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[P]
Getting Back To Work: A Personal Productivity Toolkit

By marktaw in Culture
Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 08:22:03 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

I procrastinate. You procrastinate. We all procrastinate. Let's get back to work.


Pavlov's Dogs

Everyone knows the story of Pavlov and his salivating dogs. Ring a bell just before feeding the dogs often enough and they'll start to salivate just because the bell rang. It happened to me today when I opened the jar of horseradish to spread on a sandwich. It's called conditioning.

One day there was a bad storm and Pavlov's lab flooded. They had to release the dogs and bring them to safety by swimming. This was a very traumatic experience for the dogs. Upon returning them to the kennels for further experimentation, some of the dogs simply stopped responding to the bell.

The animal was abnormally restless and all conditioned reflexes were practically absent, and, though usually very ready for food, the animal now would not touch the food and even turned its head away. During three days while the animal was purposely left without food its general behavior during the experiments remained unaltered. On considering various possible interpretations we reached the conclusion that this extraordinary behavior of the animal must still be an after-effect of the flood.
Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex By Ivan P. Pavlov (1927)

So it would seem that an extraordinary event can shake us from our routines, and this state of being shaken can last for an extraordinarily long time. But it was only after two months of experimentation with the animal on the floor, and eight months after the flood, that it was found possible to return to the usual experiments with the animal.

Work is a sort of conditioning. It's not natural to sit at a desk for hours on end, nor is it natural to perform dull, repetitive tasks, but we train ourselves to do it. Unfortunately, it's easy to lose that conditioning, and it takes a while to get it back.

A lot has been written on the subject of procrastination, but I wanted to collect here my current thoughts on the discipline required to get back to the grindstone.

Positive Associations

There are some places that I just associate with work. The local rehearsal studio, for example. When I show up there, I know that we're there to make music. Yes, there's a certain amount of socializing that we do there, but mostly, we're there to work.

A sense of place like this can be created subtly. Even in the same office, in the same cubicle, at the same desk, simple things can change the "mood" so that you're more likely to associate it with work. We have 5 senses - sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Any of these can be used to create an association with work. In offices, probably the most common is sound. People will put on their headphones when it's time to get down to work. Rather than being a distraction, this can serve to remind you of other times when you worked in the past and help recreate that environment.

This works, I've done it for years. I go bicycling on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes I'll go three or four times in a week, and then not go for a month. Whenever I want to go, but just can't seem to get to the point where I'm taking my bike off of the wall and getting on it, I start to listen to my walkman (or MP3 player or whatever). Because the only time I listen to my MP3 player is when I go bike riding, it creates a strong association with bike riding, and before I know it, I'm changing my clothes and checking the tire pressure. It's hard to believe that such a small thing could create such a large change in my behavior, but it never fails.

The key here is to only use this thing when you're actually doing work. You don't need to do it every time you work, but you should only use it when you're working. You can use one of those scent things, or a nature sounds CD if you're afraid music would be too distracting. When you're in a state of Flow, or know you're about to start doing some real work, turn it on. Then the next time you want to work, you can simply turn this on, and it will turn you on.

This positive association extends to your work tools as well. By simply having your tools around you (if your work is on a computer, having the applications open) can go a long way towards getting over that hump and actually doing work.

You want to create an environment where work is more likely to happen than not happen.

Flow

We have seen how people describe the common characteristics of optimal experience: a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear cues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I started writing this article, ironically enough, on November 27, 2003, over one year ago. Back then it was called "The Motivation Game" and focused on creating a sense of flow by creating this kind of system by challenging yourself by keeping score and making work in to a game.

This concept of Flow is a powerful one, and resembles what we all want work to be like, but rarely is. Flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a "state of inner experience in which there is order in consciousness." He also states that "some of the activities that consistently produce flow (are) sports, games, art, and hobbies." "The more a job inherently resembles a game - with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback - the more enjoyable it will be."

  • Variety
  • Appropriate and flexible challenges
  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • A sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand.
  • A rule-bound action system

This is what the ideal job looks like. This job will resemble play, and will be addictive. As much as you can create work like this, you will be a happy person. As much as you can make your work like this, you will want to do it.

