Sirens flare in my head whenever I hear a developer say “I can’t get anything done around here during normal working hours.” A long story about how he comes in early or stays late - or both - inevitably follows.
If you can’t get your job done inside normal working hours, you’re being interrupted too often. Change your environment, not your working hours. Crazy time-shifting destroys important non-work relationships and crashes your personal life. Will your tombstone read “brought the XYZ project in on time”, or “gave of himself always, loved by everyone”?
A central tenant of eXtreme Programming is we never work two 40 hour workweeks in a row. There’s a lot to love and hate about XP, but this rule expresses obvious truisms about people: we need outside lives. We get tired and run down. Rested people are productive people. But to keep to a 40 hour workweek we have to get interruptions under control.
It takes 15 minutes, on average, for your brain to move from active perception of the busy-ness around you to being totally and productively engaged in the cyberworld of coding. Yet a mere 11 minutes passes between interruptions for the average developer. Ever wonder why firmware costs so much? Email, the phone, people looking for coffee filters and your boss all clamor for attention. If you do not manage these interruptions you cannot be productive.
DeMarco and Lister claim a 300% difference in productivity between software teams interrupted often and those who aren’t. 300%! Clearly we have to manage our interruptions; the alternative is missed schedules.
Most companies sentence developers to cubicles rather than private offices. Dilbert aptly names these antiproductivity pods. Cubes are concentration vampires. Who can think when you can’t block out the sound of your neighbor’s call to his divorce lawyer?
Figure out when your brain is most effective; for me it’s first thing in the morning. Take control of these hours. Turn off the email, cut the phone cord, blanket the PA system with headphones, and pull a curtain across the opening that masquerades as a door. Schedule meetings for some other time. Guard these precious hours and use them to focus on your project. It’s astonishing how much work you’ll accomplish.
My Rule of Thumb: Developers who live in cubicles probably aren’t very productive. Check how they manage interruptions.
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