Structuring my communication with office hours

Running a small development agency, one my my tasks is being available for my customers — past, present and future ones — to field questions, give support and discuss any future development efforts. That happens over the phone, per email or with our larger or long-time customers using Slack.

I quite like that part of the job. If I were working at a larger company, I wouldn’t mind having the role of support engineer. It’s the right combination of personal contact and building relationships, as well as finding efficient and quick solutions for problems, with and without using code.

However, doing that isn’t my full-time job at the moment. I also actually work on some of these development projects in a programming capacity. That means needing chunks of uninterrupted time, preferably at least an hour or two, to sink my teeth into these tasks and make real progress. I’ve been struggling a bit with combining these two facets of my work.

It hasn’t been a large problem as of yet, but it’s an ongoing annoyance. I want to do the best work I can, both as a developer building applications, but also as a project manager offering the best possible support for our customers.

Along the way, I’ve tried multiple things to ease this process. One of those things was keeping a day per week free for any small support jobs that came up. That resulted in some issues of its own, however: some small jobs would have to wait almost a whole week to be completed, even though they would only take 10 or 15 minutes at most. That’s almost the opposite of offering good customer support. Moreover, it felt really unnatural for me to un-schedule myself from doing “real” work for a whole day. A fifth of a week!

I’ve just started to try a new approach that seems to fit more naturally into my schedule: I’ve noticed that when I have a day where I actually get to work on something uninterrupted for hours, around lunch I start to get a little restless and bored. Instead of fighting that restlessness and continuing to work, taking some time before and after lunch to get those small jobs done and catch up on calls, emails and Slack messages is much more productive.

Besides, it provides me with a clear schedule to communicate to my clients regarding when it’s best to call: between 12pm and 2pm I’m always available right away, if you try to contact me before or after that, it might take a few hours for me to get back to you.

It provides me with two solid blocks of uninterrupted time:

  • 8:30am: arrive at the office, get coffee, read some emails
  • 9:00am: check if we’re on track with our weekly schedule, and communicate any necessary schedule changes with the team.
  • 9:30am: start work on the first Big Thing™️ that needs to be done today.
  • 12:00pm: wrap up Big Thing 1, read emails and Slack messages, and take care of any small tasks that come out of those conversations.
  • 2:00pm: get started on Big Thing 2. This is usually the bigger of the two Big Things, since I’m more flexible with when this time slot ends. Preferably this is done at 5, or possibly at 6, and if I really have to I can continue to 7pm.