Back in 2010 or 2011 when I was a young lad I read the book REWORK by 37signals (now Basecamp). My professional career as a developer had yet to take off but I vividly remember what a fantastic read it is. I highly encourage it especially if you work in an agency setting.
Years later I've been through the ringer so to speak when it comes to agency work. I've seen a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. There's definitely a trend at most companies where developers spend less time in their code editor and more time answering emails or attending meetings. A few pages in REWORK resonated so strongly with me that I needed to write this post to summarize.
If you're working a lot of hours and constantly feel like you're never getting done it's probably because you're being interrupted. Slack is blazing, your inbox is filling up, your project management tool is overflowing with tickets, and the list goes on of what this looks like for a developer.
Context switching is an expensive item to pay for. Let's say you're digging into a bug in your code. Before you know it it's time for your 11am standup after which you only have 45 minutes before lunch. The odds of getting back into your code in an effective way are pretty slim in that short amount of time. After lunch you have a sprint planning meeting that takes two hours. It's now late afternoon and the bug you sat down to fix at 10:30 is still there waiting for you. You think to yourself, finally, I can sit down and fix this bug. Ten minutes later Slack buzzes you as a project manager needs a question answered…
The solution, as REWORK calls it, is the alone zone. This is where you shut yourself off from distractions for a long period of time. I would take this a step further and insulate the alone zone with a "no zone". Coworkers need to respect your time and understand you aren't always available at their beck and call.
REWORK considers meetings to be the worst type of interruption (I agree). They list quite a few reasons why but here is what it boils down to:
- They're not efficient in terms of actual productivity and the subject matter is rarely based in reality
- Usually there isn't a detailed agenda and they go off topic
- There's usually that one person that takes the meeting and steers it all the way off the rails
- Meetings lead to more meetings… and from my personal experiences there can even be meetings about meetings!
Agencies often times don't even consider the cost of meetings. A sprint plan that lasts two hours and has six people on it is actually a twelve hour meeting. When you look at it this way meetings actually become liabilities.
REWORK suggests a some solutions. Here are my take aways:
- Invite as few people as possible
- Have a clear and defined agenda
- Only spend the time needed to complete the agenda (if the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes but you got what you need in 10 then call it good!)
As my career progresses I'm much more interested in doing real work that I'm good at instead of talking or listening to people talk. Finding ways to increase my time spent in a code editor is a huge theme for me lately so these few pages in REWORK really stuck out to me.
Liberate yourself, developers!