This month I’ve been trying to see if there is a measurable difference in regard to how much I get done when working at the office vs. working at home. For most of my career I’ve considered working out of the office the way to really get things done, as an escape from the distractions that come with being in a venue filled with people who want to interrupt you.
What I am finding, however, is that for every knock on the door interruption at the office, I seem to have just as many screaming child interruptions at home. Everywhere I go it seems, there are the actual and metaphorical squirrels intent on catching and keeping my attention.
The point is, of course, not about location, as much as it is that you’re going to be distracted. Our work life is full of interruptions, be them email, instant messaging, phone calls, knocks on the door, reloading cups of coffee, going to the bathroom, lunch, retrieving something from the printer, daily standups….you get the idea. At home, these things all basically exist just the same, and are augmented by children, laundry, the UPS guy, the neighbor’s lawn service, going to the school bus, and dozens of other things.
But wait! Maybe working at the coffee shop will be better? Nope, there you have the hiss of the espresso machine, the constant coming and going of people, and worse, other people’s children!
So how do we get things done? How as a developer can I possibly have a block of uninterrupted time suitable to starting and finishing a task?
Learn the time of day that works best for you, and do your best work in it
One year while I was in college, a class scheduling conflict required me to put in hours at my internship between 6:00am and 10:00am several days a week, returning to campus for lunch and classes in the afternoon. I found during that time that I worked well, and by that I mean I had strong focus, during the early morning hours. That time slot is much harder to come by these days as there are lunches to be made and kids to feed, but occasionally I’ll find myself awake early and able to preempt the day with some productive hours. For others, it may be mid afternoon when they find their best focus, when the crises of the new day are dealt with. Still others stay up late. Whatever your preference, by organizing the most important tasks around the time when you do the best work, more may be achieved.
Operate on clear deliverables
When I clearly know the particular task at hand, and it is a self contained unit of work, I find my ability to focus and complete that task without being derailed by distractions is much stronger. Whether it is a bug ticket, a specific item to research, or a new feature, having a tangible, manageable task to complete makes it easier to return to the task after an interruption occurs.
Shut down your browser
In my normal Chrome instance, I have 3 tabs of email inboxes, Twitter, Drudge Report, and Hacker News. That’s six distractions that I invited in to my day. In any idle moment, be it the recompile of a project, or the start up of a new virtual machine, my default action is to touch all six of those tabs looking for changes. F5 is the enemy! As hard as it is, working in a vacuum sometimes is the best way to narrowly focus on a task.
As I age I’m learning that focus is a skill, and one that must be practiced and honed. What are your methods for staying focused and getting things done?