Have you ever been through a long day and wondered why you finished so little work? Or have have you been stuck at a problem for hours and could not find a solution? I know it happens to me.

A lot of things can disrupt your productivity. Sometimes it’s just hard to get into the flow. Sometimes you get distracted by people, Facebook, IMs, eMails and cats on the internet. Sometimes it’s easy to see the root cause and sometimes you just are baffled how time flies but work stays.

There is a simple common sense approach to solving that problem when working in a team.

The 90 Minute Rule states:

If you didn’t made significant progress within the last 90 minutes, ask for help!

Asking for help should never be a problem in a good team. You all want to get things done, so asking for help should be as natural as receiving it. The point of the 90 Minute Rule is to get that help as late and as early as possible.

It should be as late as possible, because you don’t want to disturb your co-workers with every single roadblock you hit. One of the key skills of a knowledge worker is to find solutions to problems, so some time investment is expected.

It should be as early as possible, because it helps no one if you are stuck at the same problem for the whole day. You are just burning money for no good reason. In order to achieve the team goals, you are responsible to indicate when you need their help.

Note that it’s not that important what help you get, as long as you get it.

One example for getting help might simply be having a human rubberduck. I cannot recall the times I have stared at buggy code only to have the scales fall from my eyes all on their own when I explained the problem to my coworker. Then I wished I had fetched him earlier.

Another example might be you finding yourself unable to get into the flow. One of your coworkers might suggest to pair program with you for an hour. Having a coworker at your side can already help to you channel your attention.

Also, while it’s called the 90 Minute Rule, there is no reason you need to stick with that number. If 90 minutes feels too long for you, pick a time that feels more appropriate for your team needs.

TL;DR: when you need help, ask in time.


09 December 2014


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