It is impossible to work between 9-5

Have you ever wondered how many hours do you actually work at the office? Excluding lunch breaks and other breaks obviously. Have you ever calculated your productivity level during the day? How many hours are you able to work uninterrupted? If at all possible.

Let’s be realistic

Experts on time management claim that we can actually work up to 80% of our working day in the office.  Consequently, if we work 8 hours a day we should only plan activities for 6 hours and still the schedule will be very tight. By planning work for 6 hours a day we take into consideration surprises and the issues which come up unexpectedly. Then we are not so stressed out that yet again we haven’t managed to do all we planned before.

Can you focus between 9 and 5?

My colleagues/software developers sometimes say: ” I can’t focus here so I will work in the evening”, “I worked from home in the morning and I finally managed to work and complete what I’ve been planning to do for a long time” or “I arrived in the office at 7 and before others started showing up I was really able to work and focus”.  Does that mean that we reach our productivity only in silence, at home and completely undisturbed? Can we get rid of noise in the workplace? Can we somehow not discuss with colleagues, not take phone calls, answer strange questions?

We have different work modes

In Peopleware, Demarco and Lister state that developers work in different modes. They concluded that developers divide their time as follows:

Working alone 30%

Working with one other person 50%

Working with two or more people 20%

This breakdown shows clearly that for 1/3 of the day people are noise sensitive and the rest of the time they generate that noise.  Our workplace is a mixture of people working alone and in teams, and as a result, these work modes clash.

How long can you work in Flow?

While working alone we enter the state of flow, something similar to trance.  According to psychologists, it’s a deep state, sort of meditative even, which brings the sense of euphoria and while being in it we don’t fully realize the passage of time.  Of course, not all types of productivity require this state of flow but when your job involves engineering, designing, development and coding then the FLOW is needed.

15 minutes to reach the state of Flow

In Peopleware the authors say that it’s not so easy to switch into this mode and you need at least 15 minutes of concentration to get there.

You need to immerse yourself in the subject and then you can finally be productive.  In this state, we are very sensitive to noise and interruption. Also, once we are interrupted, another immersion period of 15 minutes is required to return to this state.

For developers working in teams going continuously through the reimmersion, the process is frustrating since they don’t feel effective. It may seriously decrease job satisfaction as well.

Next time before you interrupt your colleague think twice.  Let’s not waste each other’s time.

What’s your story?

Exercise 1: For a change, try to register and log Flow Hours (uninterrupted) instead of Worked Hours.  If it is only 2-3 hours a week don’t blame yourself. Then it definitely shows that the organization is not capable of providing proper work conditions.

Exercise 2: For 1 week keep a record of work periods and the interruptions. Peopleware provides the following example:

2:13-2:17 Coding Phone call

2:20 – 2:23 Coding Boss stopped in to chat

2:26 – 2:29 Coding Question from colleague

2:31-2:39 Coding Phone call

2:41 – 2:44 Coding Phone call

This is like working in a madhouse. But this is a sad reality for many. De Marco and Lister later write:

“What matters is not the amount of time you’re present, but the amount of time that you’re working at full potential. An hour in flow really accomplishes something, but ten six-minute work periods sandwiched between eleven interruptions won’t accomplish anything.”

Focus hours and red flags

The Environmental Factor or E-Factor indicates how much time you can work uninterrupted at your workplace. It obviously depends on the department, type of office space (open space or separate rooms). Many people whose E-Factor is low have to come up with some solution that would ensure them more uninterrupted hours.

Some people have put on their desks Do Not Disturb signs,  red flags or other objects to deter the potential interrupter. Others agree that you don’t disturb if the door is closed, etc.

At Goyello developers introduced “focus hours”.  They have them in their Skype status or marked in other ways. During the focus hours, any interruptions are not welcome and they can be really arrogant when disturbed.

Respect my time

It’s obvious that noise and interruption make it impossible to think, to analyze to focus etc. If the matter is not urgent and can be discussed during a scheduled appointment we should respect their focus hours, their state of flow and the red flag on their desk. This is their shield and protection against something that apparently is a serious issue for them.

It also shows that these people care about how they spend their time at work and that they do measure their efficiency/productivity level.

De Marco and Lister say in conclusion:

“People bring their brains with them every morning. They could put them to work for you at no additional cost if only there were a small measure of peace and quiet in the workplace”


Aspire Blog Team

Aspire Systems is a global technology services firm serving as a trusted technology partner for our customers. We work with some of the world's most innovative enterprises and independent software vendors, helping them leverage technology and outsourcing in our specific areas of expertise. Our services include Product Engineering, Enterprise Solutions, Independent Testing Services and IT Infrastructure Support services. Our core philosophy of "Attention. Always." communicates our belief in lavishing care and attention on our customers and employees.


  1. Good one! But, i think it's better to mark one's current time as “do not disturb me NOW” instead of planning “focus hours”. It's just not real.

  2. I agree. I don't believe there is one best time slot for everybody. In general people seem to be able to concentrate best in the morning. But still it's different for everybody.

  3. I tried planning my focus hours (which is usually advised). I agree it doesn't work and it's better to use 'do not disturb me NOW' sign. Especially if you work in open spaces. In such case it's better to have separate room for meetings so discussions could be made without interfering other team members.

  4. The focus of this post is on colleagues, clients and probably managers who are disturbing the developer while trying to reach his flow stage. But what about all kind of private matters? How often a day a developer is being disturbed by private phone calls, private e-mails, private chats and private social network updates? Shouldn't we think about that as well?

  5. I wouldn't distinguish that. It's a good point, however. Article focuses on “in house” problems and often private matters disturb as much as colleagues or clients. But still it's just an interruption and should be treated the same way.

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  8. According to psychologists it’s a deep state, sort of meditative even, which brings the sense of euphoria and while being in it we don’t fully realize the passage of time

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