Provide Regular Time to Focus

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Software developers regularly report that interruptions such as meetings, demos, and urgent bug fixes keep them from completing their work. Typically, a person takes about 20 minutes to regain their train of thought after one of these interruptions. A five-minute question actually costs 25 minutes and a quick 10-minute meeting actually costs 30 minutes of potential work. Interruptions and recovery time consume 28% of a typical knowledge worker’s day[1] and can cause undue frustration and stress.

To help address this issue, set aside two hours a day (i.e. between 10 and noon) or an entire day when no meetings, questions, email, phones and other distractions are permitted, to allow developers to concentrate and focus on their work. Intel and IBM set aside Fridays, calling them "zero-email Fridays" and "Think Fridays" respectively[2]. It is also equally important that every developer knows what their (top two) priorities are so they can plan this period effectively. Even the best-intentioned developers could only randomly guess what would bring value, if they were not told what would actually bring real business value to the project.

Infomania (debilitating state of information overload) is widely recognized as a major opponent to a developer's productivity. Programming requires that developers keep many things in their head at once - everything from variables, class structures, APIs, utility methods, and even directory hierarchies. When a developer is interrupted, much of this information is "swapped" out and requires considerable mental energy to regain. This has a huge impact on productivity and employees are generally not creating new ideas to the extent they used to because of infomania[3].

Developers' productivity can degrade by over 50% for each additional simultaneous project. Developers working on three or more projects often spend more time attending meetings, explaining why they are not making any progress, than getting any actual work done. When developers must contribute to multiple projects, ensure that they are guaranteed at least two full days on each project before switching to another. This will minimize the amount of time they must spend re-introducing themselves to each project.


Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg

Crystal Clear by Alistair Cockburn

[1]Fighting a War Against Distraction by Marci Alboher, New York Times, 06/22/2008

[2]Unloading Information Overload, Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A11 JULY 7, 2008

[3]Infomania: Why we can't afford to ignore it any longer by Nathan Zeldes, David Sward, and Sigal Louchheim, published in First Monday, Volume 12, Number 8 - 6 August 2007

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