I Am a Bad Boss

By Shamus Posted Sunday Sep 6, 2015

Filed under: Personal 53 comments

I’ve spent years criticizing leaders, executives, and other management-types, insisting that their “death-march crunch mode” approach to production is harmful, wasteful, and counter-productive.

Maybe it works for ditch-diggers or truck driversI’m not saying it does. I’m saying I don’t know. I try not to do jobs that involve dangerous tasks like driving, lifting heavy things, or being too far from a coffeemaker., but for jobs that focus on mental acuity – particularly creative tasks – you suffer from a massive drop-off in quality above a certain limit. The limit is a little bit different for everyone. Some people hit it at 45 hours, some people at 50, and a few (mostly young people) are good until 60 or so. But once you go above the limit, you’re not going to get any more good work out of them. Worse, if you push them too far then it will lower the quality of all of their work.

The effect ramps up gradually over time. You can probably get away with a couple of 60 hour weeks without any serious drawbacks, but as weeks turn into months, the problem intensifies dramatically. Usually. For most people. As far as we can tell. Look, like a lot of organic processes, it’s variable, unpredictable, and hard to measure. The point is…

Sometimes Less is More

This stock photo of a clock is meant to convey the inexorable pull of time, drawing us and the universe ever forward to a doom we cannot forsee or control. Or maybe it's just filling page space. Whichever.
This stock photo of a clock is meant to convey the inexorable pull of time, drawing us and the universe ever forward to a doom we cannot forsee or control. Or maybe it's just filling page space. Whichever.

The idea is that in a creative jobs, people can do more in a 40 hour work week than they can in a 60 hour work week. Above the limit, they burn out. Their passion dies. They spend more time mindlessly clicking on Twitter and less time doing the job. They lower their personal standards for quality. And if they’re not getting paid overtime, then all of these problems are likely worse. So when you work some poor grunt 70 hours a week, you’re ruining their home life, making them hate the job, lowering the quality of their work, and to top it all off you’re not even getting the project done any fasterAnd possibly much slower, if we count shoddy work that needs to be re-done..

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Office Hell pushes people to look for jobs elsewhere, and the first people to leave will be the ones with the most mobility, meaning the ones who are most desirable to other companies. You’re literally filtering out the talent and keeping the dregsIf you’ve ever been stuck in development hell: I’m not saying YOU are untalented. But I am saying the talent density was higher at the start of the project than at the end. It’s a trend, not a rule..

I know all this. Which makes it all the more surprising that I’ve behaving as though I didn’t know it, or as if it shouldn’t apply to me for some reason.

When Overworking Isn’t Working

This stock photo of a typewriter represents the futility of all creative work as a hopeless effort to reach out to an indifferent world and convey meaning amidst a maelstrom of choas. Or maybe it's just filling page space. Whichever.
This stock photo of a typewriter represents the futility of all creative work as a hopeless effort to reach out to an indifferent world and convey meaning amidst a maelstrom of choas. Or maybe it's just filling page space. Whichever.

I’ve been cranking up my workload over the past couple of months. The column. The Mass Effect series. Programming Good Robot. Making music. Recording the Diecast and Spoiler Warning, and then writing their attendant posts. Occasional special topic posts. I eventually nudged my work hours above the productivity threshold without noticing it.

Then I noticed this happening:

This is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of my dysfunction. But I’m sure you’ve been there and know what I’m talking about.

This should have tipped me off that I was in trouble. I had a ton of work to do, and it was all stimulating, interesting, rewarding work. And yet I was stuck in some sort of obsessive time-wasting behavior loop. I kept needing mental breaks because I was burning out. I was getting cranky, not thinking clearly, and my sleep was all over the place.

When you write code, you usually spend most of your time reading code. You can’t keep hundreds of thousands of lines of codeOr in a larger project, millions of lines. in your head at once. But you can’t work on code until it’s in your head, which means reading it. As our software has grown more complex over the decades, more of our focus has been spent on mitigating the cost of reading code.

As I burned out, I’d find myself reading the same code multiple times before it “stuck” and I could actually work on it. When I switched to writing prose, I kept mentally stalling. I’d stop writing to think of a word, zone out, and lose my train of thought entirely. And then it would take me ten minutes to get going again. I kept opening new browser tabs and then forgetting why I opened them. I made so many typos you’d think I was face-typing.

When you’re physically exhausted, it’s really painful and you can tell when your body is reaching the limits of its endurance. But when you’re mentally exhausted you just get cranky and stupid, so self-diagnosis is more difficult.

Moving Forward

I think I’ve got a handle on it now. Last week I spent a couple of days letting the projects slide and consuming passive entertainment. (I’ll talk about it on the Diecast tomorrow.) I’m still in a bit of a bad mood and my sleep is still happening in random fits and starts, but I’m gradually returning to normal.

So this post is just a gentle reminder that creative limits exist, there are consequences for pushing too hard, and if you’re not careful you can burn out without realizing it. And all of this goes double if you happen to be the boss. It’s very easy, and possibly tempting, to oblige (or simply allow) people to work until their output suffers.

I’m going to go watch Netflix or maybe just stare at the wall and enjoy the sensation of not thinking about anything. I may drool on myself. It’ll be awesome.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I’m not saying it does. I’m saying I don’t know. I try not to do jobs that involve dangerous tasks like driving, lifting heavy things, or being too far from a coffeemaker.

[2] And possibly much slower, if we count shoddy work that needs to be re-done.

[3] If you’ve ever been stuck in development hell: I’m not saying YOU are untalented. But I am saying the talent density was higher at the start of the project than at the end. It’s a trend, not a rule.

[4] Or in a larger project, millions of lines.



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53 thoughts on “I Am a Bad Boss

  1. MaxieJZeus says:

    This is a great post, and hits close to where I’m working right now. It’s gotten to where I have to quit out of my browsers to keep myself from doing that rote and useless site-checking you talk about.

    [Well, sometimes the site-checking isn’t useless. Like right now. If I wasn’t procrastinating with a lot of useless site-checking I wouldn’t have found this post until much later.]

    In my case I’ve found it helps to set a timer. Forty-five minutes of solid (but not frantic) work, after which I’ve got permission to goof off guilt-free until my brain says it’s sick of goofing off. That’s not a cure-all, but it’s something.

    1. Brian says:

      When I did my dissertation, I used work blocks in almost this pattern. The trick is that my structure was: 45 minutes *or* objective goal. (write 500 words, etc.) And then I could take until the top of the hour off *guilt free*. Then, for the day, I set a minimum number of work blocks, scheduling in weekends.

      The trick to this is that it doesn’t lead to a procrastination loop: because goofing off is not guilt-making, there’s no dissonance to stopping. And, of course, these rules aren’t hard and fast: if I’m in the zone, nothing says I *have* to stop.

      By combining a time limit (if I’m not creative) with an objective “success” reward, there is a greater reward (more guilt-free time till the top of the hour) to have as a motivator, but all rewards here are positive rewards, encouraging this desired behaviour.

      With that said, I’m so far into the “bad productivity” time now that those halcyon days of “just being a PhD student” seem … really nice.

      These days, the idea of having enough luxury to do work blocks in my current job is saved for sundays when I have “completely voluntary” article writing time. … They don’t magically create inspiration. And… I’m not quite sure how to get out of this hole. But, for creative work with the ability to reset and no other demands, they worked for me.

      1. MaxieJZeus says:

        “45 minutes *or* objective goal”

        That’s a really good idea. In on-the-side fiction writing (which is where I’m coming from) the goal is to be productive, but you’ve got to give yourself permission to step away if the words aren’t coming. The timer has been my release valve when I’m not productive; I like the idea of using the word count as another release valve but in the other direction, as permission to step away early.

        “if I'm in the zone, nothing says I *have* to stop”

        This, I’ve found, is the real danger if you’re prone to overwork. As others have noted below, it can be really tempting to run past your limits when you’ve got a close succession of check-points. This is especially insidious in writing, where complementary temptations, at least in my case, can drive one way past the brink of exhaustion:

        1. I know what to write in this section. I should keep writing until I finish this section.

        2. I don’t know what to write in the next section. I should keep writing until I figure out what to write in that section.

