What is the "hydrant theory" and how it helps not to drown in the flow of tasks

What is the “hydrant theory”

Lotus founder Mitch Kapor once said that getting information from the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant. Online communications expert Matthew Laurie has picked up on this idea and called the hydrant the continuous stream of messages, notifications, and other data that we receive from various sources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A hydrant is not just information, but a real factory of new tasks. Among them are very different: obvious ones, such as an email with tasks from the boss, and less obvious ones, such as a professional article that would be useful to read.

Hydrant doesn’t give a damn about our internal rhythms. While we sleep, it only fills up. In the morning we look at the phone – and drown in a stream of letters and notifications. Tasks that were not in the plan yesterday are now on fire and require our immediate attention.

It is important to understand that this is a continuous stream of information that cannot be fully covered. Its source is not only email or social networks, but also a variety of applications, personal and work calendars, websites, meetings with loved ones, and even our own head. We have to process messages all the time and decide what to do with them: react instantly, apply at work, save for later use, share or delete.

To control the hydrant , you can try one of two techniques: change your own behavior or apply technology. But a third option is also possible – to use technology to change your attitude and interaction with information.

What methods help to control the hydrant

1. Structure your routine

This technique allows us to organize each day in such a way as to synchronize the time of work and the time when our brain is able to focus best. Track your performance and find out when you are most productive, and when, on the contrary, you lose efficiency.

Let’s say your peak productivity is in the morning. Set aside 2-3 hours during this period to work on the most important task of the day without distractions. According to research , if an employee is distracted or distracted at least once every three minutes, it takes him an average of 23 minutes to get back into business.

Make sure you choose the most difficult and important task. Unforeseen circumstances or additional meetings are bound to arise during the day, due to which things of paramount importance remain unfulfilled.

As a rule, after 60–90 minutes of intensive work, concentration decreases. If you feel that you get tired at certain intervals, divide the period of work on the main task into two parts, take a break and get up from the table. The latter is a must – studies confirm that a sedentary lifestyle leads to heart problems, poor posture, the risk of developing certain types of cancer, and more.

The whole day can also be divided into two parts. For example, hold meetings or calls right after lunch, and devote the remaining time to tasks related to management and work planning. At the same time, you can check incoming messages and mail only twice – in the morning and in the afternoon, so as not to be distracted from business.

2. Explore – Move to Queue or Stock – Share

This method helps to divide the unsystematic flow from the “hydrant” into three categories: a convenient list of tasks; personal library of useful materials; sources of information worth sharing with colleagues or friends. You can do this distribution both in the morning and in the evening.


The first step involves the analysis of all incoming information. This includes anything from work and personal emails to notifications from apps and websites. It is important to understand here that most of this does not require an immediate response.

Opening every message and replying to it is not very efficient. In order not to lose concentration, it is better to focus on one thing – for example, only look at your inbox. If you can “scan” them in less than two minutes, do it. If not, add to the list of tasks to return to later.

Analyze the flow of incoming twice a day. When doing this in the morning, ask yourself how urgent each message is. This way, you won’t be wasting precious time that you would like to devote to the most important task of the day.

Move to queue or stock

In the next step, non-urgent inboxes that take more than two minutes to complete can be divided into two areas.

The first is what you need to read, such as online resources that you want to explore and think about. Save them to your browser favorites or apps like Instapaper , Pocket and similar . From these stocks, a personal library of useful materials is formed.

The second is what needs to be done. Transfer tasks to a paper calendar or electronic planner like Any.do or Todoist .


The last step is to publish links to the materials you like in your personal accounts or send them to work chats if you are sure that they will be interesting and useful to colleagues.

3. Finish what you start

This applies to all tasks that you do. This is where a proven productivity system for managing your to-do list and your own time comes in handy. For example, the popular Getting Things Done or any other convenient and familiar to you personally.

This article was first published in July 2015. In September 2022, we updated the text.

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