Workplace popcorn

Joel Runyon wrote a great piece on workplace productivity over at Impossible HQ, detailing a routine he calls Workstation Popcorn. Joel’s post focuses on the benefit to individuals, but it doesn’t end there: This kind of technique is great for dev shops too.

Multiple locations is key

Moving from place to place is like a reset button for the mind. Many developers experience their biggest burst of productivity in the morning, right after they sit down. Moving around gives this burst of productivity two or three times a day.

Why does this happen? I’ll leave the psychological reasons to someone else to explain. The simple reason is this: Sitting at a desk all day sucks. It’s a special kind of oppressive that’s particularly damaging to creative work.

Setting up a popcorn-friendly office

At Tivix, we have a lounge, a conference room, and a pair programming nook (Don’t worry; I’m the only one in the office that calls it a “pair programming nook”).

We’ve put a lot of time and energy into having alternative workspaces to use even though we have a relatively small office. Even as we grow, we never look at cannibalizing those alternative spaces for extra traditional desks. We have a few employees that forego desks completely.

Bring a context and a goal with you; don’t worry too much about to-do lists

It’s really easy to complicate this system. In consulting, the challenge of what- and when-to-do usually boils down to one thing: Clients.

Developers need to set aside focused time for each client already, so why not move to a different physical location in-between? It’s like closing one book and opening another, giving a complete refresh every time.

For focused workloads where the developer does mostly the same thing all day, a to-do list approach is a good excuse to break away for the mental refresh. Don’t worry too much about the GSD (getting stuff done) aspects of this system, though. Moving should be a refreshing change of pace, free of the “dead man walking” feel a gigantic to-do list imparts.

Tailor tasks to the location

Need to get some writing done? Head to a coffee shop. Need to work on a tough problem with another developer? Head to the pair programming station. Implementing new features from wireframes and PSDs? That one’s probably best at your desk with multiple monitors.

You make your space

Technology enables us to sit and do most everything in the world right from our desks. That’s an amazing ability to have. But we need to embrace the flip side, too: Technology lets us stand up and go work in a new spot. Take advantage of it.

Photo courtesy of ciaraanicolee