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I have just started a new job, as a programmer I have to get in 'The Zone' to get alot of work done, I do this by listening to music and just getting on with it.

But people kept talking to me, as I was new, they were just asking random questions (they aren't programmers) I have explained about the zone and they understand now.

Now the huge problem, the phone, I have to answer the phone, and even when I don't answer it, it kicks me straight out, no matter how loud my music is, all the phones singing in the office stop me from working.

How can I get around this? I'm hardly doing any work because of the distractions, I can't turn my phone off as I have to get it when everyone's busy, but it rings every 10 minutes!

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Can you elaborate on " I can't turn my phone off as I have to get it when everyone's busy, but it rings every 10 minutes!" - It sounds like the root of the problem and maybe we can offer advice with some more detail. For example, maybe you serve as a help desk with 3 other people. –  Jeanne Boyarsky Aug 9 '13 at 15:24
    
I'm not supposed to answer the phone, but because the company is so small I have to answer and take a message if everyone else is busy. I'd love to just turn it off but I'd still hear the other phones ringing and the boss would get annoyed as I wouldn't be taking any calls. –  Adam Aug 9 '13 at 15:31
    
"no matter how loud my music is, all the phones singing in the office stop me from working.": Get a noise canceling headphone. A bit on the pricey side, but if you're a programmer who uses music to drown out distractions, it's one of the best investments you could make. –  Muz Aug 27 '13 at 7:23

6 Answers 6

I'm not supposed to answer the phone, but because the company is so small I have to answer and take a message if everyone else is busy. I'd love to just turn it off but I'd still hear the other phones ringing and the boss would get annoyed as I wouldn't be taking any calls

I'm answering this comment rather than the original question because I believe this is the problem. You can't tune out the phone if you have to answer it at times.

Step 1

I think you need to talk to your boss about what the expectations are for you to answer the phone. In particular, I think you should try to negotiate one of the following:

  1. I only answer the group phone if someone asks me to cover for them.
  2. I only answer the group phone if someone pings me (comes by, throws a nerf ball at me, etc) that everyone is overwhelmed
  3. I only answer the group phone certain days and times.
  4. I only answer the group phone when I'm not in the zone coding.

What all these have in common is that there can't be the expectation that you are always available to answer the phone. That is a direct conflict with the ability to code.

Step 2

Now that you have permission to tune out the phone at certain times/all the time, you can block out the surrounding noise. This may mean turning off your phone. Or wearing different headphones. The reason this has to be step 2, is that you can train yourself to ignore the phone if you need to answer it.

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If you've read Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work-Week, he provides, imho, an excellent guide on ignoring phone calls/e-mails that could be applied to this situation.

Essentially, you should try to have two phone lines (the second can be cellular, skype, or some other number).

One of the lines is to be served as an urgent line, you answer this immediately unless it is from an unknown number, in which case you let it go to voicemail and listen to the voicemail. You give this number to people that might need to reach you in emergency situations such as a spouse, or children, and possibly your boss (if you explain to him that it is for emergency only).

The other number should be put on silent mode and allowed to go to voicemail at all times (the phone that is constantly ringing for you). On your voicemail recording you can put something such as

You've reached company XYZ

We are currently unavailable, we will be checking and responding to voicemail ASAP

If this issue cannot wait at all then you can reach an urgent line at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Otherwise, leave a message and we will return it ASAP. Please leave your e-mail, I will be able to respond faster that way.

Thank you for understanding. Have a nice day.

You will clearly need to talk to your boss about this too, to get his permission to put this message for the office phones, and to make him understand that forcing you to answer phones breaks your concentration.

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Agreed on Ferriss's method. Ignore those calls, especially if doing a job which requires you to be in the zone. It's more efficient to call everyone back at once, and voicemail forces them to think of a proper reply instead of "call me back now". –  Muz Aug 27 '13 at 7:22

Easy answer - Turn off/silence your phone.

Facebook is famous for not disturbing programmers when they were in the zone. Maybe place a sign [lights would be cool] next to your desk/cube that says not to disturb. You can put it there before you get into the zone.

You are a programmer, so you can probably just ignore the phone. Set alarms to check your phone ever 1hr (whatever time) and just leave the zone every hour to check your phone/email and respond to people requests.

Another idea is to face a corner, people tend to ignore you more that way.

Source - I'm a CS major in college. Coding in the dorms when everyone is partying around me is very difficult

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Firstly, ask your boss to provide a separate room where you can work without distractions. It is in his/her interest too that you can work efficiently. Studies have repeatedly shown that open-plan offices lower worker productivity significantly, partly due to distractions.

Secondly, research has shown that it takes 20-50 minutes to get back into "the zone" once you're interrupted, so if this happens every 10 minutes you don't even stand a chance of succeeding. Ergo, you need to talk to your boss about limiting the interruptions or accept that you cannot deliver.

Thirdly, it wouldn't hurt if your team adopts a development methodology (e.g. Scrum) which puts formal emphasis on working in sprints where interruptions and feature requests are to be processed by designated gate-keepers: any interruption to any team member (except gate-keepers) is then considered a cause for relieving the development team of its commitment.

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You can't be in the zone and answer the phone at the same time. Answering the phone belongs to the helpdesk/support kind of activity, and that is totally incompatible with being in the zone, which belongs to the coding activity.

Your boss needs to choose what he is paying you for. You can't do both things well, because they are not compatible.

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I also work for a small company where I have to answer the phone. If you have to answer it you have to answer it but here's how I deal with it. We use Autotask, a ticketing system which help.

Answer the phone, be polite but don't do anything there an then. Don't start doing any work. Don't answer any involved questions. Be polite, get the gist and make a ticket (or note if your don't have a system). Not everything need's to be done ASAP. If they need to ask a series of questions say something like "I'm sorry I can't answer that right now, could you send me an email and we'll see what we can do".

Then at a scheduled time deal with the emails, note and tickets. Deal with it quickly, hand it over to someone else or scheduled the work to be done.

The important thing is to break the link between the request for work by the person on the phone and the work actually being done allowing you to be away from coding for the minimum amount of time.

I this might not apply but where I work we also have this idea of the bubble. A programmer can spent a while planning and doing other things but when it comes time for a coding session he'll say "I'm going into the bubble" at which point he doesn't have to answer phone, acknowledge anyone else exists and he can't be disturbed.

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