        On the upside, it means you sometimes finish a 20,000 word novella in five days. (Whether it’s in comprehensible English is another question.)

      2. Trix2000 says:

        I’ve done something similar to this in times I’ve had trouble with my own projects, though I did more of a 30/30 time split per hour. Mostly because I was worried about cutting corners on the system because of feeling like it was not enough break or something.

        Turned out pretty well, and I think I could safely bring breaktime down a bit. At the very least, I got a lot more done than before this way.

      3. Peter H. Coffin says:

        It’s a little different in my productivity style — it takes an hour, sometime nearly two of the “reading code” Shamus talks of (the I call “getting the picture”) to reorient and re-find the mental place I was programming from last time. Then, I’m productive for about five hours before the work starts fraying and I have to come out again. I can tolerate about a five minute interruption, but much more than that and I have to get the picture again. After about 2-3 hours, I can do that cycle again in a day, but more than about two days in a row doesn’t work. What just outright slays me is more than a daily single group of meetings. If I’ve got one at 10 and one at 2, I might have as little as two hours of progress during hours that other people work and an involved email can suck that up as well.

  2. Mr. Son says:

    And all of this gets much, much worse when you have depression. I was so excited because this week I turned out several thousand words of fanfiction in the form of two short stories and the second half of chapter four for a long one. I keep saying things like “I hope I can keep this (level of work)” because usually my limit is about ‘one biggish thing a week’.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      My experience with similar issues (honestly, this is a lot of why DA stopped in the first place) is that the absolute best thing is some kind of routine: Get used to working. Don’t try to do everything at once. Set some kind of very achievable goal, like, say, one blog post (or a chapter or short story, in your case) a week. Do that for a a month or two, and ramp it up a bit. Admittedly that can be hard when the juices aren’t flowing, but the worst thing you can do is nothing.

      (Take all this with a grain of salt because I’ve been in a hole myself for a while.)

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Missed opportunity for the title:

    I Am a Horrible Boss

  4. Noah says:

    A fine idea. Well analyzed. Good catch.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ugh,been there,done that.Mental stress sucks.Im glad I dont have to go through that process now,but I also dread the next time it happens(because of course it will).

  6. Slothfulcobra says:

    I’m like that with physical exhaustion too. I always feel like I can go for much longer without sleep or rest right up until I start dropping in the middle of whatever I’m doing.

    Hope you have a good to e recharging, Shamus!

  7. Reminds me of that saying: “A project manager is someone who thinks that nine women can have a baby in one month.”

    1. MichaelG says:

      I was at a meeting where someone used that criticism:

      “So you’re the type that thinks nine women can have a baby in one month?”

      “No, we’re just trying to get nine women pregnant so we’re sure to have at least one baby.”

      “So you’re just screwing around?”

  8. WILL says:

    Not particularly applicable to you, but I’ve found streaming while I’m making my content to be very productive – you don’t want to check twitter while you’re showing your workflow to X amount of people.

    1. Kian says:

      Programming doesn’t really lend itself to streaming. It’s basically scrolling through code for some time, thinking where to make changes. Then after some time writing a few short lines of code. Then you run some tests to make sure it works when you feed it good data. Then you run whatever test suit you have in place. Commit to source control, update bug or progress databases, write documentation, etc.

      Finally, grab the next piece in your to do list and start over. You could make it more entertaining if you spoke while programming, but I doubt most people would be entertained. And it would probably kill productivity. When I try to explain what I’m working on to someone, I run into the problem that in order to explain, I need to start providing a ton of background. So even the explanation of what I’m doing now is 90% an explanation of how the whole thing works.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        There’s also the issue that coding has such a high stream quality requirement or the text just becomes un-readable, unless you enlarge the text to a massive size – at which point, very little can be read, because there’s so little text on screen.

        1. Kalil says:

          You’d probably want to ‘stream’ via a google docs hangout to solve that problem.

