Handling 'Frame switching'

A couple of days ago I noticed this tweet:

berenguel: What is your view on ‘frame switching’?How do you manage (forced) interruptions of your workflow?How do you get the interruptor to give up?

This is something I’m currently not experiencing, but I have been fighting this in the past. And I’ve come up with a quite effective way to eliminate this.


Priority todo-list

I’m just a regular guy, and just like all men I can only focus on a single thing. Context swithing/frame of reference switching is hard. If I’m working on a programming problem and people interrupt me, ask other technical questions, I lose my train of thought.

So, how do you counter this? Well, first I made a list of things to do. This is always good to have, it directs your focus. My list is priorized. For example:

  • Implement “General overview” page
  • Fix bug with disappearing “Solve” button
  • Refactor OfflineAvailableController
  • Fix table layout bug


Coffee time!

The top post-it is the one I’m working on, that one has my complete focus. When the project lead comes and asks me questions, I ask him to prioritize it. He can add post-its to the list and/or shuffle the list. But there is one catch: Every time he changes or I finish the top priority I need a coffee break. This is my frame-switching moment, to clear my head.

If you do this, and keep doing this (no exceptions!) the project lead will start putting his ‘requests’ (interruptions) beneath your current piece of work, without distracting you. Because else you go for a cup of coffee first…. This is what we want. When we finish what we are currently doing we get a little coffee break. When we’ve fully cleared our head we look at the next item in the todo-queue.

Don’t worry, it may sound a bit rude, they’ll understand it if you explain the problem with frame-switching…! This just makes it visible.

p.s. Berengual will probably write a blog post about his own experiences with frame-switching, I’ll post a link when he does!