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Discussion on: Are interruptions really worse for programmers than for other knowledge workers?

danielytics profile image

Most people I know who complain about being interrupted (myself included) don’t think we shouldn’t be interrupted because our jobs are more important than others, we don’t even say we shouldn’t be interrupted at all, just that unnecessary distractions (eg noise from open plan offices) should be removed as much as possible and that interruptions should be minimized to those that are important. Its ultimately up to the other person to decide how badly they need a response right now vs sending an asyncronous request (eg email or text chat) and getting a response later. If they need it now to do their job, then interrupt away, but be mindful of the fact that it will be detrimental to whatever I’m working on (and cause frustration). Sometimes its worth it, but many times the request really isn’t urgent. We’re arguing that everyone needs to be aware of the cost so that we’re not interrupted for things that either could wait or that could really have been solved without us (ie yes it might save you ten minutes of work to interrupt us, but is that saving worth the cost of interruption? if I was working on something complex, it often costs me much more than ten minutes to get back to where I was) I know that obviously the sales guy may not know what I’m working on and making a determination on the cost will be hard, so I’m not asking for an accurate appraisal of cost/benefit, just some mindfulness and a quick thought of “do I really need it right now? can I figure it out myself within the next ten minutes?” and if they still need to interrupt me after that, then ok, do it.

To me, the “not that special” part of the article doesn’t mean its ok to interrupt us, it means its not ok to interrupt others too. That is, interrupting the accountant, sles, marketting, whatever people is detrimental to their jobs too and should be minimized. It doesn’t mean “interruptions are detrimental to everyone, so its ok to interrupt everyone no matter what job they’re doing”.