RustProof Labs: blogging for education (logo)
My book Mastering PostGIS and OpenStreetMap is available!

Distractions At Work

By Ryan Lambert -- Published December 02, 2013

At 3:00 PM today I finally started my music and put on my headphones. That is not normal for me, but was a casualty of the office environment today.

Minimize Interruptions

One of the major advantages of being a programmer (sometimes known as the elusive "computer person") is the ability to work anywhere. I am lucky enough to have an understanding boss that never bats an eye when I don't come in to the office. In fact, there are many days where she's more surprised to see me in person than anything! Working from home allows me to minimize or remove distractions while I focus on what needs to be done today. This is the key to being able to successfully work remotely -- You have to have the self-control to set those boundaries. While that can be difficult, it's less difficult than controlling the office distractions that come up in a typical day!

Part of the distraction comes from just being back from a 4-day weekend celebrating Thanksgiving, and part of it comes from being summoned for jury duty tomorrow; I'm trying to make sure I get caught up on last week and trying to make sure something major doesn't fall through the cracks this week... because it's jury duty. Who knows when I'll be back! But, all of that is minor compared to the three times my office phone has rang and the few people that have side-tracked me in person. Even just going to the restroom at work sometimes is like playing Frogger, but instead of dodging cars I'm dodging people!

Joel Spolsky talks about the cost of distractions with programmers: (this quote is from waaaay down the article under point #8)

Here's the simple algebra. Let's say (as the evidence seems to suggest) that if we interrupt a programmer, even for a minute, we're really blowing away 15 minutes of productivity. For this example, lets put two programmers, Jeff and Mutt, in open cubicles next to each other in a standard Dilbert veal-fattening farm. Mutt can't remember the name of the Unicode version of the strcpy function. He could look it up, which takes 30 seconds, or he could ask Jeff, which takes 15 seconds. Since he's sitting right next to Jeff, he asks Jeff. Jeff gets distracted and loses 15 minutes of productivity (to save Mutt 15 seconds).

According to that math, I'm easily down 2 hours for the day even though it feels more like 4.

Give Me Music

My ideal environment for focused, detail oriented work is somewhere where I won't be interrupted that I can put on music and get in the zone. I have a standing desk both in my office and home office so when my music is on, I'm grooving and dancing while working! I also work well in noisy coffee shops which seems to surprise people, but the noise isn't what bothers me... it's the direct interaction with people that is the distraction. The other caffeine addict and I have a mutual "we don't know each other" attitude so they tend to leave me alone.

Not everyone has the luxury of working outside of the office, but I also find the first 2 hours of the day in the office are most productive when you come in at 7:00 am. That also has the added benefit of not being in the major morning or evening rush hours so my commuting times aren't as bad. Therefore my mood is better!

By Ryan Lambert
Published December 02, 2013
Last Updated December 02, 2013