Avoiding an unintentional bottleneck

 

We’re all busy these days and sometimes it’s really hard to get any work done with continuous interruptions. As developers we know that it’s hard to get into the mindset that allows us to concentrate on designing a certain class or fixing that retched bug, and any minor incident can throw us way off and place us back at the starting line.

Now I’m sure that it’s not only developers that have this problem. Any type of work the requires concentration probably has the same issues. It just so happens that most of my life has been spent developing software and I speak from experience. Getting interrupted while working on code is a pain!

Avoiding Interruptions

Interruptions can come in the form of emails, telephone calls, instant messaging and recently the more popular Twittering, which I’m finding is substantially limiting my ability to both read or write more than 140 characters. In fact, I’ve written this post via a Windows Live Writer plug-in that injects 140 chars at a time.

There are several ways to cope with this problem. For example when using Outlook, you can suspend the Send/Receive for certain periods of time, or just do what I do and shutdown the damn thing, as much the same with Twitter, Skype, etc. I assign myself periods of a minimum of one hour where I just code, and not deal with email, messages or Twitter. I then take a 5-15 minute break, check all correspondence and go back what I was doing. I find it helps me be much more productive. Other people use techniques such as the Pomodoro or Pair Programming, which personally I find very productive on many levels, but in terms of interruptions. While sitting with someone, it feels kind of wrong to be chatting on Skype or replying to emails while making your coding partner wait. As such, you tend to not do it so often, and avoid potentially embarrassing situations

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Avoid causing bottlenecks for others

Increasing productivity is one of the major benefits of avoiding disruptions. Like anything however, there’s always two sides to every story.

Whether working on a team or solo, you tend to interact with people, be it a team member, someone else in your company, customers or 3rd parties you deal with. These interactions are mostly based on emails, IMS’s or phone calls, you know. the same things that disrupt our productivity. Now it’s great for you to be able to control them to increase your throughput, but you need to also bear in mind that what you’re doing is potentially holding up someone else’s productivity.

If someone sends you an email to ask for information about a certain project, or how something should be done or who to contact for a particular thing, these issues might not be effecting your job directly, but most likely it is interrupting theirs.

That is why it’s important to remember that when responding to someone, especially with emails where there is an inherent delay, to always take into account how important the reply is for them, more than for yourself. Does it hold them up? Is it a potential issue?

Obviously sometimes a response requires a little more work, but it’s also very important to communicate this to the originator. Tell them that you need 2 hours to get back to them and you can’t fit it in for another 2 days. The important thing is to not leave people hanging.

Remember, what’s not important for you, might be critical for others. Sometimes I miss the Urgent flag in Gmail. It’s utterly useless for SMTP servers, but it does communicate intent to the receiver of the mail (albeit abused by many).

4 thoughts on “Avoiding an unintentional bottleneck

  1. Paul Cowan

    I am personally going through the cold turkey of not using twitter. I found it a total distraction in more ways than one.

    In reality it is just another reification of an echo chamber that is defined by the fact that you are following people of a similar mind set.

    Conversations rarely have substance and it merely seems a graffiti wall for people to tweet such boasts as, for example "I just refactored 200000000 lines of code down to 10 using SOLID. Good result.".

    If I sound bitter it is only because I am still struggling to combine the words twitter and bitter into a legible word that I will use for my next blog post title :-).

    Reply
  2. paul cowan

    Lol, the peanut thing was not a direct quote or from anyone in particular.

    For the record, I just discovered wasabi peanuts at the weekend and I only have one thing to say about it…….

    ……."wasabi peanuts FTW"

    Reply

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