Nanny 911

There's a TV show on that my girlfriend and I love. Nanny 911. These classic British nannies choose a family in trouble and work their magic on them. They spend a day or so observing the family and learning all their poor behaviors and triggers, and then set about fixing the family.

A lot of the show is tough love. Just as easy as it is to reinforce positive behavior, you can reinforce negative ones too, and they're easier to reinforce. Ask any behaviorist and they'll tell you that randomly reinforcing a behavior works better than reinforcing it every time. Every time you put a dollar in the soda machine you get a soda. There's no need to check that. But putting a quarter in a slot machine doesn't always get you a prize. People get obsessed waiting for the chance that they'll get some prize money, even once they've put way more quarters into one of these things than they could ever hope to get out. Gambling is addictive because while it operates within a set of rules, it's unpredictable.

And that's what happens all too often in these families. When the baby cries you say to yourself, "no, I have to stick this one out and not give in," but after a while, you break down and give in. All this teaches the child is that crying more and louder works.

Where in your life are you randomly reinforcing negative behaviors? Where do you need tough love?

So what do these nannies do to turn around all this negative behavior? They take away all the rewards. When the rewards are always available, there's no need to do the work. They take away television privileges, and make the kids and parents go cold turkey with any negative habits they may have (like pacifiers).

Procrastination is the reward for not doing work.

If you work hard all year, what can you look forward to? Your vacation. Procrastination is like taking that vacation right now. If you can't take a vacation at the end of a year of hard work, you might as well take it now because there is no reward for finishing your work.

When I was in kindergarten I got a letter sent home. I wish I had it framed because it explained so much about my personality for so many years. It said:

Mark doesn't distinguish between work and play. He continues to play when it's time to work, and work when it's time to play.

Most books on procrastination will tell you that it's important to separate work from pleasure. That you procrastinate because you don't know when you will be able to take some time to relax, and that by creating clear times where you're not allowed to do work, you give yourself permission to do work at other times.

I'd say this is half true. The problem with it is that there's still no clear reason to do the work. If I work 9 to 5, I don't work when I get home, yet much of my day at work is wasted too. Why? Because there is no reward for completing the work. If I complete the work, I'm still at my job, so what incentive do I have?

Well, what would Nanny 911 do? She would take away everything you use to procrastinate, and not give it back until you finished your work. No exceptions, because an exception is a random reinforcer.

Procrastination 101

Procrastination is a habit. People aren't born procrastinators or hard workers, it's something you learn, like biting your fingernails. Luckily, it can be unlearned as well. 

If you study people while they're working, you'll find that a single behavior or set of behaviors predict when you're about to procrastinate. These are like poker tells. Unconscious twitches that signal you're about to stop working. If you can figure out what these behaviors are and remind yourself to get back to work whenever it happens, you can stop the interruptions.

These procrastination events come in basically three flavors. The first are events that come to you - the phone ringing, someone knocking on your door, etc. The second are things that depend outside objects, but that you initiate like getting up to go to the candy machine. The third are purely internal events, just zoning out and daydreaming.

If you can change your environment to get rid of the distraction, you should do it. Sometimes these environmental variables are more subtle than you realize. A memento on your desk could trigger a pleasant daydream, or a bill could trigger some abstract financial worry. They key here is to recognize when these distractions are tied to objects, and then get rid of those objects.

These environmental variables aren't always objects. Like Pavlov's dog, the sound of a phone ringing or the sight of your coworker going for a smoke could be your trigger. I can't cover all the possible variables here, but I trust that you can identify them and come up with the appropriate solution.

If you can't change it, you're going to have to discipline yourself to remember work whenever you think of that object. This is simply a matter of repetition and discipline. When you find yourself thinking about candy bars, remind yourself to get back to work.

This should actually take care of a large number of distractions, but if you take care of these and you still find yourself starting off in to space, thinking about something other than work, you should probably address the thing it is you're daydreaming about. Even if there is no external trigger, you can learn to recognize and subvert the internal trigger in the same way.

Often these distractions are things you want to do. To get rid of these, just write them down. I always carry a notebook with me that I can write these things down in. The notebook also serves to focus my thoughts when I have a spare moment and need to figure out what to do next. By keeping everything in here, any part of my brain that was worried about what I have to do goes away.

