6

***edited question for clarity****

My question is:

What can I do to indicate my current mood at my desk? to indicate in a way that's clear, concise and no-nonsense (with least avenue for poking fun). The mood being, "Do not disturb for chit-chat. Unless urgent and work-related, please ping on chat".

That is why in my original question I had mentioned the bit from Ricardo Semler's book, Maverick.

reg my current workplace's existing people, accepted workplace behaviour and collective culture

My current workplace is pretty casual, almost start-up like. So it is completely OK to walk up to someone to chit-chat. How each person entertains this is up to them. I am very polite that way, even if I am busy, I pause my work and deal with such interruptions politely, listening to the person and contributing chit-chat back. While this is fine on most days, except days I just do not want to talk to anyone.

reg. about being a woman at a workplace

There is absolutely nothing wrong in this question being about a woman. Anyone who menstruates (whatever be the gender orientation) knows very well how debilitating it can be to be governed by dropping mood hormones in addition to a drop in energy levels. Not just folks who menstruate but also those with mood disorders know that getting along in a social setting is a real challenge but you have to show up at the place of commitment nevertheless. Bad mood isn't a reason /shouldn't stop us from pursuing our livelihood.

That said, we are not incapable of controlling our moods either. We are capable of controlling our moods but only to a certain extent. If we all were capable of controlling our moods 100% then why don't we suggest that clinically depressed folks to show up to work despite how they are feeling?

There are progressive companies in my city that provide menstrual leave, my current workplace is yet to get there.

That said, not being available for chit-chat occasionally isn't a sign of anti-social behaviour either.

reg. specificity of the my original question

I mentioned past incidents because a combination of bad mood, bad day (someone deciding to talk to me just when I am already feeling vulnerable) leads to a mess at workplace. It has happened before so I am afraid that due to mounting pressures of work, it might happen again.

originally posted question

My temperaments are not even 365 days a year. My brain is almost always on a roller coaster ride of hormones depending on what time of the month it is. While highs are easy to deal with, lows and irritability are not. I don't know why but I feel like everything that can go wrong, seems to go wrong on the days I feel irritable.

How can I indicate to my coworkers that it is not OK to talk to me while I am working?

Sometime ago, I had read this book by Ricardo Semler called Maverick and somewhere in that book was a mention about how workers of a factory had an option to put up simple mood signs against their name. This was to indicate how the person might be feeling that working day so that others can talk to them accordingly.

Will putting up a sign on my desk that reads, "Please do not disturb for next 1 hour", work?1 I feel like this might be cause for being ridiculed or people might irritate me even more just to test my patience. And the day I have very little patience I might actually say something rude and come to regret it later.

Backstory:

At my current workplace, when I was in another team, I was unfortunate to have a coworker who took it upon himself to "talk to me" about some disagreement between me and my manager. It was one of those days where I was not only angry about the issue but also feeling quite low. This all added up to me crying my eyes out. I left that team and have joined a new team.

While this new team is the absolute best when I need help and as team get along well, I am the only woman in the team and they are confused when I quieten down for sometime and choose not to speak (when am irritable).

There is also the stress of mounting work since I am fairly new to this team and struggling through my work for context and speed.

1I am a software developer and I find it very hard to context switch frequently.

  • 2
    Instead of being at your desk, is there a meeting room/ discussion room/ audio-video privacy room that you can use for that time block? – Sourav Ghosh Mar 13 at 10:27
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    Does your boss allow you to do any remote work? Avoiding the office altogether on bad days might be the easiest option. – BSMP Mar 13 at 10:47
  • @SouravGhosh there is but they are often not free. i can work from home but it is frowned upon even though they are not against it. I had taken two days of work from home in the past week (genuinely to avoid distractions and to finish up mounting work) and I was told to reserve WFH for days am sick :/ so i figured taking a WFH again would be looked down upon. – anklebiter Mar 15 at 10:14
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I understand your pain. Being the only female in our IT department and having those days where you just do not want to speak to anyone - I get it. And I also understand what it feels like to be a part of a previous team that constantly needed to talk about unrelated work topics instead of working.

I will say though, I really love the idea of having some sort of indicator for my colleagues to let them know I need some time to focus on my current project but I do not think it would go over well. Unfortunately, it comes off the wrong way and I wouldn’t want my colleagues to think I don’t appreciate them. Though my new team still tends to talk about non related work topics it’s not often and I remind myself of that.

On my worst days, I focus on the positive things - my job, the team, and my progress. I’ll also take a walk weather it’s outside or around the office. It helps to reset your mind.

I hope it helps to know you’re not the only one and little changes over time will help you get through those bad days!

17

The most common typical sign to signal you are not up for talking are head phones. You don't even need to listen to something, but they obviously make it clear you cannot overhear conversations - and do not want to. So people should only really bother you if they think they have something important to discuss.

Some teams also use flags, USB powered miniature traffic lights etc. But if you are the only one using them it might come off as a bit odd.

However, if your team is somewhat receptive, it should also suffice to keep looking at the monitor and focus on work. Maybe answer with a short "sorry not now". After a while they should be able to "read" when you're up for some fun talk and when not.

Also desk location can help a lot. If it is in a corner, you can remove yourself somewhat from their perception and thus be more "off radar" and inject yourself into conversations when you want than if your desk is in the middle of everything.

  • Sure, headphones, but I wont like to work with a person who has headphones on for the whole day, for multiple days a week, every week, thus effectively cutting off the chance to communicate and co-work. Just to be sure: there's a fair use and then there's abuse, need to know the silver lining. :) – Sourav Ghosh Mar 13 at 11:10
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    As long as OP only uses them in these periods of "lows" I don't see this being a problem. Personally would avoid the light, it's distracting in itself. – Twyxz Mar 13 at 11:12
  • I also think headphones should work fine. Depending on the specifics of the work / team (and also depending on your own way of being) you may attach some "label" to the headphones' band (bunny-ears or taxi style), with a short descriptive text ("do not disturb" or even the known abbreviation "DND" would suffice). In my office it happened to have rules inside the team: "If you notice XYZ then please do not disturb" - each person defined some XYZ. – virolino Mar 13 at 11:16
7

Different workplaces have established different ways to signal whether or not one is open for conversations right now.

  • Door language. Open door: Come in and ask me how my kids are. Leaning door: Come in when it's about work. Closed door: Leave me alone unless there is an end-of-the-world problem. This obviously only works at workplaces where people have segregated offices.
  • Headphones, as mentioned by Frank Hopkins.
  • "Do not disturb" lights. Simple gadgets which can glow in different colors to indicate whether or not people should approach you right now.

Establishing such a non-verbal language can greatly increase the productivity of professions like software developers whose work switches between phases which are highly communicative and phases which require high concentration and alone-time. So everyone should be open to trying something like this just in the name of productivity.

Which solution in particular is appropriate for your particular workspace depends mostly on its interior architecture.

I don't want to mansplain how women should behave in the workplace and I certainly do not have any business in telling women how to deal with their periods, but from my limited male perspective I don't think that it would be a good idea to tell people explicitly that your mood highly depends on your menstrual cycle. It would just reinforce the differences between men and women and give colleagues an excuse to dismiss any critique from you (and other female colleagues) with sexist statements like "you don't need to take her seriously, I bet she has her period again".

  • Not sure why this merits a downvote? – Sourav Ghosh Mar 13 at 11:24
  • I think the OP only mentioned it in their question to explain why they need this, why they'll need to be able to do it this frequently, why it's likely a permanent issue, etc. Without it they likely would have gotten answers attempting to eliminate the root cause that wouldn't have been helpful. – BSMP Mar 13 at 12:41
  • Headphones have worked really well in our team - they have the dual purpose of (1) being a subtle visual cue the person wearing them is absorbed and not up for a chat; (2) if you ignore someone (deliberately, maybe...) you might just be lost in music. I sometimes have my headphones in but no music if the BS chat is just too much! – Cosmos_Crashdown Mar 13 at 14:17
2

How can I indicate to my coworkers that it is not OK to talk to me while I am working?

and

I am a software developer and I find it very hard to context switch frequently

If this is a "general" scenario and you feel the interruption(s) is(are) affecting your work in a negative way, be straight (but polite) about it. Say

"Hey, I'm in middle of something, can I get back to you once I'm done? Thank you!!"

However, as you also mentioned that this is the case with a specific time in the month, we have multiple options:

  • Short: 0-60 Minutes If you say you need the "me" time (to get rid of the "low" state) somewhere between 5-10 minutes to an hour - the simple way is to take a break. Be away from your desk, roam around and you can even try some yoga (if a provision is there in the workplace) to relieve you of the stress.

  • Moderate: 1-2 hours If you think this takes an hour or two - you can simply set your communicator to DND, put your headphones on (whether they are playing something or not is irrelevant) and maybe to focus on something that helps you cool of or concentrate, and if anyone approaches you for a F2F chat, just be polite again and say "can I get back you in an hour's time? There's something I need to get done, sorry about this" and then get back when you are back to normal. Avoid having conversation when you know you're in bad mood.

  • Extensive: More than 2 hours Well, the best way to go is to to avail work from home if possible. Minimal interaction. If this happens in middle of a day, check if you can find a meeting room/ audio-video privacy room that you can occupy, away from the usual desk location. Alternatively, see if you can leave early and continue / complete the work from home.

That said:

I feel like this might be cause for being ridiculed or people might irritate me even more just to test my patience.

Well, that does not sound like a very supportive workplace. Why do you feel that way? Has is happened before to you / someone else? Or it is a pure guesswork? Don't assume things, specially negative things, about people.

1

Will putting up a sign on my desk that reads "Please do not disturb for next 1 hour" work [1]?

That would be a very bad text. If I walk up to your desk, and see that note, how would I know whether that hour has passed or not? Or, if I can assume you remove the sign as soon as the hour is up, how much longer do I have to wait?

[1] I am a software developer and I find it very hard to context switch frequently

Well, that is something you have to work on. While context switches are annoying, that is life if you are working for a company with more than one employee. Yes, it sucks for you, but it sucks more for the company as a whole if others can't progress because you just can't deal with context switches. Most people don't like context switches, whether they are software developers or not. But they accept context switches are needed for things to happen.

Not talking to anyone is only acceptable if you are working on something very urgent. If your website is down, and no sales are possible. The server room is on fire. The million dollar customer wants a feature now. Etc. And even then, you still need to talk to other fighting the same fire.

Otherwise, you should at least talk to them, and quickly assess how urgent their request is, and how much time it's going to take. Then deal with that issue, or ask them whether it's ok you come back to it later (and then really come back to them in a timely matter).

Having said that, you can raise the barrier to contact you. Setting the "busy" flag on your Jabber/Slack/whatever. Find a desk elsewhere. Headphones may work in some environments (although I've never worked in such). I doubt a sign will work though, as most people won't pay attention what's on someones desk (many desks are just piled with stuff). And do talk with your manager -- whatever you're going to use, it's only going to work if other people know what the look for.

  • The most professional answer here. – AndreiROM Mar 13 at 15:41
1

This doesn't have to be gender related -- just think of Makers vs Managers -- Makers need to be uninterrupted and in The Flow, while Managers are ready for interruptions and pivots. Every employee may have parts of each role in their job.

http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

simulating the manager's schedule within the maker's: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we've funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption.

So instead of saying do NOT disturb, say instead that you WILL be available for interruption/discussion at xx:00.

If it helps, perhaps the sign can say "On Deadline & in the Zone. No interruptions until 3PM, please."

I'm trying to advise my Team Lead that she needs to put her skype mode into "busy" more often, so she can do herwork, and we can save up questions until later. The "Maker/Manager" terminology helped her. It's something a lot of developers are comfortable with, and again, nothing to do with gender.

You can present it as "I found out why distractions bug me... I realized how much they disrupt my flow, because I get into XYZ mindset, so it would help if y'all check to see if my Programming Now Sign is up. Right after lunch is a great time to ask questions, or if you email them, I'll answer them when I need a break."

  • 1
    Why was this downvoted? I tried to provide, with evidence, a strategy for non-interruption and why (aside from gender) a programmer is especially likely to need distraction-free periods. – April Mar 14 at 13:40
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    i think the OP just down votes anything that doesn't fit into the answer they want to hear. when you look at the OP's history it seems like the real issue isn't as the OP described. – Joshua K Mar 15 at 13:05
0

TL;DR - it's hopefully not your problem specifically. Just ask your fellow developers calmly, casually, how "we" deal with this in this team.

This is not a problem specific to you, or specific to women, or anything like that. (Although I appreciate from your background comments it can seem to be.) Software developers just don't need to be disturbed.

So make it impartial, something you just ask your new team? Ask the team, in a meeting or in email or whatever seems appropriate, "Can I just check, how do we show in this team when we're in the flow and don't want to be disturbed?"

Don't make it a special request, just something you'd need to know as standard. No software developer likes to be disturbed when they are in the flow, it is very counter productive. (You can Google plenty of results to back this up. It's a profession for people expected to think in concentrated bursts for a living, right?) So make it just a question with implied background "We all have this problem; I'm new so I just need to check the appropriate signal this team uses to avoid it."

And hopefully in a team of developers, several people will say "Oh, I wear headphones" or whatever.

Now, if everyone says "huh?" you will have to think of other steps, but it really shouldn't come to that.

You don't say what people disturbingly discuss with you? This seems an important point.

If people ask you technical questions which are relevant to them, but it interrupts you, you can try immediately "Let me get back to you in 10 minutes" and if it keeps happening, at a team discussion ask "I've noticed we interrupt each other all the time, which makes us less productive, how can we organise this more?" (Not well phrased perhaps.) You could suggest "Can we ask non-critical questions via instant messenger" or whatever seems useful.

