Friday, March 17, 2006

Keeping disturbances handy

It was noon and I sat down to do a design/code review as part of our development process. I had just wrapped up my sundry tasks of responding to mail, checking the status of ongoing projects, going to the loo, drinking water before settling into the review. Yes, for me a review of design and code before it goes further down the pipe is the most important part of the process. (Refer to my earlier postings about the importance of reviews, or where it is cheapest to fix bugs). Just as I started reading the specifications and design, my cell rang. It was one of our deployment engineers onsite at a customer location asking for some help in using one of the new features. After I finished the call and struggled to revert my attention to the review (yes its very difficult to switch your mind amongst activities easily), one of my team members called out to me for some quick help on some design decisions (Yes I don't have a cabin and sit in the middle of my group and am easily accessible - a boon and a bane). Once done with that, I again struggled and restarted the review. But by now my initial focus was disturbed and the two discussions (during the disturbances) were coming back to me to think about. It was like not being able to work at work.

I stopped what I was doing to reflect on this. I looked around and observed what other people in my team were doing. I also walked around to other divisions to see what those teams were doing. I saw one set of people intently doing their work (coding, diagramming, documenting, invoicing, selling etc) and another set of people talking to friends, chatting with friends on IM, browsing unrelated sites, and generally appearing to wile away their time. This was of course a sampler at a given moment but I also realized that these are the same set of people who keep their "disturbances handy" like I did when I started my review. i.e. Make it easy to be disturbed ( I am assuming that they are committed to the job; there are a set of people who wait for the day to end... this article is not about them). I also realized that there are two basic types of activities one where you create (a document, code, design, review...) and another were you maintain (run a process like front desk, recruitment, etc). In the case of the former, being disturbed is sure to bring down the quality of the work since the very nature of that work demands undivided attention and laser like focus to get it done (no wonder that Bill Gates takes two weeks off by himself on an island to figure out the future of Microsoft). As for the latter, the mind is not creating and is not in a stressed state trying to retain connections, make logical links, theorize etc so it can afford to be disturbed)

My recommendations while creating:
1. Isolate yourself so you will not be disturbed during that time.
2. Schedule such work at times when you are least likely to be needed urgently.
3. Turn off the phone, email and chat pop ups since these are like the door bell (Humans are inadvertently trained to respond to the doorbell and phone ring, dropping whatever they are doing, literally).
4. Focus on the task at hand.
5. Divide your time into sections where you are available for discussions, you respond to mail, return phone calls etc and sections where you are invisible.

Even as I write this, I was disturbed thrice...hope you will excuse any break in the flow due to that :-). I am going home now to complete the least there only my dog will disturb me.

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