What things interrupt developers during the day and really derail your progress?

Phone calls, OS issues, Email, change control, meetings, announcements, etc.

Which in particular make you change gears to the point that it takes a significant amount of time to return to a programming task.

+22  A: 

Stupid bosses who keep adding things for you to do. And they then turn around and ask why you haven't finished off the things they'd asked you to do previously!

Rob Wells
I wish I could up-vote this one more than one. Pretty much every manager I have worked for has no clue about task scheduling an prioritizing.
Adam Pierce
Why can't everything be a #1 priority item?
Chris Farmer
Jesus yes. One can only wonder at what might be achieved if it weren't for management who have no business managing.
+12  A: 

Ooh. And interruptions when you're in the flow.

Rob Wells
+50  A: 

Checking back to StackOverflow every 15 minutes to see if your rep has gone up?

Seriously I've found that e-mail is the most distracting thing in my day. I used to have a policy that I'd check mail once in the beginning of the day, then again after lunch. Now that I'm a manager I can't do that as much.

Joe Basirico
+1 I second the SO rep check. It's addictive! It's the weekend and I can't help refreshing the site. Help! >.<
Wayne Khan
15 minutes! I cant wait that long!
+5  A: :-)

Seriously, I think I've become addicted the last few days

But that aside, probably my mobile phone ringing, usually when I'm in the zone and it breaks my concentration

Eoin Campbell
+3  A: 

Bosses standing behind your back and urging you to work faster.

+5  A: 

Definitely Email. At least in Google Talk Labs Edition you can turn off all notifications for an hour.

But checking once at the beginning of the day and then again after lunch is a good idea... I think I'll try that for a while.

I have four different email accounts for work that I am required to check at least once a day. Email can get a little crazy
+33  A: 

Sudden task addition as in "Hey, please do X for me" is what bothers me most, because I find it very hard to say:

"I have these other things in my queue, what would you like to be done first? Remember that I'm already in the middle of Y and throwing that away is going to delay everything a bit."

That, summed to the fact that my work many times consist of putting out fires, ends up turning my work queue into a stack... And that is frustrating because you know you have so many things to do that you started and you'll never be able to finish because there will always be newer stuff in the stack.

Vinko Vrsalovic
So you would say that "stack overflow" is your problem, as well?
It's a FISH queue. First In Still Here. :-)
Jeffrey Hantin
+11  A: 

The phone ... in particular phone calls that are not for the developer (ringing, ringing, ringing)

i.e. phone rings on multiple desks to provide a better chance of the caller getting to talk with someone so if no-one answers the primary call it gets directed to all desks (developers included). developer now has an annoying ringing device on their desk that they try to ignore, then answer, then are unable to help the person on the other end ("no i don't know why your delivery has not yet arrived")

That sounds like it sucks. You should probably press to get that fixed.
I've had a word to our receptionist to always take messages and I ring people back at my convenience. The phone used to be a big distraction for me but not anymore - that is until some of the customers found out my personal mobile number. At least I have caller ID so I can hang up on them.
Adam Pierce
unfortunately the fix for this issue ended up being a shift to a new company - the phone is the single worst device for developers. i like when internal folks just come and see you (they can tell if your working and should come back later)
I let it go to voicemail. Always. Even if it's the boss. Eventually phone calls became few and far between. (maybe one a day)
Christopher Mahan
+2  A: 

It's disrupting for me when people from other depts needs to discuss something with me while I'm in the zone. Especially since I am in a cubicle farm.

+1  A: 

An company-imposed email system with a slow response time even on the intranet, let alone on a VPN when working at home. Going to try and do the next thing, being held up waiting for it to switch to ... whatever I asked it to switch to ... and then getting distracted and doing something else (like SO).

Jonathan Leffler
+17  A: 

Random, must have meetings. They happen all the time here, and it is always when I'm in the middle of something.

Mitchel Sellers
+2  A: 

Instant messaging. Coworkers taking a break near my cubicle.

+23  A: 

Interruptions. We're more akin to locomotives than ferraris. It may take us awhile to get started but we can accomplish a surprising amount of work once we get going. Interruptions absolutely kill any momentum you may have had. There's simply too much we have to keep in our heads while working on a problem to be able to stop on a dime, think about something else, and pick up where we left off without missing a beat.

