Two sides of the same coin: Software developers' perceptions of task switching and task interruption

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, 2018, Part F137700
Issue Date:
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EASE'18, June 28-29, 2018, Christchurch, New Zealand © 2018 Association for Computing Machinery. In the constantly evolving world of software development, switching back and forth between tasks has become the norm. While task switching often allows developers to perform tasks effectively and may increase creativity via the flexible pathway, there are also consequences to frequent task-switching. For high-momentum tasks like software development, "flow", the highly productive state of concentration, is paramount. Each switch distracts the developers' flow, requiring them to switch mental state and an additional immersion period to get back into the flow. However, the wasted time due to time fragmentation caused by task switching is largely invisible and unnoticed by developers and managers. We conducted a survey with 141 software developers to investigate their perceptions of differences between task switching and task interruption and to explore whether they perceive task switchings as disruptive as interruptions. We found that practitioners perceive considerable similarities between the disruptiveness of task switching (either planned or unplanned) and random interruptions. The high level of cognitive cost and low performance are the main consequences of task switching articulated by our respondents. Our findings broaden the understanding of flow change among software practitioners in terms of the characteristics and categories of disruptive switches as well as the consequences of interruptions caused by daily meetings.
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