Whoa! That’s Distracting!

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

First I want to start off by apologizing for taking a bit to get something written, and published on Medium! It has been an adventure this summer thus far! I have been building out the new podcast, JavaScript LifeStyle, and getting things going on the learning front for myself, as well as attempting to balance family obligations, and ensuring that I keep going on housework! You know the fun stuff with life!

So let's talk about learning. That seems to be a ton of what I do week after week. But I think that it is important, and I really want to keep on that topic until I hit a point where I have hit everything that I want to cover.

Today we are going to examine distractions. Personally, this is a huge topic for me. I have a horrid fight that I run into between being a perfectionist and getting things hammered out, and my code itself can be distracting! If it doesn’t look pretty, or work JUST RIGHT sometimes I simply hit a brick wall until it's clean, and works JUST RIGHT.

I am also one of those people that critically need to have music or a show rolling to cut through any, and all noise outside of my little bubble. People walking in and out of the door or calling, or even talking kills my ability to function when it comes to working on things. So often if you walked into my house you will, even if I am home alone, find me with my Astro A50s on, and cranked to max blasting music if for some reason they are not charged the soundbar on my desk is blaring so that I can just tunnel vision into the task at hand.

There are far too many distractions to name from pets to even needing to stretch your legs, or even just not having any coffee left in your cup. All of these require you to split your focus and take a moment from what you are doing, and if you are anything like it it means that the next 30–45 minutes are chalked until I can get into the zone… So I have learned a life hack to fix that!

Letting things around me dictate my breaks. If I need coffee I will take 10 minutes to hit the restroom, grab something to munch on, organize my desk, etc. just to ensure that I am getting ready to lock back in and dive in headfirst with minimal distractions until that next wall pops up for me to run into headfirst.

The irony is that even while I am writing this Grammarly is the distraction, that stupid red underline as I hack through sentence after sentence is beyond frustrating (see OCD).

But I have learned to just go with the flow, and when working within specific time constraints it gets even easier. If I schedule around zoom calls, or phone calls, or just scheduled events then I am able to minimize downtime and ensure that I am getting things hammered out in an efficient, and reasonable manner. For example, if I tell Alexa to set an alarm 5 or 10 minutes before a call it gives me enough to grab a drink, stretch my legs, run a brush or comb through my hair, and get back to my desk prior to a meeting, at which point I can pull up the links or sites that I need to, or open a new notion page to ensure that I am ready to build out notes.

Setting alarms, using time limits, and ensuring that you just kind of go with the flow also seems to minimize the frustration, anxiety level, or stress of dealing with things. I am very blessed that I have minimal social anxiety since I have been in public-facing jobs for so long, but this certainly is helpful to ensure that I can take those deep breaths prior to getting on a call to go over things.

Now, we need to be honest and clear here. I am one of those people that would in a normal job get into trouble because I take more breaks than most US states would normally dictate, but if you counterbalance that by ensuring that the work is done and that you work a few minutes extra on either side of a shift you can usually get it figured out. Which is what I normally worked out with companies prior to working with them. Being in sales made that pretty easy because there is more flexibility to step off to the side and do similar stuff. But that did not require the same kind of hyper-focus as dealing with code tends to.

However, in software, this is a pretty common practice! Let's talk about the 20-minute rule. The 20-minute rule dictates that you work on a task for 20 minutes and if during that time you are unable to solve the problem you reach out for help. Sometimes that takes a few minutes, and it allows you to keep slack or teams, or whatever you are using up on your phone accomplish a couple of quick tasks, and then when the help or follow up questions show up you can dive back into the task and ensure that you keep moving.

Another clarification here that should be stated is that I also have a habit of going 3–6 hours straight just hammering at my keyboard. Again this tends to counteract the additional breaks that can pop up. Or the life events that get in the way.

You really need to ensure that you have very concise, honest, and open conversations with your employer, and your supervisor about these topics within the first few weeks of working for the company. Clearly explain the why, and ask if your coping mechanisms are within bounds with your employer. In fact, they may even have thoughts, ideas, or suggestions that work better for you, and are within company policy bounds.

It may seem counterintuitive to be open and honest with employers about your struggles, or differences, but the good employers, the good bosses will always be working to build their team and set them up for success which means that if they know about the issue they are more likely to build around them, and allow you the leeway that you need to operate and be successful.

There is the inherent risk that they either just bluntly shut you down, or ignore your concerns, or needs, but that is a pretty clear sign that you may need to find another employer as soon as possible anyway. If that is the case either do it between sprints, or do it after the project that you are working on is done, and give plenty of time for the team to rally up, and make sure that the gaps are covered. If there is an exit interview make sure that you fill them in on what affected your decision to leave, and what they could have done to better work with you. Why? Because if they do not know there is an issue they cannot fix it. Additionally, you should likely have a follow-up conversation or two with your supervisor or bosses to ensure that they are given every opportunity to remedy the situation. You and your stuff might be the reason for a drastic positive change in the working conditions for your company, and you could actually end up getting into a better position for being that person.

Now, let's be real. There are upsides, and downsides, and what I mentioned will NOT work for everyone. You as a person have to find out what will work best for you, and what will long term allow you to crank out code in a rapid, precise, and clean manner. I mean there are people that work on multiple parts of a project so if they get stuck on one they work on another and bounce back and forth, there are others that hyper-focus on one singular part, and get hyper-detailed on things. Find what works FOR YOU!

Thanks for reading and I will see you next time! Hope that this helps!

Full Stack JavaScript Engineer