David A. Windham thumbnail

Twenty Hour Work Week

I’m often out working in the yard, riding the bike, swimming, or playing tennis midday mid-week and folks are always saying “don’t you have a job Windham”. Since the majority of the folks saying it are retired and I like to respond “It’s not my fault it took you so long to retire”. In reality I work hard and more importantly I work efficiently. In an effort to respond to those folks I figured I’d write a short little post this morning about how I try to be efficient with work my work. And don’t let the title fool you, that’s just what I’d like to shoot for and in reality I’m sometimes working fifty hour weeks.

Quality of life… I can’t emphasize it enough. It’s always the little details that drown folks in the traditional work week nonsense. Even though most folks are doing the nine to five, I don’t think they are getting any more work done. Every time I’ve taken a traditional job, I’ve been discouraged by the amount of time my co-workers spend ‘riding the clock’ and the amount of time I have to spend on site twiddling my thumbs. In fact, the last full time position at a local university I left simply due to the fact that our new dean was cutting down on tele-commuters and I was being forced to drive into the office. Prior to that, I actually liked coming into the office certain days just to socialize with my coworkers. One of the first corporate jobs I had was as a web developer for a publishing company where I learned all kinds of bad work habits from the seasoned developers there. After one of our first ‘code sprints’, a fellow developer came to me and said “don’t do the work too fast, they’ll come to expect us and you’ll make the rest of us look bad”. They also taught me to leave broken items in the development repositories just so we’d already know what was going to be requested of us by the project managers. I attribute this to Parkinson’s law 1. in that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. This type of time wasting stuff is nonsense. I prefer to just do my work in such a way that the faster and more efficiently I do it, the more time I have away from the office.

Reducing the number of office hours has made some headlines in recent years. Given that I’m doing remote IT development work from home, it makes sense that I’d be learning towards the shortened work week. However, a lot of decent research suggest that we are all moving towards shortened work hours. I think we’re all kinda contaminated with the ‘busy-ness’ disease. I think It makes us feel like we’re valuable and productive. I’m no expert, but it’s been an idea in the making for years. Bertrand Russell wrote in his 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness”, that “if society were better managed the average person would only need to work four hours a day”2. John Maynard Keynes noted in a 1930 essay, “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren”, in which he reckoned people might need work no more than 15 hours per week by 20303. I’m not going to philosophize on production, consumption, and work hours. There are plenty of others doing it3. However, I will tell you that my quality of life has increased by concerning myself with issues of time management.

I’ve always been easily distractible. I had an English teacher in high school who made it a point to contact my mom about my inattentiveness in class. Being the hypochondriac she is, my mom and some psychologist quickly accessed my condition as ADHD. I still think it’s just general boredom with the mundane and uninteresting. That’s another issue for another essay. I now mostly do contract development work. This work is generally within a team development environment that makes me accountable for my time in that I’m often pair programming. I also manage to take on other smaller projects for additional billable hours. This type of work has given me the liberty to devise ways to use my time the best I see fit and over the years, I’ve developed little habits that help shorten my work week and make me more efficient.

  1. I go to bed early and I wake up early. At our house, we’re almost always in bed by nine. We’ll talk, read a book, or watch a film and I’m usually out by 10pm. I get up around 6am, have a cup of coffee and get right to it. I’ve found that the midday chaos of communication is really distracting and I get my best work done before noon.
  2. I exercise often so that I sleep well. I evaluate how I’m sleeping often and I will sometimes meditate or take a nap if I’m not feeling particularly on task or focused.
  3. The smartphone is rarely an entertainment device for me. (unless of course, I’m stuck somewhere, like the doctors office waiting room or airport with nothing else to do) I’ve turned off all notifications on my phone and when I’m working, I turn the ringer off as well and leave it in a drawer downstairs.
  4. I try to only open up an email twice a day in the morning and after lunch. I draft my responses and send them out in the afternoon.
  5. I use project management software to keep a list of projects, tasks and calendars that keep me current at a glance. It functions like a Kaban4 board as an easy way to manage tasks.
  6. I spend very little time doing invoices or paying bills. I write up each billable hour every day and I auto pay all bills online.
  7. I try to communicate efficiently in that I only respond to emails/texts/calls that need an immediate response and I always wait until I have all of the questions I need to put into an email/text/call before I make it.
  8. I try to spend a couple hours every week playing with development tools and servers in an effort to continually make leaning new skills fun and keep me interested in my work.
  9. I write code efficiently. I make notations and document as I’m writing it.
  10. I learn tricks to speed up and automate development.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Praise_of_Idleness_and_Other_Essays
  3. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/26/no-time
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban