Struggling with DMs and questions interrupting your flow while working remote? Use Visibility Timeouts to take back your focus
Everyone who works remote eventually struggles with questions interrupting their flow.
I've been a remote and hybrid worker for over a decade now.
During my early days I knew I needed to work hard to be available since no one could glance at my office to see me heads down. When questions would come in, I'd drop whatever deep work I was trying to do and respond.
I realized I was thinking about “availability” all wrong. Many learnings came from this (to be discussed in more essays), but one in particular made a huge difference.
Instead of instant responses, most questions need a Visibility Timeout.
What is a Visibility Timeout? In software dev, during processing a message we set a period of time where it shouldn't be picked up by any other workers.
When it comes to DMs interrupting your work, most of those need to simmer for a bit. In reality, you shouldn't be the first person to work on it. The sender should.
Working on a platform that serves thousands of other developers comes with a lot of support requests. And those requests have reinforced why I use this technique.
In my experience, at least 70% of questions I receive are solved before I respond, or dramatically improved in specificity by the time I do. This is because the asker invested time in trying to solve it themselves.
While this may not apply to every question (or every asker), if you find yourself frequently interrupted, give the Visibility Timeout a chance.
Oh, and a bonus for you parents out there.
This works great with kids too. A few hours ago my daughter interrupted my wife preparing lunches for tomorrow with a panicked, “It's not working!”. We gave each other a glance, and kept doing what we were doing. Not 2 minutes later, she shouted “Nevermind, I fixed it”.
Another win for visibility timeouts.
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