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My workflow includes some steps that make me wait for 0.5 to 2 minutes to complete: long remote git operations, creating / rebooting an instance in the cloud, etc. It's safe to assume that these operations cannot be made any faster.

The resulting delays are the biggest flow-breakers for me. These are too long to just sit and stare at the progress indicators, but too short to take a walk and grab a coffee. Temptation to check some websites is big, and it's often a road to 20-30 minutes of procrastination + the time to get into the flow again.

What are your coping strategies?

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migrated from Sep 17 '12 at 21:16

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

@BilltheLizard: please migrate it there if you can. – 9000 Sep 17 '12 at 18:22
Although this may be more on-topic at Personal Productivity, I'd really be interested in getting answers from programmers and don't see it as being off-topic here. – Rachel Sep 17 '12 at 19:56
Pomodoro, FTW!! – Jim G. Sep 17 '12 at 20:24
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I keep notes (in OneNote) about all kinds of things... generally in the format of 'highlights -> what did I learn -> notes for tomorrow'. In those small breaks, I add items to my notes: which are usually about what I'm waiting on.

That way I'm still thinking about my current task, which rarely breaks flow, and I've got good notes for when 1x1s come along.

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I do the same thing, but usually on paper. I have a ton of scrap paper and post-it notes on my desk... it looks messy but it helps keep me organized. And there's nothing quite like taking a pen and scratching something off a to-do list, or throwing out a pile of post-its containing notes of things that are now completed. Electronic documents aren't quite the same for me yet :) – Rachel Sep 17 '12 at 20:11
@Rachel: The combination of OneNote and Outlook tasks is a nice marriage. Granted, it's less tactile, but right click->mark as complete is pretty satisfying too :) – SnOrfus Sep 18 '12 at 5:55

This is a non-answer, but I felt the need to share some History of Computing ...

In olden times we had something called Compile Time Reading. Recompiling could easily run from a few minutes to a half hour or more. Most programmers I knew kept a book next to their keyboard. They would start a compile, then pick up where they had left off in their book. There is also the classic xkcd comic.

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Aah, the memories... I read many a manga this way... – w00t Sep 18 '12 at 19:00

I don't have a complete answer, but ever since I set up a standing desk I tend to use these moments to move around a little bit, like stretching, fetching coffee/tea or fake awesome kung fu moves ("That bug is DEAD! Yaaaarrrr!").

All the other tricks still apply:

  • Have only the windows for your current task visible
  • Don't show any alerts when getting email
  • Set your IM to "do not disturb" (I do that automatically when I start a Pomodoro)
  • Have a tiny to-do list for the day that is easy to scan and stay focused on

I still get distracted of course, but less often.

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Well, I have exactly the same issue. I generally spent that little durations to keep my playlist up to date or change station. If you like to listen music while working that might be a good way to spent this duration

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My friend once wrote a blog post called "Are You a Zen Coder or Distraction-Junkie about this topic.

Some activities noted there:

  • Get up
  • Look into distance
  • Put your hands behind your head and lean back on your chair
  • Stretch your legs, then raise your hands as high as possible
  • Close your eyes
  • Gently massage your eyes
  • Slowly turn your head to the right, left, up and down as far as possible
  • Close your eyes and breathe
  • Go get a glass of water (Be careful not to get distracted by your co-workers on your way.)
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I can't say this works with regards to restarting cloud instances, but you could have a script that runs your git operation(s), and then pops up something annoying.

My bet is that you don't get an obvious sign that the operation is done and that's what allows 2 minutes of procrastination ooze away into 20+ minutes.

If a loud ding noise or a popup doesn't help you from continued web browsing, I don't know what will. The adventourous could try electric shocks.

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This is a nice suggestion, and I already have something like that in place. The problem is not in notification but in not letting my mind drift away in the meantime. – 9000 Sep 17 '12 at 21:46

You may consider a better option to work by using a local storage which is configured to sync it with the cloud instance.

There is a potential downside (conflicts during the commit) of this approach. In the commit situations, you may need to merge the code and resolve some conflicts. However, there is a way to minimize this risk by spreading work on a module bases.

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Thanks for suggestion. But let's assume that whatever can be sped up, already has been. There are some delays that I cannot remove. I'd rather appreciate some psychological tricks and 'life hacks' that help to cope with the situation at hand. – 9000 Sep 17 '12 at 17:59

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