          1. mhoff12358 says:

            There probably is a really good idea in there, but the thought of using google docs as a text editor for programming is… unsettling…

            1. Kalil says:

              Haha, there is prolly a better plugin out there, yah. Or you could program one.

              …and livestream it.

      2. DrMcCoy says:

        Also a *lot* of “Oops, doesn’t compile because I forgot X”, “Nope, that doesn’t work, so let’s try Y” and “Oh, I broke feature Z somewhere, I’ll git bisect it”. And the ever famous “Okay, this works, so now I’ll rebase the local history to make logical sense before pushing it”. Or “Now we wait for Coverity Scan to analyze the code and afterwards we mark half of the issues as intentional (‘No, I’m *not* using std::rand() for crypto here’)”. Or “Hmm, why does that segfault? valgrind, do your thing!”.

        None of these are really all that interesting to other people.

        1. mewse says:

          There seems to be a surprisingly large representation of programmers amongst the gaming population. I personally know one developer who streams his programming work on his Steam game virtually every day, and seems to get people watching and taking part (used to work in the same office with him).

          I’ve occasionally thought about being totally absurd and streaming my own game development, coding entirely in vim and debugging entirely in gdb. I half-imagine that there would be people who’d watch that, if only for the complete novelty.

          1. Kian says:

            Regarding the representation of programmers, that depends on where you spend your time. I think a lot of programmers are attracted to Shamus’ blog because we love games and we love talking about programming. There are not that many outlets to talk about programming with people who enjoy the craft of it. Even at work, you can find people that see it as just a job and take no pride in it.

            So if twentysided is your reference, programmers are going to be over-represented.

            As to your friend, I can only imagine he plots what he’s going to be working on well in advance. If it works for him, great! I can’t imagine I’d be comfortable in that environment. I’ve tried blogging some of what I do, but I couldn’t keep it up since it’s a hobby, and I can’t talk about the stuff I do at work. So I can spend a couple weeks at a time without touching my hobby projects, then spend a whole weekend working on them.

            1. DrMcCoy says:

              Yes, if you look in other gaming-related communities, programmers are less common there. For example, I’m somewhat hanging around with the GamingOnLinux crowd, and, even though as GNU/Linux gamers they should be more “technical”, there’s no widespread programming talk there.

              I've tried blogging some of what I do, but I couldn't keep it up since it's a hobby

              I have written a few blog posts about my progress on one of my FLOSS projects, trying to get into details without being too nerdy-technical, and damn… this is hard and it takes me a long time to write such a blog post. I have a lot of respect for Shamus’ writing chops.

              I can’t even begin to fathom how one would talk through the progress of coding while coding, and actually get things done.

        2. Kian says:

          Also, once your project reaches a certain size: “Well, now to wait for it to compile. Come back in ten minutes while I browse http://www.shamusyoung.com.”

  9. Cinebeast says:

    I hear you, Shamus. I think this has been happening to me over the past couple of days — I was a workhound for a good three weeks, digging in for hours at a time. And it was all self-motivated, so I assumed that meant I didn’t need a break. Big mistake and all that.

    At least Rutskarn can step in for you now and then and throw a post up on the blog.

  10. Kalil says:

    Thanks for this post. I just shared it with my boyfriend in med school. I’ve very much noticed that there’s a bell curve for effort vs outcome – there’s a point betond which, the more effort we put in, the worse we do. It’s very hard, though, to convince someone on the eve of a (fifth in two weeks) major exam to study /less/.

  11. Dragmire says:

    After reading the title and the first few paragraphs, I thought you were saying you cracked the whip too hard on the rest of the Good Robot team!

    Anyway, glad to see you figured things out and are revitalizing yourself.

    1. Naota says:

      Ironically, I got the same idea and was like “Phsaw, I could do three times the scripting on Good Robot that I did this week and still be okay. Shamus is an awesome boss!”

      (Job-preserving Disclaimer: Technically Arvind is the boss. This makes Shamus an even less bad boss than you’d think – he bosses himself around so you don’t have to!)