Kevin Pang
I like the analogy!
Great description, so true ... interruptions are like cows crossing the train line?
Cows are summarily squashed. It's more like a passenger in wagon 6 pulling the emergency stop every 45 minutes.
Christopher Mahan
+1  A: 

Coworkers with a desk next to mine who feel the need to argue with their significant others on the phone for an hour a week.

Jason Baker
I once had one going through a messy divorce and a sex-change operation, and arguing loudly with various people about both.
David Thornley
+7  A: 

Anything that breaks your concentration for a couple seconds will cost you 15 minutes to get fully back into your work.

If compiling your application takes 15 seconds, you're not going to stare at the screen for 15 seconds... you're going to check digg. 15 minutes lost getting back into the groove.

Have to go to the bathroom from too much coffee? 15 minutes lost.

Coworker sends you an instant message asking about a particular error condition? 15 minutes.

Email, 15 minutes. Out of water, 15 minutes. Cute girl walks by, 15 minutes.

Then again, I have massive ADD and concentrating isn't my strong suit.

cute girl walk by 15 minutes? Nah. 30 minutes. The first 15 minutes are spent following her through the building while pretending I'm going to get coffee, mug in hand. Just kidding... Maybe ;)
Christopher Mahan
Since I find myself in the same boat as askheaves I try and use high quality headphones and music to keep me focused on my work. Imporant to avoid music with talking and such... Really cuts down the distractions...
+1  A: 

Availability of the Internet, coupled with the need to actually use it to search for algorithms, code samples. This essay by Paul Graham sums it nicely.

+5  A: 

Actually, I'm on a contract and I'm facing the most disturbing thing in my career. To save money, the cleaning of the office is done in the middle of the afternoon. So can you imagine how a vacuum cleaner is disturbing??? Usually, I just get up and take a brake. But once I was really in the zone, headphone with loud music... believe it or not, the cleaner tried to pass the vacuum around my chair... she was so close, I felt the blow in my hair... and then get out of concentration.

+1  A: 

I'd say e-mail, in certain environments, and pretty ladies walking by the window. That can be very distracting. There are a million things that can be distracting. I think the more objective question would be, "How does one decrease the number of distractions during the course of a day?"

+2  A: 

Non developers coming into your office to bug other developers for help instead of emailing them or opening a helpdesk.

Robert Elwell
+1  A: 

I must say the Phone and Tech Support, if your company's new rule is "Do More With Less!". Trust me, it is very, very distracting for a developer!

As for stackoverflow....indeed! But I must say, there is something about this site that urges you to keep checking, no matter what. Dude, 3 Sundays ago I was on this site from 2PM to 11:45PM, seriously....but I gather a lot of information...a better distraction.

Saif Khan
+4  A: 

Different gigs, different disruptions. But to be honest, my need to get up every once in a while is probably more of a distraction than any external factor.

John Dunagan
+6  A: 

I work close to a busy street, so a common disruption is the sound of traffic. Car horns and especially car alarms. I hate car alarms.

+2  A: 

Meetings where you want decisions to be made so you can continue writing the program they want but all that happens is a lot of talking and you get nowhere. Usually because end users have no idea what they want (or need).

Usually in the end I just do what I was going to do in the first place so there was no point in the meeting other than to waste time.

+10  A: 

The most disruptive thing that's ever happened at my workplace is eating contests. Seriously. A whole bunch of us started together right out of college and this was our self-generated team-building idea (well I'm actually the one who can take the majority of the blame for it).

Most of the eating contests went pretty well, and involved the usual fare. But around the last Christmas, we had the "brilliant" idea of a dual gingerbread building/eating competition. We teamed up in pairs and points were awarded not only for who built the best gingerbread house, but who could eat it the fastest.

Long story short, having an eating competition on candy is pretty much the worst possible idea. Structural gingerbread doesn't even taste good to begin with, but try eating five pounds of it covered in hard candies and stale frosting.

Six of us left work four hours early that day, because we were falling into sugar comas and were left completely unable to do anything constructive.

So yeah, the most disruptive thing I've ever done at work was have a gingerbread house eating contest.

+3  A: 
  1. Project Manager reviewing the code and insisting that you rewrite all the code to implement some of his irrelevant and stupid suggestions.

  2. Coworkers calling for unplanned meetings. They were having a conversation among themselves, saw you working quietly on your desk and thought you should be included.

  3. You are driving to work in the morning, mentally planning about how you can rewrite that sort-merge algorithm for better performance. When you reach office and check your emails, you find out that a priority 1 bug in your code has caused all hell to break loose last night and that now you have to fix it immediately while everyone will hover around you breathing down your neck.

