Dec 27, 2019 / productivity ~ agile
Working long hours

There’s been some interesting debate on Twitter around working long hours. Jason Fried from Basecamp argue this:

If your company requires you to work nights and weekends, your company is broken. This is a managerial problem, not your problem. This is a process problem, not a personal problem. This is an ownership problem, not an individual problem.

See the Twitter Thread

I’m a big believer in standard working hours. So much that It's part of the business plan for Pocketworks in terms of our financial model and the culture we encourage. I chose this view after learning from a few sources:

  1. The agile community
  2. Personal productivity coaches

The agile community generally discourage mandatory overtime. Decades ago, Kent Beck came up with the notion of sustainable pace as part of Extreme Programming. This meant getting things done in the confines of a 30-40 hour working week. The idea is that teams learn to deliver software for the long-term without the team burning out or losing motivation.

This recognises that overtime is an anti-pattern because it can be used as a quick-fix for schedule, management or quality issues. If you hide the underlying issues, it’s very hard to fix them. In other words, you can’t fix what you can’t see.

Overtime also trips up your velocity. Velocity is a useful metric because teams can use it to forecast when things might be done. Ad-hoc over time will make it hard to achieve a stable velocity, which means you’re not going to be very predictable. Nor will you be able to be repeatable. Your performance each month will vary wildly.

Predictability and repeatability are good things to have in business.

Another angle is around personal growth. If you work late every day when will have time to develop your own skills by learning and practising?

Coaches such as Brian Tracey, Tim Ferris and Stephen Covey advise that we become disciplined enough not to take our work home with us. If you’re itching to do something productive instead of watching Netflix, use your own time for personal development and learning. In my view, it’s not “work” as long as it’s fun, entertaining and not stressful. For example, practising a new skill is generally fun, and you can break off to read a book or see friends whenever you want. That’s very different to work.

As someone who runs a business, I still work to this rule today. I use my free time to help my own development. Sometimes I practice techniques and ideas around real work, but most of the time I don’t want my personal experiments interfering with work deadlines and stresses because that can take the fun and motivation out of learning.

In short. If you’re a tech manager, give your business a chance at being sustainable by eliminating long hours or overtime. And when you do want to work out-of-hours, work on your own skills and education. Try not to mix this with your day job too much, otherwise, learning can become stressful.

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