Soak time

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the experience multiple times where I’m communicating with someone in a semi-synchronous way (e.g., Slack, Twitter), and I respond to them without having properly understood what they were trying to communicate.

In one instance, I figured out my mistake during the conversation, and in another instance, I didn’t fully get it until after the conversation had completed, and I was out for a walk.

In these circumstances, I find that I’m primed to respond based on my expectations, which makes me likely to misinterpret. The other person is rarely trying to communicate what I’m expecting them to. Too often, I’m simply waiting for my turn to talk instead of really listening to what they are trying to say.

It’s tempting to blame this on Slack or Twitter, but I think this principle applies in all synchronous or semi-synchronous communications: including face-to-face conversations. I’ve certainly experienced this when I’ve been in technical interviews, where my brain is always primed to think, “What answer is the interviewer looking for to that question?”

John Allspaw uses the term soak time to refer to the additional time it takes us to process the information we’ve received in a post-incident review meeting, so we can make better decisions about what the next steps are. I think it describes this phenomenon well.

Whether you call it soak time, l’esprit de l’escalier, or hammock-driven development, keep in mind that it takes time for your brain to process information. Give yourself permission to take that time. Insist on it.

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