Measuring Productivity

Perhaps this section is mis-titled, it's not productivity (how much you accomplish over a period of time) I'm talking about as much as simply the ability to concentrate without interruption. Dexterity.com has a popular article titled How to Get More Done in Less Time. It recommends you keep a time log where you write down when you start an activity and when you stop it. At the end of the week, you create a tally so you can know exactly where your time is going.

Studies have shown that the average office worker does only 1.5 hours of actual work per day. The rest of the time is spent socializing, taking coffee breaks, eating, engaging in non-business communication, shuffling papers, and doing lots of other non-work tasks. The average full-time office worker doesn't even start doing real work until 11:00 am and begins to wind down around 3:30 pm.

Does that sound like you? If you're serious about improving your productivity, you need to keep this kind of log. Not only that, you need to record what interrupted you, and how much additional time you wasted before getting back to work (and doing what).

Only when you have this information can you see what prevents you from working, and what changes you need to make to your environment in order to improve your productivity.

Your mind distorts things, making some things seem larger than they are, and other things seem smaller. After a couple of weeks of this, a very clear picture should start to emerge. It is the only way to get objective about what's really going on so you can fix it.

The Afternoon Sleepies

I used to suffer from this big time. Around two or three in the afternoon, I'd start to get drowsy and nothing I did could fix it. I know a number of people suffer from this, but don't know the reason.

The most likely cause is low blood sugar. A large lunch, especially with lots of starchy foods, will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash. In this state there's no way you can be productive.

The best way to fight this is simply to have a smaller lunch with less starchy carbohydrate filled foods. This includes pasta, rice, sandwiches, pizza, soda and so forth. If you must have a sandwich, try to have it on whole grain bread, and check that the bread really is whole grain and not just starchy white bread with some grains thrown in to make you think it's healthy. Remember, when it comes to lunch, you want fruits (but not too much), vegetables, and proteins (nuts, eggs, meat, etc). Stay away from sugary drinks, including juice, water is the best.

If you're afraid you'll be hungry later on if you have a small lunch, then bring some fruit or nuts back to your desk with you. You can pick at this stuff while you work, and it should help keep your blood sugar on an even keel.

My Browser Homepage (and yours too)

One major behavior that triggers a work interruption is "going online." The Internet is a vast repository of Time Wasters, and if you're like me, the activity that signals that I'm about to lose focus is opening the web browser. So I created a simple web page with the words "Get Back to Work" in big, bold letters on top and set it as my homepage.

In fact, I went one step further and decided to make this page a productivity tool. I type in what my next goal is, and a time I want it completed by. Then I can click one of three buttons:

  • I completed this task on time
  • I did not finish this task on time
  • I didn't do any work

And the web page keeps a running tally (using cookies) of items I finished on time, items that took longer than the allotted time, and times I didn't do any work and just goofed off.

By keeping this open all day, not only does it remind me when I look at my web browser that I should get back to work, but it allows me to see at a glance how able I am to dedicate myself to reaching goals, whether or not I reached them (whether it was my fault or not), and when I simply didn't do any work and am willing to admit to myself that I wasted some time.

It's a simple tool, but it's effective. I hope to make it an even better tool in the future, and you'll know when because you're going to set it as your homepage too, and I'll post a small notice there when a new version is available.

Visit the page now: Get Back to Work

Get Back To Work

I used to procrastinate all the time. So much so that I thought I must be avoiding work for a reason, but when I did manage to get some work done, I'd find that I was no worse off than if I had procrastinated, in fact I felt better about myself when I got work done.

Then why did I put it off? This question plagued me for years. I felt guilty and I doubted myself - are other people working harder than me? Is something wrong with me?

Now I know that procrastination is a habit, and so is productivity. You can disrupt your negative behaviors, and reinforce your productive ones. It takes some work to implement this system, but by doing so, you'll learn what to avoid and what to do to be more productive.

Now get back to work.

