Developers’ Top Productivity Distraction: Meetings

Virtually every developer or engineer seems to have this problem: You just want to work—it’s why the company hired you, after all—but your management keeps insisting that you attend meetings. They always seem so concerned about your productivity… right before booking you into yet another three-hour discussion about, um, well, it’s not entirely clear.

And even if you manage to dodge most of the meetings slammed onto your calendar, your office is likely rife with other issues: co-workers chattering endlessly (especially in the dreaded open office), managers shoving non-development work on you, inadequate access to necessary tools, and a general lack of support.

Combined, all these distractions murder your productivity. You’re left wondering where the time went.

According to the most recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey, some 41.3 percent of developers called out “meetings” as a core productivity challenge, placing it ahead of “distracting work environment” (40.4 percent), “tasked with non-development work” (37.5 percent), “not enough people for the workload” (35.7 percent) and “lack of support from management” (23.5 percent). (The 19,966 respondents were asked to choose the three most important factors, which is why percentages add up to over 100 percent.)

In addition, some 18.7 percent of developers complained about “inadequate access to necessary tools.” Some 14.9 percent cited a “toxic work environment” as a major challenge to actually getting their jobs done.

Communication is the Productivity Solution

Fortunately, many of these productivity issues are solvable via good communication. Some of life’s meetings are forever unavoidable (yes, you have to attend the CEO’s All Hands gathering, even if you spend the time typing on your laptop in the corner), but others are negotiable. If you’re under perpetual deadlines, or if you simply have a ton of work to do, talk with your manager about what you can skip; you might find they’re amenable to your request if you’re trying to accomplish concrete things for the business.

Fixing that “open office” problem is a bit harder, since entire offices seem to have reduced the presence of walls to a bare minimum. If there are isolated spaces to work, see if you can set up shop there every day (you may need manager approval). If things are generally too noisy and distracting, though, you may need to ask your boss if you can work remotely, at least for a portion of the week.

Facing non-development tasks is often a reflection of team size and workload; if there simply aren’t enough hands to take on administrative tasks and so on, developers and other tech pros might need to step up, no matter how much it might murder their overall productivity. This is a particularly pervasive problem at startups, where the presence of relatively few employees means that skilled professionals may end up handling UPS deliveries or dealing with the landlord in-between coding sessions.

In such circumstances, there may be little a tech pro can do; but if the tasks seem superfluous, or there are other people who can handle them, it’s worth a discussion with your manager. They may not realize that you’re taking on things outside of your core responsibility. During that conversation, illustrate how burning time on these non-development tasks is ultimately affecting things like deliverables and team goals.

Ultimately, (most) managers realize that anything that distracts a developer is bad for productivity and the business overall. But it’s up to the developers to make their supervisors aware of the situation—and frame the solution as something that’s good for everyone.