Every office space I’ve ever worked in has been open plan. I would put on my headphones and try to ignore the hustle and bustle around me. But inevitably without walls and a door to separate me from the rest of my coworkers, someone would interrupt me when I was in the middle of something or just getting going.
Almost always it was for something that could have easily been put in an email or an instant message. It was extremely frustrating.
Programming requires focus but more importantly there is a ramp up to getting going. Rarely do I just sit down and start banging at my keyboard. I need to think about the problem, think about all the moving parts that I will use to solve the problem, and then start fitting them together.
I’ve compared it to legos in the past, but the big difference is that the pieces are in my head and I’m organizing them in my head. I can’t lay them out on the floor like legos, break for lunch, and pick up exactly where I left off. When programming is interrupted, all those pieces get jumbled up. When I start up again, I need to separate them out and reorganize, which takes time.
You’re juggling variables and functions and layouts and the moment you look away it all falls to the ground — it takes you 10 minutes getting it back in the air again.
— Matt Mullenweg
It is no wonder companies like Fog Creek Software and Campaign Monitor have private offices for every developer. They want to minimize interruptions. Less interruptions means developers are less frustrated by interruptions and happier.
But there is also another type of interruption that I believe is even more problematic. Notifications.
We take our phones wherever we go. And along with them notifications to every service we subscribe to. Either in the form of an email or from an app we have installed (or both). When we’re on our desktop or laptop many of the apps also have notifications. Almost always notifications are turned on by default. Naturally most app developers feel their app is as important as any other app and wants to let you know any time something happens.
On a phone though, this default is insane. Email apps notify you of every email’s arrival. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram seem to notify you any time anything happens.
Having notifications pop up is not only an interruption but directly affects my mood and happiness level. It is a source of anxiety.
The only notifications I have on my phone now are text messages, phone calls, and Facebook messages. These are the channels I care to know about immediately, so my phone makes a noise and a notification popups up on screen. I also have Twitter @reply and direct message notifications on, but the phone doesn’t make a noise. I have disabled all other notifications on my phone. Most importantly I’ve disabled email notifications.
On my laptop I’ve gone even further. I’ve disabled all notifications for all applications. When a new email arrives, it does so silently. I check my email periodically throughout the day. Email isn’t pushed upon me. Instead, it’s my choice when to check it (probably why I’m in the minority that doesn’t hate email). I don’t have any Twitter pop ups. I’ve disabled the little count bubbles in the OS X dock so I don’t see when something new has arrived. Same goes for the menu bar.
Suppressing these non-essential notifications has decreased interruptions while I work and has helped decrease anxiety around my devices. I highly recommend assessing the notifications you receive. Do you really need them?