Further Reading

  1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
    This is my bible for personal productivity. This is an absolute must if you're serious about getting yourself organized. Once you're organized, and nothing slips through your system, it frees your brain cells to concentrate on other things, your mind will wander less because everything is under control.
  2. How to Work the Competition Into the Ground and Have Fun Doing It by John T. Molloy
    Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but if you're lucky enough to get a copy, this book outlines a program (some of which I paraphrase here) that will increase your ability to concentrate and get back to work. Like Getting Things Done, this book outlines a system that simply needs to be implemented in order for you to see results.
  3. Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed. by Tom Demarco, Timothy Lister
    This book focuses on productivity for teams, and emphasizes the importance of having an environment where you can remain undisturbed for a while, because it takes time to get into a Flow state.
  4. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    This book represents decades of research in to the positive aspects of human experience, and comes up with general principles, along with concrete examples of how some people have used these principles to transform boring and meaningless lives into ones full of enjoyment.
  5. Bernie Krause records the best Nature Sounds CDs I've found. I have his Rainstorm in Borneo CD. You can learn more about him and his products on WildSanctuary.com.
  6. I talk about my implementation of GTD and the benefits of leaving when the work is done in my article Getting Things Done!

Other links you might like

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Related Links
o Conditione d Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex
o Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
o How to Get More Done in Less Time
o Time Wasters
o Get Back to Work
o Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
o How to Work the Competition Into the Ground and Have Fun Doing It
o Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed.
o Bernie Krause
o Rainstorm in Borneo
o WildSanctu ary.com
o Getting Things Done!
o 50 Strategies For Making Yourself Work
o Patching your personal suck
o Procrastin ation, thief of... ooh! wanna watch a movie?
o Procrastin ation
o Also by marktaw


Display: Sort:
Getting Back To Work: A Personal Productivity Toolkit | 99 comments (94 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Nice +1 FP (1.00 / 7) (#5)
by hackle577 on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 05:48:02 PM EST

Nice, but a tad too lengthy. Funny as well.

--
Yeah, that's right. "Turd Ferguson." It's a funny name.

-1 Procrastination is good n/t (1.00 / 8) (#7)
by communistpoet on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 07:13:53 PM EST



We must become better men to make a better world.
Getting into the zone is the best feeling ever. (2.87 / 8) (#8)
by skyknight on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 08:12:29 PM EST

I can attain this mental state in a few different ways. Both writing and programming can do it. Also, various physical activities are conducive to this end. Fighting through the pain of a hard run is effective as the result of the discipline that it requires. Both mountain biking and skiing can bring it about as well as the result of the required concentration. I live for these moments, and seek to increase their frequency.

When it comes to work, it's all about minimizing disruptions. AIM is a great way to nuke your concentration, as are the telephone, the web, and even e-mail. Office noises are also impediments. All it takes is a bit of noise from a co-worker and the focus and momentum you have built up in the last fifteen minutes can be torpedoed. Ergonomics are also key. If you are uncomfortable, you will get distracted, and if you are distracted you will never attain a state of flow.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
Very Zen (2.50 / 2) (#9)
by benna on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 08:30:54 PM EST

I mean that seriously. Temporary satori.
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
Indeed. (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by skyknight on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 08:59:26 PM EST

I should like to be a Zen Master. A state of total focus in which the entire universe is blocked out but for one pursuit is the ultimate in bliss. Alas, I fear that in this modern world of pervasive communication and unprecedented population density that most people are completely unaware of the possibility of such a transcendent mental state.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
wtf how can you *want* to be a Zen Master (3.00 / 5) (#11)
by Hana Yori Dango on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 09:59:03 PM EST

total ninja paradox wtf

[ Parent ]
Nice one! (none / 0) (#16)
by Juppon Gatana on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 01:21:07 AM EST

Got a good chuckle out of that.

- Juppon Gatana
能ある鷹は爪を隠す。
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
Um... (none / 0) (#24)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:12:04 AM EST

because I'm not one yet?

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
um... (none / 1) (#29)
by Hana Yori Dango on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:25:41 AM EST

because in order to become one you must rid yourself of all desires, you can NEVER want to become a zen master... only people who dont search for enlightenment can find it. dont get pissy at me for clueing you in about the vast mystery of the universe.