      1. Dragmire says:

        I have to say that it must really help when the bosses are part of the ground level team (Well, provided they still have proper management qualities).

      2. Aldowyn says:

        well, this *was* his project at first, and he’s been his own boss for quite a while ;)

  12. Zak McKracken says:

    I’m amazed at how fast you can run into the problem, realize it and deal with it!
    Me, it’s taken me years to understand that something’s wrong along those lines, and I’m working on getting a grip on it for at least two more years…

    I guess the real problem is if dealing with the problem becomes just one more activity that should be done but is being procrastinated…

  13. phil says:

    i’m a bad boss too, all my diamond dogs died

  14. evileeyore says:

    “Maybe it works for ditch-diggers or truck drivers[1], but for jobs that focus on mental acuity…”

    As someone who has done ditch-digging and driving, and many other ‘menial’ labor jobs, as well as creative jobs (writing, game creation, etc)… crunching hurts all of it.

    On the menial side you simply lose energy to get the job done quickly and as exhaustion sets in you increase the danger of accidents, which can not only hurt a singular worker, will then further slow the whole project as the remaining uninjured workers slow to avoid further injuries. And in some cases a single accident can cascade into destroying finished work, walls collapse, needed machinery is damaged, etc. It also leads to cutting corners to “just get the job done”.

    1. Mephane says:

      One of the biggest risks on the road is truck drivers that are unconcentrated from exhaustion.

      1. Viktor says:

        There are laws in place to stop that, but certain companies(Walmart) ignore those.

    2. krellen says:

      When work days were reduced to 40 hours a week, factory owners found their factories produced more product in less time because workers stopped making as many mistakes and ruining product.

  15. Nicholas Hayes says:

    As a coder currently recovering from depression, I can really relate. It’s far too easy to get stuck in a loop of trying to catch up to where you want to be, only to realise that because you didn’t understand some critical code interaction or path everything is broken and you need to do it again.

  16. Alexander The 1st says:

    I feel like part of the problem for most employees is when they get to that arbitrary “After 8 hours of work, stop and go home” point and they’re in the middle of a task; even if you *knew* it’s a bad idea to keep going, you just want to get that last part of the work done before you get off work. Whether you’re at retail and you just want to deal with the last person you can deal with as you pass over the time you should start closing down, or you’re doing coding work and just want to finish that last bit of the function before you leave, it’s not uncommon to want to put a little bit last effort into it.

    Of course, once you’re done that last bit, there’s that next bit that shouldn’t take so long, and then the next bit that shouldn’t take so long…and you’re 3 hours later all of a sudden.

    Similarly, for the work hours per week and the longer crunches – that can be a push towards getting some extra polish on the product before you ship. Just to make it “That little bit more better.”. Which, due to diminishing returns, happens to actually be “Even less bit more better than you thought.”

    Unless we’re really aggravated at the thing we’re doing, we’re unlikely to be satisfied with leaving our work at “good enough for now”, is my guess for why this happens.

    1. meyerkev248 says:

      Oh gods yes.

      And combine it with “Random interrupting meetings ruining my day because my day is now 3 2-hour long chunks instead of 1 8-hour block”.

      Add in my completely irrational desire to avoid traffic, which ends about 7:30, and all of a sudden I get more work done after 5 than from 9-5.

      /And that’s why I will never again work at Microsoft.

  17. Eric says:

    Very true. For several months previously, I found myself working anywhere from 12-16 hour days regularly, 6 or 7 days a week. I work from home and set much of my own schedule, so I don’t have a taskmaster looming over me, so it was all self-imposed and a result of me simply being passionate about what I do. But I found that I was constantly zoning out, wasting time and getting distracted by random things.

    What makes it worse in my case is that much of my work tends to be many small tasks that don’t individually take a lot of time. Send a few emails, write a few pages of a document, fill out an Excel sheet, etc. So it can be very tempting to keep going “just one more thing” in a way that doesn’t happen with a very large singular task.

    More recently I have had less work to do so the amount of work I’ve been doing has been approaching more normal levels (10-12 hour days). I’ve also been forcing myself to take weekends off, just going out walking or playing videogames or something. The problem has definitely lessened, though I still find myself mentally burned out from time to time even at that.

