Friday, June 25, 2010

Reboot Heuristic

Let's say you had to reboot your primary work computer, right now. How much would you lose?

How many windows do you have open with things half done?
How many emails partially written?
How many IMs to read? To respond to?
How many browser tabs with articles to read?
How many IDE windows with various code changes?
How many tests running in various terminals?

And now you have to reboot.

How many different tasks do you have to finish or at least get to a stopping spot before you could reboot?

Your primary workstation shows you how much of a multitasker you think you are. You're not really multitasking, though. You're simply not finishing things - maybe a lot of things.

I'm not particularly paper dependent - there are zero pieces of paper on my desk as I write this - so I use the reboot heuristic to remind myself to finish things. Ready?

If I have to touch more than three things before I would be willing to reboot, then I can't start something new until I've finished at least one.

The reboot heuristic is a reminder to myself that I need to finish things, not just start them. If I write an email and get partway through before I remember that test I wanted to start, that's okay. Repeat several times, though, and I'm spending more time switching between tasks than actually doing tasks. So three is my limit: when I'm doing more than three things, it's time to finish something.

Starting things is great. Finishing things is better. Multitasking is part of working these days, but not letting it get out of control - that's a heuristic I need.


  1. I once rebooted by mistake a production server where all the dev guys worked.
    I was trying to calculate the cost of this like if in average they were 30 people working and loosing 20 min of their work its like 600 min, 10 hours. More than one work day of a person.
    But the thrill of the situation is unmeasurable :)

  2. Yowch, Eusebiu. That's one of those things that you'll never hear the end of!

  3. I really liked your line

    "You're not really multitasking, though. You're simply not finishing things"

    It's easy to fool ourself that we are doing lots of things at the same time, but putting it this way will definitely put you back in reality. Great call to finish what you started. I'll keep this heuristic in mind :)

  4. I wonder how long before Windows will have session handling like the web browsers do nowadays?

    "Would you like to save the state of your desktop before rebooting?"

    Brilliant! Then there will be no more reboot agony