If people get into asking you trivial questions so you wish you could say "Let me Google that for you" (obviously don't say that), difficult. Maybe they are ignorant, and then you can help them learn how to solve it for themselves. If they are lazy, delay answering ("give me an hour") and hopefully they learn for themselves. But it's not an easy one. Some people can be helped to stop doing it (it is an easy thing to start doing) and some can't, then you have to decide "OK I will not help them."

If they are just gossiping, chatting or whatever, does it disturb because they ask you? Be unresponsive and they will stop eventually. (I assume you'd want that. If you want them to chat like that but only at certain times, I guess you will have to be pro-active at the right times to gossip with them to preserve those relationships. When they and you are idle, obviously.)

If they are in your vicinity, not talking to you, just making noise, see other questions on this site about dealing with noisy co-workers. Although good luck with it :(

One thing you didn't say is "I asked my boss about it and...". Maybe you had good reason for it, fair enough. But just to be complete, if you didn't consider it, think about it. A good boss should be helping you fit in and removing problems - it's in their interest.

-1

Let's get some disclaimers out of the way. I'm a software developer. I'm male. My single mother had 2 bachelor's and 1 master's degree, was the administrator of 30 mental health facilities with 300 special needs residents. I might be biased and think every woman should be super woman. I have had excellent female role models and look up to them greatly. Sometimes things don't come across clearly in text, and what I say I mean sincerely and I will attempt to convey my thoughts with great respect. I know some of this is a sensitive matter, so I apologize for anything in advance if something I say makes anyone feel uncomfortable.

Software developers have to communicate. Personal skills are a requirement for the role. People think you can get by without them, but good personal skills make a good developer. See the Agile Manifesto for reference and to verify what I say is true. (dealing with the customer and with your team both) You have to be able to deal with people. If it's an issue for you, I strongly encourage you to develop this area.

The cool but complicated thing about people is that we're all different, and we all handle things differently.

What works for someone else might not be what works for you, and you probably need to cope with different people's needs by having a tailored approach to each, and perhaps even various ways for the same person in different situations. It's a skill.

A sign might upset some, cause others to avoid you entirely, inspire admiration by a few, and some might totally ignore it, especially if it's frequent or extended. There is no one size fits all, and your best bet is to:

  • plan ahead
  • schedule your time
  • preemptively communicate
  • and gracefully handle interruptions

They're going to happen one way or another. People recommended headphones, but my cube mate wears noise blocking headphones all day, so I just im him.

The person that took up an hour of your time may have thought they were trying to be friendly or comfort you and perhaps intentionally distract you by taking your mind off the work at hand. I wasn't there, so not exactly sure how it went down, but they may have had good intentions and could have totally been prioritizing you when they really had something else they needed to do. They could have been actually exhibiting good personal / teamwork skills despite your desire to avoid this.

I learned from "Getting Things Done" by David Allen that if I can do it in 2 minutes, do it now. If I'm really busy and get an unwanted interruption, a lot of times I'll get asked if I have time, so I'll be up front and simply say "I've got about 2 minutes right now, if it's going to be longer than that, please setup some time on my calendar" or "not right now, but I'm available this afternoon. Send me an email so I can set a reminder to get back to you". If they don't ask, they won't be surprised when you say "I'm so sorry, but I'll have to get back to you. I have a deadline/my manager (or customer or project lead) is waiting for this check in/document/review/whatever"

I know this is going to be an extremely unpopular opinion, but I'll be surprised if anyone has evidence to the contrary. Anyone more than 1 degree of relationship away from you, does not care at all about your period. This means in most cases that your customers don't and neither does your manager's manager and above. If it's a startup, the VC don't care. If it's a public company, the shareholders definitely don't care. If it's a private company and you're more than 1 level away from the owner and they're not related to you, I can almost guarantee that they don't care (even if they are female). Your business as a whole definitely does not. Other women have them, and despite all of the great girl power being touted, there's enough conservative women that the topic could be viewed as a weakness by others, and women can be especially competitive. It's just not relevant to the business (unless that IS the business, but that's the only exception). The men on your team have mothers, wives, daughters, sisters so they understand... But we also realize that business goes on, and many are relying on the success of the business to care for the women in their lives. I highly recommend that you do not let it get in your way, because once you do, it's also in the way of the business.

You made a good start by bringing it up, and it shows that you have an interest. Learning to deal with interruptions is not easy, but you can do it. It will take practice and experimenting. As a software developer, you're probably in a good position to do that. You'll get more out of it and the long term result will be more rewarding than figuring out the best way to avoid it. Good luck!

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