Be in Thought Zone

At BigBinary we are highly focussed on getting work done. So naturally the next question is - what’s the best place to work to get the work done?

Where should I go to get work done

The obvious answer is ‘office’ - after all, isn’t it the place to get work done? Don’t people go there every single day, specifically for that purpose?

Jason Fried decided to uncover the truth. He asked a bunch of people a bunch of questions - and found out something interesting and unexpected. Here’s the reality: not much work gets done at work. Surprised?

Check out Jason Fried’s excellent TED talk on the subject Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work.

Maker’s time vs Manager’s time

A manager can easily swing in and out of meetings and be productive. In fact the job of a manger is to manage for that meetings are productive.

However for makers meetings could be a timesink.

Maker vs. Manager: How Your Schedule Can Make or Break You is an excellent article on this topic.

Interruption caused by meetings do not equally impact makers and managers. Makers need less interruptions.

Being in thought zone

Being constantly interrupted is bad for our workflow. Nothing really gets done when we are constantly interrupted. Worst part is that these interruptions are disguised as work itself. A ping on slack here, a message on skype there, a new email notification, a ping from github for pending work seem like work. However if not properly managed these interruptions do not let us work on big ticket items.

To really get work done, we need to be in the thought zone.

How to achieve this? Well, the company needs to provide an environment which allows us to work without any interruption for a certain period of time. That’s when work happens. That’s when we finally get to start ticking items off our to-do list.

As mentioned before the most difficult part is that these interruptions come disguied as work itself. In order to get work done we need to do all those things. We need to take skype call, we need to answer items on slack, we need to reply to emails and ,of course, we need to tend to github.

So how do we reconcile these two requirements. Requirement to have “thought zone” with the requirement to “reply to interruptions”.

At BigBinary, we try not to disturb people unless it is absolutely needed.

We focus on getting work done , and then after an hour or so we need a break. For some it could be a few hours before they need the break.

When we are out of our “thought zone” then that’s a good time to check slack, email etc.

Main point is that it is upto the us to decide if we want to check slack or if we want to do work. When someone interrupts us by sending a direct message on slack then they are taking that right away from me. I have no choice at that time and that’s not good for getting work done.

Asynchronous communication is key to getting work done

In the presentation ‘Why Work Does Not Get Done At Work’, Jason mentioned that meetings are toxic. But why? Well, they’re toxic because they require all members to be present at the same time.

What this means is that people need to plan their day around meeting schedules. If we work this way then at the end of the day we would have accomplished very little in terms of real work even though we were busy the whole day.

Joel Spoksky has written about it in much more detail emphasizing how breaking task into smaller task zones makes it difficult to get meaningful work done.

We should ask if synchronous communications are really needed in all the cases? At BigBinary we want to push asynchronous communication all the way and would like to resort to synchronous communication only as the last option.

For example, if Mary is working on a problem and wants John to review the code sometime in the next few hours (ie, not a pressing problem) she doesn’t need to interrupt John’s workflow. He can do the pull request review in his own time, as long as it is done on schedule.

Zach Holman of GitHub describes their asynchronous workflow in this presentation. You can check out the slideshow of the presentation here.

This kind of asynchronous communication maximizes the thought zone time of every member on the team, thus maximizing the productivity of the organization as a whole.