Mike Elgan over at InternetNews wrote an interesting article about what he calls Work Ethic 2.0. In it he argues that hard work is dead, replaced by the ability to function in an environment actively working to rob us of the ability to focus our attention.
This resonates with me as it seems the Internet breeds more and interesting ways to pull us away from focusing on things. Even taking aside the Internet, which I believe still offers real benefit, despite the shiny lights and noises, the same applies in the workplace, and add in additional sources of attention grabbing.
One of the things I’ve appreciated as I’ve moved from Development to Management to customer-facing roles and back is that each offers different levels of opportunity to focus.
In my experience, a developer often has a fixed set of requirements and a fixed schedule. There is always the possibility that a high-priority customer issue or business opportunity will come up and upset that apple cart, but largely, the opportunity exists to go heads down and focus.
In one of my other roles as a Customer Applications Engineer, it was on the opposite end of the spectrum: almost entirely interrupt driven. The ability to plan larger, longer term projects existed only in and around meeting the immediate demands of customers.
Somewhere in the middle is the management role. Trying to manage a set of Developers, themselves focused on the individual tasks while I, as the manager, try to keep them focused and minimize the disruptive interrupts, but having to choose to let some by as necessary.
The challenge in that role is to focus on the needs of the team to meet the goals of the company to make money and be successful, while trying to serve as a guard on the Developers time.
It’s an interesting problem, especially in light of the plethora of interrupt mechanisms that exists in a moderns workplace.
I’ve worked in environments where the interrupt mechanisms included all of the following: email, phone, IM, in-person visit. That doesn’t cover the hallway or bathroom, which also offer opportunities for added interrupts.
The ability to focus in light of all of those challenges will be, I think, an increasingly important skill to cultivate in a environment that increasingly demands our attention be split when we most need to focus.