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Emails 'pose threat to IQ'.

Posted by malcolmdavis on July 2, 2006 at 10:33 AM PDT

Messaging barrage

My first job out of college was with Boeing Aerospace. Engineers occupying rows of desk in a large open room, and the constant distraction of telephones and conversations, I wondered how anybody got anything done.

Jump ahead 20 years, "Did you get my email?" a colleague asked. "No" I replied, "I haven't checked my email recently".

The colleague was frustrated. He had expected a near instance response, not something hours later. The lack of response on my part was because I was not running my mail client or IM while I was working.

Now there is evidence that this constant stream of interrupts not only screws up a programmers "Flow State", but could also lower a persons IQ. Depending on the degree of interruptions, the brain drain can be equivalent to smoking marijuana.

Constant crunch

One of the appreciations I have of extreme programming is the balance between work and life. However, many managers still like to push, thinking they can get more out of a person if that person is kept in crisis mode. However studies conducted show, that over an extended period of time increased hours do not increase productivity.


If you require an alarm clock to wake up, you are not getting enough sleep. Its amazing the number of zombies walking around the office on a Friday afternoon. Just as you shouldn't buy a car built on a Monday (blue-Mondays due to the hangovers from the weekend), I have often wondered about the number of coding defects relative to the day of the week, or hour of the day.

The after action report of the first gulf war indicated a serious problem with military officers. Officers' had made bad decisions that ended up in fratricide (killing friendly soldiers). The root cause of the mental mistakes was sleep fatigue. Only women with newborns had greater sleep fatigue then a combat officer. Even intern-doctors get more sleep. The report helped create new policies that required officers to receive a specific amount of sleep for every 24-hour period.

Final thoughts

The empirical evidence is overwhelming. We are all hurt, (especially the employer), by constant interruptions, working long hours, and walking around in a daze due to sleep fatigue. Yet, in 2006, every environment I have consulted on this year has looked so close that first job out of college.

The abuse of the IM technology has made the situation worse, not better for the manager. In "Planning: Managers need to sell their trucks", I argue that managers should remove the electronic leash called a BlackBerry from employees. Maybe it is time to think about the same for email and IM.

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