The Ten-Minute Thinking Rule

What’s the problem?

This idea was shared with me during a retrospective session at $employer when I was expressing some frustration at people starting to:

Ask first, think never

I’m at least as busy as the next person, and I have my own mountain of work to complete. Despite being regularly cantankerous, grumpy, cranky and disagreeable, people still come to me with a variety of questions … I think I have a good combination of detective skills, google-fu and luck that makes me appear more magical than I really am.

The Ten-Minute Thinking Rule

Simply put:

You may only interrupt another co-worker to ask a question if you have sat on your own for ten minutes and tried to figure out the solution yourself


When asked, you must be able to demonstrate that you’ve made some effort

The Ten-Minute Thinking Rule isn’t an exercise in pretending you’re thinking.

Some ‘thinking’

Thinking also includes basic investigations. Consider some of the following:

  • You have an error message – what results do you get from $search_engine?
  • You have a code/SQL/… snippet – what results do you get from grep or ack?
  • You sit nearer to other smart people – what did they say when you asked them?
    — The Ten Minute Thinking Rule is generic – don’t mindlessly interrupt anyone
  • What other thoughts and questions have you processed in your ten minutes?
    — Do you vaguely remember seeing an email/bug report/internal wiki page that might have been relevant? Did you find it? Why wasn’t it helpful?

In Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong; I am more than happy to help people with problems where I can. I just get frustrated at the (apparent) lack of effort on the interrupting-person’s part.

Demonstrating that you’ve made some effort to solve your own problem is likely to encourage much higher levels of response and helpfulness.

Demonstrating that you’ve made no effort at all will likely result in very little help at all, deflection somewhere else and loss of karma in my internal tally chart.

[This article was originally posted on my perl blog]

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About Chisel

I've been interested in technology since my childhood (my Acorn Electron era). Commercially I've worked with C and VBA (Access) [but we don't talk about that]. In 2000 I secured my first role as a Perl Programmer and that's been my primary language since then. I dabble in bash, puppet, and a few other skills that help me dip my toe in the DevOps water, or provide a conduit beween the dev and ops worlds. I joined Net-A-Porter in November 2006 and have been happily evolving with the business since then.

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