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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 Shane Robinson on May 14, 2009 at 8:05am
In my best Jon Stewart "Guy from Jersey" impersonation... "I ahhhh... Yeah I don't believe in that there 'multi-tasking' thing there. Now you wanna talk about 'Task Switching' then we can have a convo. But multi-tasking? Naw. No such thing... No disrespect."

I'm firmly in the camp with Merlin Mann on the whole myth of Multi-Tasking. (Sorry for the link. Tried to find a way to embed the Odeo player but can't. Guess that's why Odeo is dying a slow death...)
Comment by Greg Hester on May 13, 2009 at 6:35pm
Maybe I should go see the Dr. or something. Maybe I have that Adult ADD ... hey there's a chicken ... oh, wait... where was I ... Anyway, I'm not a "code moder". Maybe every once in a while I become a "code moder" but most of the time I'm multi-multi-multi-tasking. Even when I did development all day long I still would jump around and work on various line items at the same time. I was very productive but never single focused. It seemed that I was chatting, talking on the phone and writing code at the same time... Maybe that's why those close to me said I should get into management. I thought it was a compliment... Could have just wanted me out of the way ;-)
Comment by Shane Robinson on May 12, 2009 at 7:15pm
Echoing Sid's recommendation on the Csikszentmihalyi video from TED. At the very end he provides a brilliant chart that graphs "Flow" or what I usually refer to as "The Zone"

Comment by Daniel Leuck on May 11, 2009 at 6:27pm
David Jacobs: Coming up with appropriate signals for your coworkers or family is important so they can know if you are currently in the "zone" and can decide whether it is important enough to interrupt.
Exactly. For me, its a wombat on my monitor. If a wombat isn't available I go with a low growling sound.
Shane Robinson: Now, would someone please explain to Rox that I'm not a freak?!?
Rox - Shane is no more of a freak than Sid, Alf, Stephen, Nate, Kostya, Laurence, Alyssa and me. Knowing this crowd, I have to admit this may not be a helpful endorsement. 8-)
Comment by Paul Graydon on May 11, 2009 at 2:12pm
Hmm.. I think maybe I'm just a bit odd then, at least in relation to you guys :)
I do my best work when I have a certain level of distraction going on, working on something and answering a question or two over IM or quick queries from colleagues. As long as they're not deep and convoluted or requiring me to have to stop and think about something I did a while back.
I find that routine quick dragging of my mind away from what I'm doing enables me to routinely evaluate the problem or solution in progress with a fresh mind and allow inspiration to work it's wonders, whilst still keeping me on a roll.

Music writing is a different matter, as is writing a post for a website (like this one), for that I like to stay entirely focused on the task, converting what I understand in my head into the relevant medium.
Comment by Shane Robinson on May 11, 2009 at 1:44pm
Hi. My name is Shane and I'm a Code Moder.

Thank Zod I'm not the only one.... Now, would someone please explain to Rox that I'm not a freak?!? :-)
Comment by Sid on May 11, 2009 at 12:37pm
I'm like that when I'm deep in the middle of thinking about how to solve something and coding up solutions

Once I've figured it out (typically with rough step by step thoughts in notepad) then it's no problem.

For me, it's more about whether the process I am in (code I am writing) can easily be saved and state recreated, or if I have too many items in my head on the stack, then I'm pretty rude - because I know if I forget one thing, I'll introduce some nasty salient bug and it will cost me hours down the line.

And as Dan and Laurence know, that's no good since I'm a grouchy person! Hehe =P

PS Dan - you'll like this video
Comment by Daniel Leuck on May 11, 2009 at 8:34am
A friend on Facebook just directed me to this article about flow, a mental state identified by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihály in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He describes many of the same characteristics including hyper-focus, a distorted sense of time and heightened productivity.
Csikszentmihalyi: Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.
Comment by Stephen McMahon on May 11, 2009 at 6:13am
I like this post and I can completely relate. I've always called it 'the zone.' And your description of it is a good one. I always disliked working in cubicles because it is almost completely impossible to work uninterrupted. I'm reminded of this great speech by Paul Graham where he says:
...making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

I think most TechHuians would appreciate that entire speech. You can also get the audio for it from here.
Comment by Haken Pax on May 11, 2009 at 12:05am
Same here. Spends most of my day on documentation, debugging, and maintenance work. Some new stuff if I'm uninterrupted. All new stuff gets written between 10:00pm till 1:00am.


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