Programmer Disrupt

I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine and we got on the topic of having to switch gears during the course of a work day, and how disruptive it can be.  Many programmers, once focused, get into a “groove” while coding where everything else just fades away and the code becomes the main focus, and many bugs and features can get done in a short amount of time.  Any programmer can tell you about this groove and how awesome they feel when they come out of it, finishing everything they had on their todo list.

There is the disrupt, however.  The disrupt happens whenever you are in your groove and are pulled out right in the middle of your focus.  I likened it to being a mack truck cruising along at full speed only to have your entire engine cease up on you, stopping you dead in your tracks:

How I feel having to switch mindsets to a different project

Disrupt is almost unavoidable when you work in a team on multiple projects, what really matters is how you handle it. Its really easy to get aggravated but you have to remember that your boss is just doing their job as well.  The problem with a disrupt is that once it happens, it cannot be undone.  There are a few things I’ve done to handle the disrupt in the best way possible: *Question the urgency: This requires a bit of finesse, but ask the person with the urgent issue how urgent the issue really is.  Sometimes just talking it out for a few minutes can actually get you back to the task you were previously on. *Finish up current task:  Since you’re a good programmer and break all of your work into a todo list, you should have very defined breaking points to your work.  Ask your superior for a little bit of time to finish your current task and then you can get to their issue. *Wear headphones: Probably the most anti-social thing to do on this list but it will help you maintain focus, and most of the time people are less likely to walk right up to someone with headphones on. Funnily enough, this is the top response I got from my developer friends as to what they do when they get disrupted.

I think the paramount thing to remember after getting hit with a disrupt, is to keep your cool, and remain collected.  All too often our first reaction to being disrupted is frustration and anger at being pulled out of such a blissful place.  It’s good to keep in mind that while you are doing your job, your manager is just doing theirs.  If you know you are going to try and tackle a lot of issues and really don’t want to be bothered, take a moment and tell your managers that you will be very focused that day and to try to keep the distractions to a minimum.  37 signals' book Getting Real has a great section on talking about just this.