[ Parent ]
Oh, I don't want that part of Zen Mastery... (none / 0) (#30)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:27:19 AM EST

I just want the ability to occasionally be very focused. The lack of desires is not something I desire.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
oh I got you (none / 0) (#32)
by Hana Yori Dango on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:46:56 AM EST

yah I thought about that myself, but you'd be suprised how anti-intellectual zen buddhsim can be. Its funny to watch (not that this is you) self-important high school "prodigies" "discover" zen buddhism through the internet and watch them cream their pants about "omfg teh logcal religion it r g0d" when in fact zen explicitly rejects logic (and I might add, focus on anything other than nothing :)

[ Parent ]
Yeah... (none / 1) (#36)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 11:34:41 AM EST

I actually did a little research on the Internet about Buddhism some time back to see if it was a "religion" that meshed with my philosophy on life. Turns out that it is just as bad as any other religion. The stuff that it purports to be the way to live is arbitrary, and even down right silly, at least some of it. Any serious study of it should reveal this to someone of moderate caliber intellect.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
A zen master would agree with you (none / 0) (#51)
by benna on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:39:41 PM EST

The religion is a means to an end. The rituals are somewhat arbitrary, as they aren't meant in themselves to be what leads to satori, but one's perspective on those things is.
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
So... (none / 0) (#52)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:41:04 PM EST

Can I be a Zen Master without being a Buddhist?

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Sort of (none / 0) (#61)
by benna on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 01:39:21 AM EST

Zen master in name or not you could certaintly attain the zen master's consciousness.
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
Well, I'll see what I can do about finding it. (none / 0) (#69)
by skyknight on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 07:40:43 AM EST

It certainly is tricky, though, in this crowded and over-connected world. I think I need to go be a goat herd in some remote mountain region. Actually, if the remote mountain region has snow, then maybe I could just get it from hiking and skiing. That sounds like more fun. :-)

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
it is very easy to misunderstand (none / 0) (#86)
by SwingGeek on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 07:58:57 PM EST

You comment would be more useful if you were more specific. What type of Buddhism are you refering to? What practices seem arbitrary to you? Why do you think that they are arbitrary? The postures of meditation, for instance, are very specific. There are various practical and symbolic reasons for them.

Keep in mind that Buddhism cannot be easily understood from a western viewpoint, particularly because terms do not translate well. For instance, if you read the word "emptiness", it is very unlikely that you will understand the intended meaning. If you want to understand, I suggest you do some more reading and meet with a teacher.

Since you are posting on k5, you should know by now that "a little research on the Internet" does not qualify as "serious study".

By the way, just because you do not willfully adopted a system of belief and behavior does not mean that you don't have one. Everyone has one, and those that are just accumulated through the process of life are probably going to be more arbitrary and less organized than those of the major religions.

I am just a beginning student of Buddhsim. Still, I hope that this post may be helpful to someone.

"There is more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy." -Hamlet


[ Parent ]

No, it doesn't constitute a serious study... (none / 0) (#87)
by skyknight on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 06:42:19 AM EST

but just from a cursory glance it seemed somewhat arbitrary, arbitrary in a way that did not mesh with my beliefs. The beliefs that I personally hold have been accumulated though life in a rigorous testing process over the course of years. They were not handed down to me by a single external authority. They are not arbitrary, and they are in fact rather well organized, despite the fact that they are "home grown". I see no need to throw away 25 years worth of my own learning and replace it with a religion that was founded thousands of years ago.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
not to throw away, but to expand (3.00 / 2) (#91)
by SwingGeek on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 07:53:54 PM EST

I'm not suggesting you throw out your own learning at all. The historial Buddha told people not to take his words as truth but to try them out and use what make sense. Actually throwing away your belief system and trying to replace it with Buddhism would be a very bad idea. You might decide that some things you learn from Buddhism makes more sense than your current beliefs, and then replace them, but this is just the normal process of learning.

One thing that we make constant use of but rarely study is our own mind. The main purpose of Buddhism is to understand the nature of our own mind, so that we can see how it causes suffering in our lives. If we can see this process, then we can change it.

All I'm saying is don't discount it because of your initial impression from some website, because your initial impression is almost guaranteed to be wrong. This is not an insult to you at all, but merely my experience as a westerner trying to understand a very non-western paradigm.

