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What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?

By Andrew Pollack on 07/13/2007 at 09:32 PM EDT

When I'm programming -- not tossing off a quick bit of script but really working hard on something new -- there is a minimum amount of time that I have to be able to devote to the process or it isn't worth bothering to sit down at all. For me, it is probably something around two hours minimum but three is really better. If I can't put at least that much time without being interrupted into the work than its as if I am starting over after each break.

How about you? Do you build a model in your mind of the process you're working on? Once you build the model, does it disappear at the ring of a phone or doorbell?

I'm curious to know what that magic amount of time is for other people.

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Nathan T. Freeman on 07/14/2007 at 07:55 AM EDT
Believe it or not, for me, it's 15 minutes.

Then again, maybe it shows in my code. ;-)
re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Richard Schwartz on 07/14/2007 at 12:40 PM EDT
I'm about the same as Nathan for most things. My nature is to take a
divide-and-conquer approach, so I almost always can be productive on a small
piece at a time knowing that I can come back to work on additional pieces
without losing much stride.
I just don't see anything I can do in 15 minutes as all that complex.By Andrew Pollack on 07/15/2007 at 10:59 AM EDT
I'm talking about real complex programming work. I see anything I can do in 15
minutes as something that's really as much as already written in my head long
before I sit down to do it. The 15 minutes spent transferring it from my head
to the PC is more limited by speed of typing and the tools I'm using than by my
ability to figure anything out.
re: I just don't see anything I can do in 15 minutes as all that complex.By Nathan T. Freeman on 07/15/2007 at 01:04 PM EDT
I guess I don't write anything that complex. :-)

But I suspect you might be defining your answer in your question. Wouldn't a
complex problem be one that you have to concentrate on for a significant
re: I just don't see anything I can do in 15 minutes as all that complex.By Richard Schwartz on 07/16/2007 at 11:18 AM EDT
Complex problems can be broken down into a series of simpler problems. For
something of moderate complexity, the first 15 minutes would actually be spent
just doing the first cut of the breakdown. If it takes longer than that to get
the the first cut, then it was too early to be sitting down to do the
programming in the first place. This doesn't mean that the first cut is always
the final breakdown, and I admit that if I get too far in and have to make
radical changes, then the necessary refactoring certainly can't be done in 15
minute chunks!

I should also add that it also depends on whether we're talking about a task
that can be done with high-level object-oriented tools, versus a task that can
only be done with at low-level (e.g., Notes C API). In the latter case the
work is still divided into chunks, but the minimum period of time for any work
on a non-trivial chunk is at least a half hour, if not a full hour.
re: I just don't see anything I can do in 15 minutes as all that complex.By Jens on 07/17/2007 at 07:45 AM EDT
I think, you hit the nail on the head, just about, what happens with me too.
re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Jens on 07/15/2007 at 05:04 AM EDT
It really depends. It may be as low as 15 Minutes, usually I need 30 Minutes to
get to a point, where I can leave without loosing trace too much.
re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Devin Olson on 07/16/2007 at 09:25 AM EDT
If I qualify the work effort as you stated to "really working hard on something
new", then it is about the same for me: 2-3 hours of intense focus to get
completely into "the zone".

I can get into the zone much quicker (15 minutes or so) for relatively simple
stuff or when going over existing code, but the real "guru" stuff takes time to
get to.

re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Devin Olson on 07/16/2007 at 09:32 AM EDT
As an interesting second point; I am incapable of getting into "the zone" for
hard stuff when sitting at my computer. I absolutely must have either a
whiteboard or a big pad of paper and a minimum of 3 pens / markers (red, blue,
black), and if using paper, a good pencil and eraser.

I simply cannot begin the creative thinking process without being able to
physically scribble my thoughts - the computer just doesn't do it for me.

Once I have something started (either on whiteboard or paper) I can continue
the process using my computer, but can't START at the computer.

What about you?

re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Bruce Perry on 07/16/2007 at 09:58 AM EDT
Depends on whether it's totally new work or building something from known

When building from known pieces, I can get useful work done with half an hour
available. When it's totally new work, I'd want an hour or two.

Being able to break a task down into component tasks seems to be the key here.
With something new, it's harder to predict the components and thus more time is

@Devin - I know just what you mean about needing some physical writing
surface. Even when what I'm writing on paper doesn't make much sense to me a
few months later, I still need it.
re: What is your Minimum TTL for productive work?By Jens on 07/17/2007 at 07:50 AM EDT
Reading through this interesting thread I come to the conclusion, there is not
a single answer, even not for the one and same person. That doesn't really
surprise me, this relates very well to my own experience, to what I hear from
colleagues, from what I know from "Learning and Working Theories" (yes, this
has to do with Learning in fact) and with what I am observing when mentoring
other people through a project.

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