Devs name their top productivity slayers

Lucy Carey

Misophonia, inept managers and Agile fails all cited as major workflow killers. What’s jamming your gears?

That one colleague who spends fifteen minutes noisily crunching through dry cereal every morning. That idiot who spams your IM system with stupid videos of cats and babies falling over. Your addiction to Dinosaur comics. As the popularity of George Stocker’s article “How to destroy Programmer Productivity” over on Reddit/programming demonstrates, we’ve all got our own esoteric concentration killers. Since it was posted yesterday, the piece – inspired by the graphic below – has spawned over 600 angry laments from coders around the world. In his article, Stocker breaks down his own 22 workflow killers, which range from general issues like developer fights and open offices, to app alerts, and imminent mortal peril such as, “Things BEING ON FIRE RIGHT NOW DROP EVERYTHING.” Aside from that last one, which of more of an HR matter, there are also clearly things we can do to mitigate these time killers. Having identified his concentration holes, Stocker identifies a clear set of methods for eliminating them, and arrives at the conclusion that, aside from external issues like open offices, because ultimately “each of us controls what makes us unproductive…Whatever I can control, I should control.” But what happens when matters are out of your hands? Whilst Stockton doesn’t directly cite any conflict with senior management, for many Redditors, inefficient bosses, who often lack a basic understanding of the tech space, appear to be a huge pain point:
I’ve tried explaining to managers before that an hour-long meeting is really two hours, because of the half-hour before and the half-hour where we can’t really be productive. Even a ten minute meeting is really almost an hour of non-productivity.
Managers… are weird, sometimes. I remember one who thought that by standing over my shoulder and staring while I was trying to track down a bug – was going to motivate me or something. He had no idea about programming or what to do, but somehow looking over my shoulder and constantly distracting me was going to help.
I really think some managers would try to
schedule “5 minute meetings, every hour” if they could.. you know… to find out why things aren’t getting done quicker.
Noisy offices were also a bone of contention for many. Whilst a lack of white noise or the general hum of office babble may not trouble someone in an administrative or chatter-heavy role, for someone trying to get into a creative flow space, every solitary attack of throat clearing can be a new mental gremlin.
It’s remarkable that we’re still having articles written on this, as though it’s new information, when Peopleware was written almost 30 years ago. One of the major conclusions was unsurprising: Programmers need a quiet environment to get work done. The most quiet environment is a private room. No one expects a programmer to get work done without access to a computer, but there are many companies that expect programmers to get work done without access to their mind. This is equally unrealistic.
Noise cancelling headphones have saved my life. Sure, I miss the occasional phone call. But that doesn’t bother me. It has a blinking red light that usually catches my attention.
Drum and bass for me. unz unz unz unz
So maybe I should see if I have Misophonia, I feel like I can’t concentrate sometimes because the guy in the cube next to me types like he is beating the keyboard to death, or maybe it’s just me. I also have serious issues with hearing people chew their food. It drives me up the wall so much that sometimes I have to leave the room.
And then there’s good old failure to grasp the principles of Agile, mixed with an unfortunate burning desire to implement modern methodologies – no matter how half-baked management’s understanding may be:
We pay lip-service to being “Agile.” For example, a stand-up meeting can last an hour.
Social interaction is important to keep the stress low, but there has to be a balance. Agile scrum sessions are awesome when they are productive, but a daily meeting you have to attend because the PM needs to adjust the percentage points in his Gannt chart is the kind of thing that drives people batshit to the point where nothing gets done.
Although as one commenter points out, many of these points could be applicable to many modern office set-ups, a lot of them are particularly prevalent in tech due to both the nature of the work, and a the diverse bag of requirements employees in startup environments present. What about you JAX readers – what makes you retreat into SoundCloud, and what could pull you out?
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