Focus, Flow, and how much time context switching requires to recover

Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not frown at all on FB, Twitter, text, websurfing. I enjoy Googling through great ideas too!  But there’s no denying some reading which demonstrates that I’ll produce better work when I  stop surfing DURING tasks.  I should focus on 1 thing, and move surfing to when I am at a stopping point in a task. When my family, friends or work need me they still call my cell and I still answer.   Summarizing some reading lately:

1.       Do you create things?  Do those things require you to hold vast sets of options which have to work together? Do you have to research things in the middle to understand how to make the options work together?  You are a creator.  Maybe you create software.  Or do detail-people come to you and lay pieces of info out in front and ask/answer your questions? You are a manager or CEO.  If you are a manager, keep using outlook in 1 hour segments where everything can be disconnected.  BUT, if you are a creator, then Create exclusive time periods to focus on only the code you’re working on – focus wholly on the work that is producing great user experience, increasing profit, widening margin, etc.  – then take a break and do other stuff.  Turn off your facebook and twitter feed while you are using this creative block of time.  While you think you aren’t disturbed, science, that thing you and I respect, can show you that the tinkle of your skype feed or LKND update is distracting you much more than you think.

a.       Email, chat, FB, Twitter, Instagram update, Pinterest alerts distract us much more than we think. Focus until we reach a stopping point.

2.       Improve the quality of work by focusing  on 1 customer deliverable at a time – this is one reason to permanently address the interrupt driven maintenance taxes

3.       Vacations – TAKE EM!!!  and off time should be away!  use those times to refresh your mind/creativity/drive.   The problem will find you if it needs you.

4.       Shorter and fewer meetings. Be ontime and no alerts.  End with a decision, an owner, and an estimate.  If it’s just sounding out ideas, then none of that applies.

Task switching to something else while you are coding a solution is expensive and inefficient.  For Programmers, Joel Spolsky notes: “task switches take a really, really, really long time. That’s because programming is the kind of task where you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once. The more things you remember at once, the more productive you are at programming.  A programmer coding at full throttle is keeping zillions of things in their head at once: everything from names of variables, data structures, important APIs, the names of utility functions that they wrote and call a lot, even the name of the subdirectory where they store their source code.”  Multi-task advocates think you can effectively concentrate on 2 things at the same time without degrading your effectiveness.  The harder your job, the more you need to focus.  The context switch between checking mail/chats/updates is very, very expensive– focus on developing a solution , and then take a good long break to focus on FB friends, Draw!, etc.

“I check my e-mail much less often,” he said. “The interruptions really can throw you off-track.”  In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. “I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois, of a paper on the study that will be presented next month. <citation>

Harvard Business wrote recently about Focus and taking all your vacations! –

“What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. …The biggest cost … is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.”  <my addition>: this is called FLOW, and it’s critical to both quality and creativity> … “if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy  … I get two to three times as much writing accomplished when I focus without interruption for a designated period of time and then take a real break, away from my desk. The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.”

This isn’t about reducing internet/surfing or conversation.  It is about how we chunk out our work and ignore (SILENCE?!) the ding of the meaningless social update during our sprints of work.  It’s about admitting that multi-tasking is mostly self-delusion.

This subject is very cartoon-worthy!


About paulscho36

I like to simplify software. I love people who actually deliver software.
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