Dark Times

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Hello Darkness My Old Friend

After daily standup, most mornings from 9:30-11:30 the Fivable office enters dark times. It’s a grim-sounding name, but an exceedingly valuable practice. The rules are simple:

  1. Don’t talk to your colleagues.
  2. Don’t even message your colleagues.
  3. Scheduled meetings preempt these rules, but should be rare.

But…why dark times?

First, I need to explain how Voltroning works. You know Voltron, right? Five pilots, one super robot? Mighty individually, colossally destructive when they join forces. Well, developers are like that too. The idea is that in the case of a software development boss-battle, the collective effort can be highly beneficial. Our team members are super conscientious, but they’re also super willing to help their fellow nerds.

Benefit #1 of dark times: It prevents overuse of the Voltroning Strategy. Dwight the developer can think, “I know Jim worked on this the other day, let me ask what he did.” And the answer to the inquiry could be solved in five minutes without Jim’s help. But Dwight decides to ask Jim for help and it causes 2-3 developers to get locked into a 45-minute academic discussion of camel-case variable names. I think you can envision the diminishing returns.

The second benefit is that it prevents time-zapping task-switching. No matter how good you are, every gear change while you work causes increased mental load and increased waste. So, a two-hour block as you settle in for the day with a prohibition on interruption means next-level productivity. When preparing to enter dark times, everyone reviews their plans and tries to anticipate possible blocking scenarios. Dark times immediately following daily standup assists with the resolution of anticipated blocks as well.

The third major benefit is that it sets the tone for the day. Some of that comes from the muscle memory and positive reinforcement of having solved something on one’s own. What that means practically is that even after the silence of dark times is lifted, the rest of the day feels quieter and more productive.

Don’t Misunderstand Dark Times

When I present the idea to friends and peers, they automatically think I’m trying to curb side chatter around the office. But please don’t misunderstand:

Our team’s humanity and well-being are more important than anything else, so I view personal, cultural, and non-sequitur conversation as a crucial part of our workplace.

That is, our team doesn’t distract itself excessively so that’s not the point of this practice.

Dramatic improvement to productivity though? Absolutely.easy, right?