[ Parent ]

Really, though... (none / 0) (#92)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 09:44:25 PM EST

I am comfortable with my current religion, even though this religion has only a single practitioner. I see no compelling reason to adopt someone else's world view.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
I'm a teenager (none / 0) (#53)
by benna on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:41:27 PM EST

I've studied zen, and I don't have any idea how anyone could think zen buddhism is a religion based on logic. It just seems inconvievable to me. Then again, I didn't really use to internet to do my research. I read Alan Watts, DT Suzuki and the like.
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
ok heres a paradox for you (none / 1) (#56)
by Hana Yori Dango on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:24:55 PM EST

Ive been marking every single comment you make with a Zero on principle... now you reply to my comment and it is also against principle to rate a comment which you are threaded to...

[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#62)
by benna on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 01:40:07 AM EST

Huh?
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
Yeah, huh? (none / 0) (#67)
by dimaq on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 06:23:43 AM EST



[ Parent ]
That isn't quite right (none / 0) (#54)
by benna on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:44:56 PM EST

I know what you are trying to say, but as stated thats not quite right. First, people who become zen masters usually go into it seeking satori. At the last moment before satori, that desire is done away with, and the then-enlightened master no longer desires anything. Also it should be pointed out that desiring not to desire is a desire in itself.
-
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Ludwig Wittgenstein
[ Parent ]
That isn't quite right either (none / 0) (#96)
by zerovoid on Thu Feb 03, 2005 at 04:52:47 PM EST

One should draw a distinction between wanting in a considered conscious way and wanting as a craving.

[ Parent ]
i was gonna write :( (2.09 / 11) (#12)
by king of crunk on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 10:04:42 PM EST

i was gonna write
a long insightful comment
instead i just wanked

IAWTP (none / 0) (#45)
by zrail on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 04:44:15 PM EST



[ Parent ]
Excellent article (3.00 / 4) (#13)
by localroger on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 11:06:56 PM EST

...and some good suggestions. I personally have zero discipline, and my personal time seems to follow the 80/20 rule -- I get 80% of my stuff done in 20% of the time, and I spend the rest floundering. But in that 20%, oh wow, what an incredible thing that is. It almost seems selfish to want more of that. But yeah, a good idea anyway. (/me eyes up the refreshing alcoholic beverage dubiously.)

Fuck it, I got work to do.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer

that's exactly how i feel (none / 0) (#14)
by taste on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 12:06:03 AM EST

there is this certain rush, when one day you wake up and discover you're out of time. it's a lightning surge that strikes you screaming at every part of your body to work like you've never worked before. the output in that 20% of time is 200% of what you would have produced in that 80% of the time. not only that, the feeling at the end of the day when you finish right at the last moment itself is more rewarding than anything else in the world. i would even say that it's quite addictive.

[ Parent ]
Heh. (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by BJH on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 12:17:17 AM EST

That's exactly how I work - I could have five days to do a project, but until it gets down to that final day, I'm completely unmotivated.

Once I reach the last 24 hours, you could bring in a Brazilian samba dancing team and all I'd say is "Get out, I'm working".

--
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]

Nailed that one right on the head (none / 0) (#41)
by jobi on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 03:18:14 PM EST

the feeling at the end of the day when you finish right at the last moment itself is more rewarding than anything else in the world. i would even say that it's quite addictive.

Damn right it's addictive. And that might be why it's so damned hard to stop being a slacker :)

Oh well, better start procrastinating now, or I'll never be done with it :)

---
"[Y]ou can lecture me on bad language when you learn to use a fucking apostrophe."
[ Parent ]
You, Sir, are sigged! -nt- (none / 0) (#48)
by wobblywizard on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:48:53 PM EST


--
You never win an argument with anyone who fucks you or signs your paychecks. I just smile, bite my lip and sip my drink. --Philalawyer
[ Parent ]

Being a mental wanderer isn't all bad. (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:17:25 AM EST

While you may have to be diligent about focusing yourself when you possess such a personality, it is also beneficial to connection oriented learning and adaptive problem solving. If you spend all of your time in a hyper-focused state and you bash your head into a brick wall, you may lack the peripheral vision to notice that the wall has a door through which you may pass, a rope to climb over it, or that you may simply walk around it. Ideally you want to strike a balance between Zen-like concentration and contemplative reflection. The former is for when you know what to do, and the latter for when you are jammed.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
are you a manager? (2.37 / 8) (#17)
by gdanjo on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 03:07:21 AM EST

Cause that was a total self-empowerment, personal-power push to get The Man richer that he already is, if ever I saw one.

