When I worked at VoiceMobility I was fortunate to have an office. I loved my office. It was my home away from home. It was my space to work in. It was comfortable. I controlled the lights, I controlled the temperature (to some degree), I controlled the sounds levels inside my office. The most important thing about my office was that it had a door.
When I really needed to get things done I could shut the door, and drown out the office sounds. I could turn up the music, shut out the outside world and concentrate. Co-workers seeing the door shut immediately knew I should not be disturbed.
When I left the voice mob I lost my office. NewHeights has offices for some developers, but not all. Many developers or QA people share offices. I think most software developement offices are like this, and I think it is a shame. Working in the cube that I have is way more distracting. Some days are definitely worse than others. The last few days I have found particularly bad as there have been hallway conversations on the other side of my cube wall. Aside: I need to be more assertive in those situations, and ask the people to move to a meeting room.
After moving to NewHeights I stumbled across LifeHacker. This website is dedicated to helping computer users to avoid the pitfalls of computer related distractions, and to get to the task at hand. It is a large collection of tips and tricks to enable to be "Getting Things Done".
After reading their article titled: Firewall your attention at the office, I have been thinking a lot about this topic. I have followed some of the sites tips, but this article really resonated with me.
Some tips I have taken away from this site are:
1) Automatically checking email happens every half hour. I turned off all notifications of new email (no popups, no sounds). In fact I disabled all "toast popups" that many apps seem to be fond of. I kept the ones that inform me of critical issues. I wish there was a way I could disable the windows system tray popups too. They are very distracting.
2) I use a feed reader to follow webpages and blogs. Only at certain times of day will I run RSS Bandit. This is configured to only update feeds once a day, except for some emergency information feeds, and all my internal to work feeds. While it is not running I resist temptation to start it.
3) I listen to music with headphones (added benefit: partially drowning out background noise). I work better to music, so this is definitely a win-win for me.
4) I use the "busy" status on MSN Messenger, and I set my phone to DND mode when I am concentrating. This doesn't always work as some people still MSN me, or just walk to my desk to ask me a question when I don't answer the phone.
5) I also try to arrive early to work. I find I can get a lot done while most of the office workers are not there. Less people around can only mean less possible distractions. Of course sometimes the resources I need are not there either, and that will always be a problem.
I think my biggest problem is teaching my co-workers. How can I easily (and nicely) tell everyone that when my headphones are on, my MSN is set to busy, to stay the hell away and let me work? Many people at my office don't run MSN, so can't see my status. Others don't phone or email their questions, but instead ask them face to face. I can't get around this one, and this is the most distracting to me (more in a second).
As far as regular background noise goes, this LifeHacker suggests noise cancelling headphones. I am tempted to try it, but the problem I see is wearing those headphones for several hours. I can't wear the ear bud style headphones for more than half an hour any more. How can these be more comfortable? Instead I have a pair of ear muff style headphones whose biggest problem is that my ears can't breathe, and get quite hot at times. Another LifeHacker article has a list of iPod etiquette for at work. Most are good rules (and common sense), but I know I break the one about "head bopping".
So, how do I re-inforce/teach co-workers when they can and can't interrupt me? Wearing headphones doesn't work. Phone on DND doesn't work. Busy MSN status doesn't work. Ignoring them while I concentrate doesn't work. Many of the upcoming interruptions I acknowledge the co-workers presence, but indicate that they will have to wait until I finish what I am doing. I'd love any tips/tricks anyone out there has.