    It’s a very insidious problem, and worse if you are the type that has a perfectionist or compulsive personality that makes it hard to just step away from things. It can be very hard to recognize until other people start pointing it out (a good manager will often do this), and sometimes the best remedy is to just force yourself to put everything down and come back later, even if it feels like it’ll kill you.

  18. Matt says:

    From what I’ve seen, most workers/bosses/people don’t believe that this applies to them. You can tell someone that after a certain point their productivity slides, and yet they will continue to pile on more projects, skip vacation, and stress more and more. It’s almost like statistics on texting while driving or credit card debt – everyone thinks they are the exception to their detriment. I work with a lot of smart, talented people and I still can’t figure out why none of them have realized this, or if they feel like they’ll be punished or fail to get ahead if they pace themselves.

  19. SKD says:

    This is half of why, when II was job-seeking, I always pass on any job that lists mandatory overtime in the job reqs. The other half of the reason being an obvious lack of an ability to hire enough people to do the work or cover necessary shifts without needing to schedule overtime.

    I did drive a truck for a few years and clocked 50-60 hour weeks nearly every week but the government has strict regulations about how many hours a driver can work in a week and how long their off shifts must be. Most of the time when you hear about a driver causing an accident due to fatigue it is a result of either the driver or the company ignoring the regulations and messing with the books.

    While I was a contractor I worked for over three years without taking a vacation because as a contractor I didn’t get holiday, vacation or sick pay. If I didn’t work I didn’t get paid. On the other hand during those three years I was on a 4 10s work schedule with three day weekends so for me the decompression time equaled out.

    Now that I am full-time and receive benefits like paid vacation I intend to fully utilize them. No job is worth your mental, physical and emotional health.

    P.S. For all those oh so critical workers who have been given electronic leashes(IE cellphones, Blackberrys, pagers, etc.), if you aren’t on call turn it off. No one is so indispensable that they can’t be off the office grid for a few days. If you are then they likely need to be paying you far more than they currently are.

    1. Scerro says:

      I’ve never understood why people don’t cut it off when they’re off. Few things are that critical. I’m guessing it’s mostly company pressure?

      I mean, I work for the government and I just graduated, so I don’t really understand reality. To me it just seems that way. Then again, government is by the books and doesn’t have things that push you over 40 hours unless it’s critical.

  20. BitFever says:

    The struggle is real. I think I’ve pulled that “nothing good on youtube” at least 20 times a night, every night, all month >.>

  21. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    I have this problem with my schooling, although I think it is due to me procrastinating for far too long than I should be instead of studying. :(

    1. Alrenous says:

      It is impossible to study everything you’ve been assigned to study without burning out. Indeed it has been calibrated for precisely that intent.

      1. Ninjariffic says:

        I recall in first semester our program coordinator telling us that we will be assigned more work than is possible to finish. He also said there was a 50% failure rate not including those who drop the program.

        After a while I noticed that when I reached a certain point of fatigue while in the CAD lab I was just zooming in and out with the mouse wheel. I decided to just call it quits and go home and sleep. I actually started getting more done.

        I talked about it with some of my classmates and they started going home when they noticed the same behaviour. We ended up having one of the highest averages in the program.

  22. Thanatos Crows says:

    I’ve been in this same loop for most of the summer, having partial moments of self reflection and understanding of the situation here and there. I really hope this post will give the push to actually get over it.
    Smithing and fencing both fall to the dark side of this problem. On the outside they’re both simple physical tasks that can be completed with minimal cognitive processing but actually reguire tons of concentration and attention to detail. Being the overachiever that I am I ofcourse somehow manage to fool myself over and over again on the subject.
    In a week my workload should decrease dramatically with a tournament getting crossed off the list, but I’m still going to save this tab as a reminder.

  23. Just because we can create a computer doesn’t mean that we can be a computer.

    An important distinction that you ignore at your own peril.

  24. Duoae says:

    I’m glad you identified this before it got to be too much of a problem, Shamus. However, what with me being European, I still think you’re crazy!

