Interruptions and the future

Today I’m writing about focus, something which is becoming increasingly hard to obtain for some of us in this day and age. Specifically, I want to talk about interruptions and the effect they can have on focus and, more crucially, what we should do about it.

For those who don’t know me, I am a software developer. I make apps for iOS devices for a number of different people. For those who don’t know what that means, software development requires extreme amounts of focus. To gain a sense of what I mean; Imagine architecting a building, but being the sole person responsible for everything down to the individual size, length, and shape of the nuts and bolts holding a single joist in place, to managing the calculations regarding the stability of the building in an earthquake scenario. Now imagine keeping all of that knowledge in your head while you build the thing (normally single handedly). That’s what software developers do on a daily basis.

Software developers thus, are naturally good at focusing incredibly well on the task in hand. You can imagine then, how frustrating it can be to have a constant stream of interruptions disturbing your flow. An interruption to a software developer is like a bulldozer to an ice sculpture, sub optimal. It’s said that a 5 minute interruption can take hours of time away from a developer, that’s because the entire mental image that’s being built in that developers head comes crashing down the moment you utter the words ‘Got a sec?’ and break their focus.

Increasingly, and in general, it’s becoming harder and harder to obtain focus in the workplace. Emails, notifications, meeting invites, calls, and messages now flood our lives on a daily basis. I’m not talking exclusively about software developers anymore. I’m talking about our daily lives, every single one of us.

There are lots of buzz-word strategies out there today for the modern office worker to try and help them combat these daily interruptions. Terms like ‘inbox zero’ and ‘agile’ or ‘lean’ are thrown around like wildfire. Entirely new methodologies of working have been created simply to deal with this deluge of ‘stuff’ assaulting our inboxes. You may have heard about GTD or ‘Getting Things Done’ (A book admittedly on my ‘to read’ list) or various other ideologies to organise your life and file away these interruptions as they occur swiftly and easily. I’m sure each and every one of these systems is utterly brilliant, well thought out, and incredibly helpful.

However.

I can’t help feel that we’re missing the point somewhat. It’s quite simple, we need to interrupt each other less often. Let our friends and colleagues focus. Value their time and be judicious with your interruptions. Consider carefully the need for the interruption and if it really is crucial then use the most appropriate form of communication. Do you really need to phone when a short email will do? If something isn’t immediate, why ruin someone’s focus?

Really consider everything in great detail, down to the format of the email. (NB: As a general rule, if your email signature is longer than the content of your message, you should probably look at that.) The meaning of your email should be clear, the information concise, and the required response immediately obvious. Likewise for messages, or even phone calls. The detail should be there, but just enough, don’t muddy the waters.

I don’t pretend to be perfect at this, but I’m trying to improve. I guess if there’s one thing you could take away from this post it’s this: Focus on your interruptions, to avoid interrupting the focus of others. There will always be the need to interrupt others, but if you take a little time to consider it before you do you may be able to prevent it. If you can achieve this, I promise you, your friends and colleagues will notice and they will appreciate it.

Author: Sam

iOS Developer & blogger