Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

As a young programmer just starting out, newly married, working on my employer’s stuff during the day and my own stuff during the evenings, I often struggled to convince my growing and social family that they had to leave me alone when I was working. As Jason Fried explains in this excellent video from October’s TEDx Midwest, creative workers like programmers, engineers, and designers, can’t just jump in and out of work. Our work happens in intellectual stages, and when we’re interrupted we are often thrown back to the beginning. Programming especially happens in the realm between the abstract and the concrete, and requires that the developer have a working mental model of a system before putting fingers to keyboard. Interruptions often shatter that mental model and force us to go back through the process of constructing it. It can be very frustrating. The bottom line is that people like us need long, uninterrupted stretches of time in order to be effective. Ironically, the one place that we get the least of what we need is in an office. What Fried calls “M&Ms” (meetings and managers) conspire to shred our days into little pieces, such that at the end the whole is far less than the sum of the parts. His talk should be required viewing for people who manage people like me.

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