Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't work more: work better

Sustainable pace is one of the practices of XP; having provided the link, and assuming you know what it is, I won't further indulge on the subject. Why am I talking about it then?

Because, thanks to Paolo, I am reading The Little Big Things by Tom Peters, and I stumbled upon the following sentences (re-translated in English from the Italian version), that according to the author apply in hard times as well as in good ones:
  • Get to work earlier than usual.
  • Leave later than usual.
  • Work more.
  • Volunteer to do more.
Now. This sounds quite different from sustainable pace. It also sounds different from the slack periods that the very same author reports as very important just a few pages earlier.

Why should we work more? I can understand that arriving earlier and leaving later leaves you some time all by yourself in the office, which is when you tipically can perform better because you can get some uninterrupted quality time. But you cannot count on such a short amount of time to complete everything you're supposed to do during a whole day.

And how about your canonical eight hours? Are they all wasted as "the big slack time between early morning and late evening"? Nope, you're supposed to work. Does this come as a surprise? That's very strange, because it is precisely what you are being paid for. So why add the extra hours? You're not being more productive, you're just spending more time at the desk. No, really, Peters goes as far as saying "work more for less". No way. At least, things being as they are now.

Let's get back to sustainable time. Suppose you're a workaholic: you spend at least 12 hours a day at the office, trying to compensate with brute force for your laziness. You are often so tired that your judgment is hiding somewhere under your shoes, and you can't tell whether you still have to bang your head on the wall on little and useless details or you can pass to something else. Or, better yet, call it a day. This is not committment, this is a physical dependency. How long do you think you can sustain it before reaching a burnout? Not very much. You're doomed. And you've wasted your time, not to mention the money of your employer.

Moreover, this is also very bad for morale: not only yours, as you obtain very little despite your enormous efforts, but also of the people surrounding you. People will start feeling guilty because they work less than you do, so they'll feel compelled to stay just because you do, even if they don't have anything to do but keep their chairs warm. Isn't that absurd? Yet, here in Italy you are too often judged by the time you spend at your desk. Even if you don't produce anything worth your time.

I'm sure Mr. Peters didn't mean "waste your day spending more time at the office", but unluckily it is exactly what is going to happen.

Get yourself a life! Strive for excellence, and work better: if you do it you will achieve the same results in less time. Absurd? Yes, it is: actually you will get much better results in much less time.

A simplified example for programmers? concentrate and try to make your code easily readable, not only by you but also by other people (which also means you, as you will not even remember you wrote that piece of code in a couple of months). Write automated tests. Refactor. Eliminate duplications. Do I hear "it will take more"? Yes, it will take more. But just on the barrelhead. As I read today on twitter:

Programming is like sex: one mistake and you’re providing support for a lifetime. (Michael Sinz)

Do your maths...

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