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Discussion on: Stop Interrupting Me.

beggars profile image
Dwayne Charrington Author

Absolutely. It's not the interruptions that bother me so much, it's the timing of people in general. The post might suggest otherwise, but I love helping people, it's part of my job.

Interruptions range from impromptu last minute meetings (especially those I didn't even need to be in), people asking what I am doing for lunch through to asking questions they could have Googled or Slacked me.

To me, if I have headphones on, people should take that as a sign I am busy. I go most times of the day without headphones on at all, which people are fine to come and ask me things.

practicingdev profile image
Practicing Developer • Edited

Got it, thanks for clarifying.

And I appreciate you counterbalancing things a bit here, because just as there is the stereotype of the super chaotic and constantly distracting office, there is also the stereotype of the aloof and hard to reach programmer. That doesn't seem to be the case in your situation, but I have seen situations where that perception has made things even worse, because then other people in the company begin to think "If I need something, I just have to go tap on their shoulder."

I do think the signal of "headphones on means I'm focusing" is a pretty clear one, but sometimes it isn't enough to break habits, and also sometimes there is a mismatch in expectations on how long is a reasonable time for someone to be "in the zone" during office hours.

Some things that could possibly help.

1) Setting up proactive office hours where you are very explicitly interruptable for questions or general work conversations. This way people have a time each day they know is convenient to you, and you can use that to politely ask "can this wait?" whenever something comes up outside of that time. A lot of these questions may indeed be answerable via email but people have different communication preferences and some level of compromise goes a long way.

2) Intentionally time boxing focused work can go a long way towards restoring balance. For example, using pomodoros where you go heads down for 25 mins and then take a break for 5 mins leaves a short window where if someone wants to reach you, they can, even if your response is something like "Oh, we can talk about it after lunch if you're free, I have something I'm in the middle of that I need to wrap up first."

3) Finally, not sure if the people interrupting you are also in your stand-ups... (which I mostly agree are often misused but that is a whole other conversation)

If they are in the standups, in theory, this is the time in the day where saying "I have a lot to do on ThingX and will be heads down for most of the morning, so if anybody needs anything please catch me right after standup or after lunch" can go a long way.

To sum it up, I think most devs feel this pain in some form of another in offices, but headphones on their own are a reactive response to a reactive environment. Taking some proactive measures im shifting how and when communication happens can make a difference.

(And when it doesn't work, then it may be the sign that finding a more accommodating workplace would be a good idea)