    Some people hit it at 45 hours, some people at 50, and a few (mostly young people) are good until 60 or so.

    I just don’t get the USA’s mentality of working yourselves to death week-in, week-out. I’m pretty sure this is what has affected your spelling errors over the last couple of centuries too!

    My current job has me working (as a minimum) 40 hrs per week and I find that is more than enough to tire you out properly. I do work more than that due to obligations and me being the only employee in my department which means I can’t hand off stuff to other people to do but I do get very pissed off if that happens a lot (as it has done in the past).

    TBH, I think people in the USA work too much and that you don’t really see the benefit from all that extra hard work. Just looking at average work hours I see the really prosperous countries tend to have a lower work week average than those that don’t.

    I think this is an interesting EU-centric overview: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/dec/08/europe-working-hours

    Currently, the country I live in has a slightly higher than average work week and also has a correspondingly lower than average productivity (though that number is obfuscated through cronyism and minor corruption so no idea what how you’d really measure a country’s output accurately!). What really irks me is that nowhere in my current country considers lunch break as part of your working day, which means that we actually work a given 8.5 hrs mandatory each day…. compared to other countries that also include the lunch break in the working day allotment. We also have our public holidays cancelled if they fall on a weekend which means that we have years were we get just above average (EU-wide) and years were we get much less…

    I suppose creative works (especially when working for your own interests) might work out different but I’m not convinced on that front.

  25. Alex the Too Old says:

    The Science Alert article linked in Shamus’s post linked back to a Harvard Business Review article saying pretty much the same stuff, and one of the comments on the latter was telling:

    Or, it could be that you have to run fast enough so the bear gets the other guy rather than you.

    I think that sums up the thought process underlying the current norms around working hours right there – pointless competition. There are a lot fewer “bears”, mortal threats, in the life of the average worker than there were a couple centuries ago. Life-or-death urgency is therefore only justified by inventing some artificial and/or imaginary threats to justify it.

    And if success or failure is a question of life-or-death, him-or-me, that justifies (or at least excuses) behaviors that would otherwise be immediately seen as counterproductive. And that’s the motive right there. Some people really get off on seeing their competitors eaten by bears, or being able to claim that it was a bear that killed their competitors.

    Unfortunately, building an advanced civilization through cooperation and optimization doesn’t indulge this need for cheap thrills the way pure Darwinian competition does; that’s why we (Americans especially) have felt it necessary to deem insufficient viciousness and a tendency to seek equilibrium rather than superlatives as character flaws. If you’re deliberately causing bear-based violence, you need to deflect blame by claiming that the victims deserved it.

  26. Anachronist says:

    Well, my boss keeps telling me to manage my time better to cut down on the 60-hour weeks, and she’s right, I could be more efficient.

    This article applies to everyone, not just programmers. I’m not a programmer (that’s in my past). I manage complex website development projects. I meet with my customers in the UK during my morning Pacific time, and with my developer team in India at night (and that tends to go late because we like working with each other and end up collaborating on stuff, although I can only send them code suggestions)… and in between those I’m trying to finish various management and technical tasks so they don’t pile up tomorrow. Wednesdays have been brutal, 6:30 am to 2:00 am. I try to consolidate all my overseas work on Wednesdays.

    The weird thing is, while I dislike the hours, I really enjoy my job. Part of the reason is the people I work with, but part is because I set my hours so I really have nobody to blame but myself. I do feel like I’m doing the work of 1.5 people though, and I’m always feeling like any day I’ll burn out.

  27. Primogenitor says:

    In the environment I work in, every change of code requires several minutes of automated processing (build, test, test the tests, deploy, test again, integration test with other parts of the pipeline, etc). I used to switch to another task – but then I would spend so long on that task that I forgot what the first bit was and had to re-read it all again, and then do the same when I switched back to the second at the next commit.

    These days I just check YouTube / Facebook / TwentySidedTale while all the automation is running and I get the impression I’m actually more productive this way because of it. At the very least I don’t feel like I’m always playing catch-up!

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