Don’t get get the message, it will make you stupid.
In Peopleware, Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco argue that the physical workspace, and in particular the noise and disturbances in it, are important factors in determining the productivity of developers. This was backed up with masses of evidence. Last year FuturePunditblogged about a report in New Scientist that linked frequent interruptions to a ten-point IQ drop. Smoking marijuana, by comparison, was linked to a drop of only four IQ points.
Your emails, IMs, text messages, eavesdropping, phone calls, conversations with the guy at the next desk and walk-up queries are making you stupid. Even if they’re all work-related, you’d probably be better off ignoring them, at least in the short term.
Interestingly, the affect was less pronounced in women. My own anecdotal evidence would agree that women mind being interrupted less than men, but I’d originally assumed that that was entirely explained by their tending to take work in more exception-driven roles, such as project management.
In Peopleware, the authors noted that companies seem deaf to this issue – unable to understand that it could be an issue at all. My own experience certainly backs that up. An attempt to institute a flag system was universally disregarded. When I admitted that the rate of disturbances was a problem for my performance, I was told that I would have to learn to deal with it if I wanted to get on.
I wonder if this can be fixed somehow – if companies can be made to see what an issue it is for their bottom line. Even if the cost of new work spaces is high, a cultural change in office etiquette need not be expensive. Until that happens, I will keep turning peoples’ mobile phones off when they ring in the office.