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I've noticed that certain activities such as designing systems, writing code and writing music put me in a very particular mental state. As this is a tech blog, I'll call it "code mode". Code mode is characterized by a hyper-focused state, a diminished sense of the passing of time and annoyance at any interruption. Its great for productivity, but isn't very practical in a typical office environment because it requires long periods of uninterrupted work and doesn't make you popular with your office mates. Nobody likes a guy who frequently answers multiple choice questions with "yes" and crouches close to his keyboard when others are in proximity.

In working with other developers over the years I've noticed some are like me, while others are able to easily task switch without having to wake from something of an altered state. The code moders adapt in a variety of ways such as working remotely or isolating themselves in a corner cubical with headphones blasting. I've adapted by using office hours for sales, marketing and management. I do almost all my coding at home. At home I've discovered having code time clearly scheduled as opposed to randomly occurring is beneficial to marital health. Sometimes a creative spark causes an impromptu session, which requires a bit of diplomacy :-)

I'm curious how many of you are code moders versus efficient task switchers. For the former, how do you adapt? Ikayzo - Design • Build • Localize | Web • Desktop • Mobile

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Comment by Curtis J. Kropar on May 21, 2009 at 12:38am
TOTAL"code mode" Once I looked at most of the comments I put in the headers of my programs. realized that almost everything I wrote was done between 1am and 4 am. WAY to many distractions during the day to try to get any programming done. For the last 3 weeks of April I was averaging 50 calls a day !!! Just recently I had a large website project I was working on, kicked all of the volunteers out for 4 days and made them work in the warehouse area just cleaning and organizing so I had the time to focus.

And regarding Nates comment on "managers not understanding distractions !!"
A few years ago I was working in Indianapolis writing code for a medical research company. In a room of 110 IT people, one of the 4 development "managers" would circle like a vulture every 3 or so hours and "check up" on all of his various underlings. 5 of his staff sat right around me. So every day, 2, sometimes 3 times a day I would have to endure him sitting in each of their cubicles for about 15 + minutes and giving them a lecture on being more productive and better developing their time management skills. And it would not be one after the other, it would be one, and then he would walk over to the other side of the room to another then come back. Basically I lost about 2-3 hours a day of focus just listening to him, someone else's manager, babble on relentlessly. Meanwhile my manager was writing me up for not being productive enough... go figure.

BTW... watching TV or a movie will also sometimes induce "code mode" in me. In the past, fiends have told me that they have shown up at my house, walked in and talked to me and then left after they got no response. Oh yea.. playing Star Craft will do it too. Interrupt me when I am in the middle of a heated battle and that look Daniel is giving --- looks like a Hallmark Greeting Card compared to the one you might get from me.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on May 15, 2009 at 3:20pm
I use the headphones for active noise control. I need total silence.
Comment by Nate Sanders on May 15, 2009 at 3:05pm
Vocals are distracting to me, too, and it got to the point where beats are as well, sometimes. I still listen to stuff with beats (FSOL and Phonosynthese being high on the list), but when I want no beats, I usually tune in to "Drone Zone", a SomaFM channel that's listed on ShoutCast -- it's ambient space music -- good for just drowning out all other noise, but not really being involved enough so that it distracts you.
Comment by Paul Graydon on May 15, 2009 at 2:48pm
If we're talking music to aid focus, it has to be some classic jazz, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane.
Comment by Stephen McMahon on May 15, 2009 at 2:21pm
Trance Beats! That brings to mind an important point for me: 'code mode' music. I put my headphones on before I login every day. I don't listen to anything, I just use it to drown out everything else around me. Vocals are completely distracting to me unless it is something that I've heard countless times, like anything by Pink Floyd. I think that my favorite code mode music is actually the K-PAX soundtrack :)
Comment by Patrick Ahler on May 15, 2009 at 2:07pm
code mode all the way, headphones and trance beats are required
Comment by Daniel Leuck on May 15, 2009 at 7:27am
Hey Brian - Thank you for the link to Joel's article. As usual, he does an excellent job of covering this topic, but I think he overgeneralizes a bit.
Joel: On the individual level -- have you ever noticed that you can assign one job to one person, and they'll do a great job, but if you assign two jobs to that person, they won't really get anything done? They'll either do one job well and neglect the other, or they'll do both jobs so slowly you feel like slugs have more zip. That's because programming tasks take so long to task switch. I feel like when I have two programming projects on my plate at once, the task switch time is something like 6 hours. In an 8-hour day, that means multitasking reduces my productivity to 2 hours per day.
This really depends on the developer. One of our most prolific developers has similar task switching overhead. When working on a single project he has the fastest development velocity I've seen. We have another developer who happily and efficiency works on three projects at the same time. He has different strengths, but they are both highly valuable team members.
Comment by Mika Leuck on May 14, 2009 at 6:19pm
Hi Sid & Shane - Thank you for posting the TED video and Merlin Mann audio. They were both very interesting. I guess I also go into Linux admin mode sometimes...
Comment by Paul Graydon on May 14, 2009 at 1:27pm
Nate: I'm similar. I despise fluorescent tubes, but seem to have my hands tied on the subject generally. For a while I was working in a data centre in a room right in the middle of the building. No windows, no natural light at all, only diffused fluorescent tubing as a light source. In some regards the room was great for code moding, few distractions and only a small team around working, but after 4 or 5 hours the quality of light would begin to get irritating.
People in my team wondered why I seemed to have a huge love of the physical jobs, why I'd volunteer first to go to other data centres or go deal with deliveries. They never seemed to understand it was just to get a way from the lights :D
Comment by Shane Robinson on May 14, 2009 at 8:08am
D'oh!! Here it is. No reason to leave TechHui. :-)


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