Single Process People

June 11, 2018

What is the most efficient and productive way to get work done? People are inherently single process. The research is clear. Finding focus for the single thing is the subject of many software hacks. Pair programming holds you accountable to focus only on software development. Apps like iA Writer used in full screen mode cause you to tune out the rest of background noise. Now Apple has added do not disturb and notification management features to iOS because they worry the notifications are addictive and negatively impacting their brains. Collectively we recognize this problem and have found solutions for it. Yet we still have so far to go.

One place that remains a challenge is dealing with asynchronous communication. While the telephone is coming out of fashion and folks are using tools like email and Slack, there still is not always a culture that allows it to work and occur. Recently when dealing with a credit card dispute I filed the dispute online, they responded that I should fax them the evidence of my dispute, I would receive information on it via snail mail, and I should call them with questions and to learn about the status. The surface area of communication mechanisms here is very large and inconsistent. The mental work required to manage this task is large and having to call them means that during my Sunday evening review of my inbox I cannot simply email them for a status update. I now have to engage them on their own terms and be interrupted.

When it comes to focus at work one tool that is a sharp knife is the meeting. I have written in the past that meetings are effective attention capture and focus mechanisms. They force people to be accountable. However too many meetings or ill timed meetings can be a denial of service attack against a single persons productivity.1 Some software companies will declare a specific day to be meeting free. However given the deep concentration software development requires, for them, it should be a red flag if a specific day needs to be without meetings. The better tactic would be to declare one or two days to be meeting allowed. Or to have a time block at the beginning or end of the day where meetings can be scheduled once development work is over.

  1. The exception to this is of course for folks whose job is primarily attending meetings. Folks in sales or management probably need to be in a lot of meetings. However given that meetings do not scale well, figuring out how to move work from a meeting to a non-meeting paradigm can be a big win for anyone. 

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.