Human Performance Curve

In writing the last blog on motivation my mind was drawn repeatedly  to thoughts about performance.  After all, motivational techniques are primarily about boosting performance.  But as I put “pen to paper” for this blog it turned out harder to write than I expected.  Human performance is a squiggy topic but unquestionably important.

I start out with some classic performance curves that apply to factories, motors and other mechanical systems.  Next I move to the human performance curve and then consider the large variability of the performance of programmers, the Elo rating system for rating chess players and musing on its relevance to programming.  I close with sage advice to programmers from Captain Barbossa and Dirty Harry (who, as far I know, are not fictional programmers).

Read on…

Unnecessary Context Switches & the Myth of Multitasking

Thanks to Tony C. who sent this suggestion as follow-up to the recent Social Media post:

Thought you might be interested in this article and the book that it references – “The Myth of Multitasking

[Disclosure: I haven't read the book and so this is not an endorsement.]

This book deals with “Human Multitasking” – not operating systems.  There is a common theme to the discussions of this book and to other content about human-multitasking.  Your “cognitive attention” can be directed to any particular task but sharing attention across multiple tasks will reduce performance.

Read on…

Social Media at Work: Turn on, tune in, or drop out?

Last month in a post about working in The Zone I noted how the multitude of distractions on a typical computer screen can impact our ability to focus. This seems particularly so for tasks like programming that require high concentration.

But many working environments expect programmers – and other staff – to respond quickly at any time to email, IM, phone calls and more.  I am reminded of my recurring experience in one company.  I would receive phone calls or message along the lines of this.

“I sent you an email 5 minutes ago and you haven’t responded.  What’s up?”

What I would think… “if I checked every email instantly then I’d get barely any work done.”

What I would actually say… usually something diplomatic.

So I when a relevant article on attentive disruption arrived I had to delve further.

Read on…

“At Least You’re Aware of Your Incompetence” (4 Stages of Learning)

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”   Winston Churchill

After I gave a talk recently I was pulled aside by a colleague. He pointed out that the way I expressed one topic had the potential to put off one of the groups present.  To my credit I was consciously aware of the problem during the talk but unfortunately I couldn’t stop myself.

My colleague’s response… “At  least you’re aware of your incompetence!

He didn’t mean I was generally incompetent.  Instead his point was that the first step in learning is to become aware of a limitation in your knowledge or capability.

This post tackles two questions about learning.  Beyond awareness of incompetence what are the stages of learning?  Why can learning or changing behavior be particularly difficult?

Read on…

The Flow – Programming in Ecstasy

I once worked in an office with a timed motion sensor light switch.  If it didn’t detect motion in the office for 20 minutes or so it would turn off the lights.

When I was programming “In The Zone” the lights would switch off repeatedly and often over hours of work.  Each time I’d flail my arms briefly to get the lights back and return to the task at hand, back into the zone.  Eventually I would get the hint, switch my mind off, stretch and go home to wife and kids.

I enjoyed being in the zone… greatly.  I lost track of time.  I lost awareness of my surrounds.  I was detached from everything around me and was immersed in my task.  It felt great but strangely I wasn’t really aware of that feeling when in the zone.

Read the rest of this entry »


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