutes.]

So everything is real-time, but I triage my messages based on criteria of: Who's sending them? What is the subject? What is the urgency? That does mean that with 600 to 700 e-mails per day, I truly have to stratify them to: needs an answer right now, can wait until later, or if it needs a pithy answer I'll write that tonight or over the weekend. It's my personal triage rules that have enabled this to work.

I see. So if I hadn't received a response in a short amount of time, I would know that I'm not on your "A-List."

Well, of course what I assess is if it's a customer or it's a patient care issue. It turned out today that my 12 to 2 p.m. meeting was canceled. It was perfect happenstance.

You've joined the ranks of the small group of CIOs who have been in advertisements—for example, Randy Mott, when he was at Wal-Mart and now HP; Dave Barnes, who's at UPS. You're in good company doing this.

Well, my mom was certainly impressed. When you asked the question, "Who was the most aware of these advertisements?" the answer was my mom.

I've had a couple of colleagues from outside organizations comment on the ads. But, interestingly, if you look at my peers or people within my organization, I've had no comments at all. It could just be they don't read these magazines. I don't know.

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