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Elisabeth Leonhardt
Elisabeth Leonhardt

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4 Steps to Mitigate Interruptions as a Developer So You Can Finally Keep Up with Your Tasks + Recover Your Attention Span

What do you think is the most challenging part of being a Developer?

  • Solving hard problems?

  • Fixing nasty bugs?

  • Balancing requirements and expectations with technical possibilities?

For me, it's neither of those. It's having to do all of them while constantly being interrupted by Slack messages or Meetings. When I think about what I did during the workday and my answer is: Well, I was mostly on Slack, that feels terribly frustrating.

Overwhelmed office worker crying

Thanks to Cal Newport's work, here is the system I built for myself that has reduced interruptions and increased my focus:

1. Hardware fix: Get slack out of sight and mute notifications

If you want to avoid eating cookies, the worst way to go about it is leaving a huge cookie jar right in front of you on your desk.

This applies to Slack too: Ideally, close it completely. If that's not an option, hide it so you don't constantly see the blue or red circle on your screen.

Also, mute all the channels where lot's of random discussions take place:

  • The general channel

  • All the HR channels

  • Yes, the pets channel has to be muted too!

Mute chats from people that interrupt you for things that can wait, for example:

  • Your manager

  • The intern that need help every 2 minutes

  • Your work friends - get together over coffee!

Piece and Quiet

2. Set up slack-times, designated office hours and a solid note-taking system

Now that you silenced everything, you will still get slack messages: how do you handle those?

  • During the day, constantly take notes of your questions or items you want to discuss. Everything that you would normally ask on slack right away now goes into your notes.

  • Estimate the time you need to read and answer Slack messages and schedule daily blocks in your calendar. Make an experiment of only answering in these scheduled blocks. Bonus points if you only appear online during these blocks.

  • Setup office hours and invite everybody to bring their questions and concerns. Have your notes ready so you can ask your questions right away.

Anybody got any questions

3. Get people to get used to your slack-times and office hours

Getting people to come to my office hours was easy.

But they sometimes show up unprepared and later continue messaging me during the day because they forgot to mention the most important items during the checkpoint.

Here are some things I do to reinforce my system:

  • I tell people I miss their important messages due to the amount of noise in slack

  • I tell people I am in the middle of something and I will have more headspace during my office hours

  • I delay answers or I don't answer at all

  • If it seems to be very urgent and important, I ask directly: Can we take a look at that during office hours or is this a matter of life and death?

Some caveat here: If you do all this, but also are the one that constantly asks messages on Slack yourself, people won't take you seriously. Take notes and ask all the questions in your scheduled meetings.

4. If you can, take advantage of your time zone and start earlier or later than others

My most productive days are Saturdays and Sundays.

Because I just know that nobody will message me and I can focus so easily. The same principle however also applies when I work during hours nobody else is working. This is one reason why I shifted my working day to start 2 hours earlier than my coworkers, taking advantage of living in a different time zone.

somebody happily typing on their keyboard

This option is not available to everybody, but I wanted to mention it since it improved my productivity a lot.

Want more?

Cal Newport's work has completely changed how I look at deep work and productivity.

If you liked this article, here are a few resources that you might find interesting:

Did this help? Do you have other strategies? Let me know in the comments!

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