"Lord I was born a ramblin’ man" … and it was killing my productivity.

This week is the one year anniversary of my move from the Fargo, ND office and the Business Framework team to the Durham, NC office and the Team Foundation Server Version Control team.  I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on the last year.  This is one of those reflections.  It was written for myself but I thought I’d share it – my blog is a glorified backup system if nothing else…

My work habits are somewhat reflected in my writing style.  I am overly verbose, I get off topic quite frequently, and once I can understand how the problem will be solved I get bored and want to move on to the next problem.

Oops– just did it again.  The last part has nothing to do with my writing style.  Or perhaps everything to do with it.

The point is that I ramble.

I’m like a hound dog chasing its nose through unfamiliar woods.  I end up miles from where I should be and I'm not always sure how to get home.

My rambling is not limited to the world of writing or conversation.  When I do something I go all the way.  I also ramble around the office.

In the Fargo office the building layout is your typical cube farm.  Hundreds of people crammed into 8x6 cubicles in the most economical means possible.  It was too bright, too noisy and there were too many interruptions.  I would solve this by going on walks.  Long walks.  Thinking walks.  I might put on four to six thousand steps a day on my walks (I often wear a pedometer to work).  On these walks I would think about the problem I was trying to tackle.  I would think about schedules and estimations and meetings.

Basically it ruined walking for me.

But it became a habit.  When I have a problem I think it through on a walk.

After moving to the Durham, NC office things were different.  I have a private office so I can control the light levels and noise.  I can close my door when I want to be left alone, and I can leave it open when I don’t mind hearing the exterior conversations.  But what didn’t change was that I still took long walks.  In Fargo you could not leave the building for half the year – it is simply too cold.  But here I can go outside and walk around.  Ridiculously long walks.  I once came home with more than 12,000 steps on my pedometer (though I did think my way through a rather complex problem so it was worth it).

The problem is that I sometimes was walking when I shouldn’t be.  Any gap in my day was suddenly filled with aimless rambling.  I started keeping track and discovered I was leaving my office for a short walk (7 to 10 minutes – two or three laps around the second floor) more than 6 times per day.  I’d leave the building for a long walk twice a week on average.

Add on to that the trips to the restroom and break room and I was leaving my office upwards of 20 to 25 times per day.

This was keeping me from getting into the zone.  When I’m not in the zone I’m not productive.  When I’m not productive I fall behind.  When I fall behind I get stressed.  When I’m stressed I can’t get into the zone.

What’s a rambling-addicted fellow to do?

I took a piece of yellow business paper and a black dry-erase marker.  I wrote the words “Where are you going?” in huge print and I hung it on my door in such a way that I could not leave the office without seeing it.

I can’t tell you how many times I stood up to go on a walk, without even thinking about it, and seeing the paper made me think for a few more seconds before walking out the door.

Is this walk going to be productive?  Can it wait?  Do I really need a thinking walk or do I just need to stretch?  What is the goal of this movement?

After a few weeks of having that sign hanging the number of times I leave my office has been cut by more than half.  I still take think walks but I go on them with a goal so I know when I’m done walking and can measure if it was successful or not.

I am spending less time rambling and more time in the zone where I get my best work done.


Comments (2)

  1. If I could do it all over again I would take auto shop class in high school. I didn’t know it at the

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    Peas in a pod… I eventually learned to settle in, but learned it has it’s disadvantages as well – such as weight gain 🙂

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