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Keep Focus By Tuning Out Your Computer

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Agile practitioners have come to understand the negative effect “context-switching” has on productivity when it comes to your projects and teams. To what degree do the same ideas apply at the daily task and personal interaction level, and what can people do to avoid micro-level multi-tasking problems? Phil Gerbyshak offers some advice.

In a recent article, Phil Gerbyshak highlights five simple ways to help keep yourself focused on your task and/or conversation (paraphrased):

  • Turn away from the computer and directly towards the other person”: your computer can steal your attention from the person you are holding a conversation with, don’t let it
  • Lean forward towards the person talking”: closer proximity to your collaborator increases your engagement with them, and distancing yourself from your computer decreases your attachment to it
  • Turn off audible alerts on email and instant messenger”: beeps from your programs are guaranteed to create some level of distraction for you
  • Send your phone directly to voicemail (or just ignore it)”: even glancing at your phone to see who’s beckoned can break your flow
  • Take your Blackberry out of your pocket and set it to silent”: it’s basically a palm-sized computer, treat it as such

This advice is essentially common sense, even obvious, yet is likely to be advice many people are currently not following. Further, the advice is in no way advertised by Gerbyshak under an agile umbrella nor targeted officially to agile teams, but nonetheless is advice that many agile teams might benefit from observing.

Afterall, many aspects of agile development work in large part to reduce the inefficiencies multi-tasking can introduce; they work to help teams suffer less from "context switching". Many agilists have grown to understand and accept this as at the level of how they schedule their projects, structure their teams, and organize their work within iteration boundaries.

But, as discussed by many (including, for example, Scott Sterling) and as can be experienced firsthand through a quick exercise from Clarke Ching, the harmful effects of multi-tasking potentially go all the way down to the even slightest interruptions throughout your day.

So, you’ve adopted agile and are trying to follow its guidance to keep your team and its members focused and effective. How much do you think Gerbyshak’s simple advice can help you?

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