All Geek to Me

August 7, 2008

Shiny Emails

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 9:26 pm

In Everquest 2 there are items scattered across the world that are collectible. If a character finds all of the items in a collection they can hand them into a collector who will swap the completed set for a reward. These items appear in game as a glowing question mark on the ground. They are commonly known as shinies. There are many players, me included, who find it nigh impossible to avoid rushing off to grab shinies that we see in passing. This can be a very bad idea, especially when working in a group. The main fighter is doing her duty and wonders why the damage she is taking is not being healed; the healer has been distracted by a shiny.
It was the image of a character in EQ2 being distracted by that sparkling question mark that came to mind when I heard Jeff Attwood in the Stackoverflow podcast refer to the shiny object problem. He was referring to the effects on time management of being distracted in the middle of a task and losing focus:

I’m looking up something and it’ll remind me of a music video or I’ll get a music video result in the search and go ‘Oh I remember that music video’ and just have to watch the video which relates to the term that I was working on. It was actually ‘Popular’ this video by Nada Surf. I was like ‘Oh I remember that song’ of course I had to go watch it, then I had to look up the band and see what they’re doing.

This is a real problem, even without the distraction of Google offering links to subjects more interesting than the work at hand. Programming in a language that shares a name with my favourite style of games causes this temptation to rear its head from time to time.

However, much more frequently and just as detrimental is the shiny effect of an incoming email. If you have email alerts on, there is an almost impossible to resist impulse to suspend what you are doing, read the email and start to respond. If you deal with the email ad return to the original task, the effects are not too bad. However, it is easy to be caught in a vicious cycle of reacting to the next email, before you have completed work on the first one. A few distractions deep and you have little chance of recalling the original task, so even if the emails stop coming in, you will not work your way back up the queue.

There is a simple solution, which does even require you to rise above the temptation to chase shinies. You can either close your email client while you work, or if that is not practical because it takes too long to open and close, you should definitely turn off all email notifications, so you are not distracted by new emails until you have finished tasks and are ready to get new work from your Inbox.


1 Comment »

  1. Oooo look! It’s a True Neutral Elf Druid/Ranger sending you an email! I say, if that is the case I would hope you respond immediately. 🙂

    Instant messages fall into this category as well. As do telephone calls. A well-focussed programmer is perhaps a Luddite at work, regarding all equipment and features save the source code editor.

    Comment by ilegirl — August 7, 2008 @ 10:08 pm

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