  4. Your girlfriend calls to say she loves you while you are in the middle of deep thought. She gets angry and slams the phone when you don't respond as warmly.

  5. Coworkers wanting to indulge in small talk with you.

Add in the general interruptions halting your train of thought and this list would be complete. #4 has happened to me more times than I care to count.
5. usually it is me being a distraction though
+4  A: 


Optimal Solutions
I think a book could be written about the dangers of telephones.
+1  A: 

Most of the above .. Actually for me, the most disruptive part of my day is having to go to work. It is important to have face time but it is also important to have zone time. As a developer I would be much more productive if I could VPN in from home. I'm not sure why I still have to commute to work when we have all of this wonderful networking technology that facilitates team collaboration from remote locations. We've come so far but learned so little.

+3  A: 

Anything with emotional undertones.

In particular is the interruption that I think is unnecessary. I tend to be conflict-avoidant, and not terribly good at asserting myself gracefully, so just the act of saying, "This isn't a good time" raises my blood pressure and makes it hard to get back on task. (I admit this is more my problem than my coworkers'). I'd be better off just accommodating the interruption, but if I do so, then I'd be setting a bad precedent.

+2  A: 

Someone coming over with "just a little thing" that isn't scheduled, I don't know about at all, and wasn't something I had planned to do today, but it gets discussed if not done de-railing what I was working on at the time.

JB King
+1  A: 

Phone calls

+1  A: 

Unrestricted, Unmonitored, internet use

Currently my job has some website blocked (facebook, youtube, myspace). But they missed others (google video, megavideo, google reader, stackoverflow, etc.)

I wish they blocked more so I do not procrastinate as much.

+2  A: 

Daily Scrum meetings. Supposed to be 10 minutes, but they are almost never that short.

Limited meetings can be ok, but as they increase, BEWARE.


Midnight. 12:00 P.M.

le dorfier
+2  A: 

When i bring work home, and girlfriend or family sitt beside and ask: What are you doing? They are not really interested, and they just want to start conversation or show interest but after a while it becomes anoying...


The most disruptive thing in your day should NOT be contact with customers.

That is to say, get used to not being so stuck on in your "groove" that the necessary changes to your idea of what you need to do strike you as "needless disruptions".

Joe Soul-bringer
+1  A: 

I don't think my coworkers understand the cost of "context switching".

Programming requires sustained concentration. Whatever the cause of the distraction, be it a phone call, a meeting etc, I have to spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes afterwards attempting to get back into "programming mode". This time period is characterized by staring blankly at my monitor thinking 'OK what the hell was I doing?'

+1  A: 

Hi guys, consider this. There are 14 programmers working together, sitting shoulder to shoulder, breathing on neighbour's neck. A quarter of them are talking on skype either with clients or with other programmers from the company's remote site. A half are discussing an important bug that has just surfaced and is difficult to tackle, and a number of guys are having their eating break. All of this in a single room submerged in this perpetual cacophony! Now, as far as I am concerned, that is the epitomy of programming disruption.

One word: Headphones
Two words: New Job :)
I support the 'Two words' solution!
+1  A: 

When I was in my previous building: overhead pages "xxx call 4193, xxx 4193" all day throughout the day.

Now: The person in the cube next to me has a cell phone next to a 30 year old radio and it makes loud BZZZZZT BZZT BZZZZZTZZTZZZZZTT sounds all day long. That, and his phone rings frequently, but only if he's not at his desk.

Where were you working, a grocery store!? Overhead paging is an absolute waste of everyone's time and a silly interruption.
Chris Ballance
See my profile :). There was a manufacturing side of our building, and an engineering side, and frequently engineers would wander from their desks to assist in the manufacturing and need to be paged, or to get in contact with someone on the floor with no dedicated phone.
+1  A: 

Requests for an update to a legacy system that you inherited while you're engaged in the process of writing a replacement for it is by far the most disruptive thing in my day, primarily because it's such an annoyance.


For me it's mainly instant messaging, even though I keep telling myself I'll sign off.

Andrew Szeto
+1  A: 

Urge to drink water

+1  A: 

My mum :(


+1  A: 

AS a freelance. When I need to get work done, and my wife stays at home …

Don’t need to say more.

+1  A: 

My hard drive failing.

John Nolan
There are two types of people, those who have backups and those who wish they had backups ;-)
Chris Ballance