I work how much I need to work. I get my work done, or I'd be sacked. If I were a contractor, then I'd work more, and get payed more.

I can't believe this tripe got to the front page so quickly.

Dan ...
"Death - oh! fair and `guiling copesmate Death!
Be not a malais'd beggar; claim this bloody jester!"
-ToT

I'm self employed (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 05:48:53 AM EST

If I don't work, I don't eat.

[ Parent ]
thanks (3.00 / 2) (#55)
by gdanjo on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:00:35 PM EST

You just whittled down your article to the only motivation that matters.

Dan ...
"Death - oh! fair and `guiling copesmate Death!
Be not a malais'd beggar; claim this bloody jester!"
-ToT
[ Parent ]

beautiful. (none / 0) (#64)
by Cloud Cuckoo on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 02:04:11 AM EST

really

[ Parent ]
Fear (2.33 / 6) (#18)
by xaphod on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 03:23:45 AM EST

Procrastination. The art of putting off doing something that needs to be done. An art in which I excel. In the pantheon of all artists I'd say I'm up there with Leonardo daVinci. Bit of a pity really. When I put my mind to it I've done some reat things. But my application is mostly a byproduct of avoiding doing other things. So like I said, it's a bit of a pity. It's also rather unpleasant.

Take this paragraph. I sucesfully managed to avoid writing it for several hours. True, I got lots of other things done. Things I've been putting off for no readilly apparent reason. But I got no satisfaction. The apprehension, the guilt, because I was avoiding another task. Unpleasant. The fact that all my goals are self-set makes the whole thing infinitely worse.

I've come to realise I suffer so because of two aspects of the philosopy of the procrastinatior. Fear of failure and, ironically, fear of success. Thankfully, I feel I'm reacing a point where I'm willing to not care about either.



Atop an Underwood (none / 0) (#20)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 05:57:50 AM EST

Procrastinating art is a whole 'nother ball game, but you can still benefit by creating a sense of space. Kerouac claims to have written over a million words by the time he was 18. I can't work on music unless I'm at the studio. I can't write unless I'm in my favorite text editor. A few years ago I went backpacking for two months around the US. I had none of my things with me, not even a walkman (this was before MP3 players were any good). I wanted to really experience every moment and not retreat into music. During the empty moments while riding on the bus there was nothing to do but write. I wrote every day I could get to an internet cafe, huge letters home to everyone that I plan on publishing one day. If you take away the distractions, and create positive associations, you can create. Kerouac's writing method was to lock himself in a room or a cabin for two weeks and just start writing. He had tons of notes already, but nothing that would constitute a book. It's amazing what you can do when you create an environment where you're more likely to create than not create.

[ Parent ]
"The Afternoon Sleepies" (2.50 / 2) (#21)
by James Mulholland on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:51:28 AM EST

I used to suffer from this big time. Around two or three in the afternoon, I'd start to get drowsy and nothing I did could fix it. I know a number of people suffer from this, but don't know the reason.

Get your eyes checked. I used to have this problem but now have specs for screen-work and I don't feel like taking a nap in the afternoon.

Remember also the old adage "an hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon." I get to work at 8am, work until 1pm, lunch for half an hour and go home at 4pm. Five hours work in the morning vs. 2.5 in the afternoon is a good ratio. Of course, the AM hours count double ;-)

Also, consider diet (3.00 / 3) (#34)
by jolly st nick on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 11:16:44 AM EST

A diet high in starches and sugars and low in fiber creates this same effect. I went on the Atkins, and suddenly the afternoon sleepies went away. Later I switched to just using more fiber and less starch, and they didn't come back.

[ Parent ]
Or cut out coffee (3.00 / 2) (#68)
by brain in a jar on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 07:23:33 AM EST

I found that for some reason having 1 cup of strong coffee after lunch every day caused me to become in general more sleepy. Not only mid-afternoon, but in the evenings as well.

Cutting out the coffee and replacing with tea (I know it is still caffienated) seems to have fixed the problem almost entirely.


Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

Very good (none / 0) (#22)
by tonyenkiducx on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:10:08 AM EST

I don't agree with a lot of it, but I guess this is a personal thing. Personally I like to surround myself with as many distractions as possible, but set aside time to specifically piss around. Then when that time is finished I know I have used up all my wasted time and I have to get back to work. Usually accomplishing something with my messing around reminds me that I cannot do any more.

Tony.
I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
nice article (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by m a r c on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 07:53:09 AM EST

Good article, made me think about the ways I do a few things. In my last job I was lucky enough to be 2 minutes walk from a gym. I found this is a really good way to avoid the 'afternoon sleepies' because you get the post exercise rush thing going. Also, i'd eat my food at different intervals though the day so you don't get the after a big meal sleepyness

Its also important to include scheduled 'rest' times during work. I don't have the concentration span to work for hours on end, task after task, without a break. If I were to be critical of my current work practices, I suppose that after I take a break it just takes a hell of a long time for me to snap out of it and get back to work.

I wonder how many people have the ideal work environment (bullet points) that you describe. Immediate feedback is possible in some jobs but would be difficult in others. Certainly if your a programmer then if your code works, then that is a positive reward. What about some manager who has spent their days planning goals in meetings? I can't see any way that they are going to get immediate feedback, not that I have too much sympathy for them ;)

I think this guide would be really usefull for people that are under a lot of work pressure and have to get a lot done. Personally, I have enough to do, without having enough to stress me. This means that I can kind of work at my own pace. Given necessity is the mother of invention, I haven't considered efficiency measures when there was really not much need.

A good question is, if you can work more, should you? If your self employeed then certainly, because you'll get more out of it. If your an office worker for a big company, if it does not directly aid you by working harder (promotion or more money), should you then be more efficient for the sake of it? I suppose that's really an ethical question rather than a productivity one.
I got a dog and named him "Stay". Now, I go "Come here, Stay!". After a while, the dog went insane and wouldn't move at all.

Smart employers... (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:23:26 AM EST

try to make their office space feel like home to their software developers. There should at least be a couch to flop down on for a few minutes when you've hit a really frustrating wall and need a break. Sitting at attention in a chair in the office is a somewhat draining thing, and if you can take a few moments away from it here and there to recuperate, you'll be able to get a lot more productive work done during the course of the day. Uncomfortable offices, on the other hand, leave employees in a permanently elevated state of stress, something that hinders their ability to do good work, and furthermore encourages them to relieve the stress by going home at the first opportunity they get.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
I disagree. (none / 0) (#27)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:46:40 AM EST

In my article Getting Things Done I make a case for leaving as soon as the work is done.

Work can become a place where time stands still and becomes meaningless. Work now or work later - what's the difference? But by limiting your time there to just when you're actually working, you can get a lot more done in a lot less time.

I guess the same can be done on a micro level - the difference between the common area and your desk, for example.

[ Parent ]
The work is never really done... (none / 0) (#28)
by skyknight on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:50:39 AM EST

and furthermore, you are presuming that the work has to be something that the employee is doing against his will solely to collect a pay check.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
No I'm not. (none / 0) (#31)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:34:59 AM EST

Yes the work is never really done, but you can set goals for yourself that will take a certain amount of time to do and only leave when you've accomplished those goals.

I'm not presuming that the employee is working against his will solely for a paycheck. If you read the article I linked to you'll see that I was paid on an hourly basis, and sitting around bullshitting and getting less done would've netted me more money.

It doesn't matter what your motivation for working is, you can want to write the Great American Novel, but the same applies - reward yourself when you reach the goals you set for yourself and you're more likely to do the work.

[ Parent ]

just to add (none / 1) (#37)
by m a r c on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 11:38:25 AM EST

work can be further classified into different groups and should not be considered uniform. In my job, there is work I can do that benefits the company, but does not benefit me. This is usually the shitty tasks that everyone tries to avoid. I'm sure that given that we all work real jobs, there are some non-ideal aspects, and the tendancy is to try and get someone else to do them.

There is also work that benefits both yourself and your company. Under this category I would put doing projects that require you to learn a new skill. You do the project but you personally gain the skill as a by product.

Also, there is 'work' which is not really work. This is basically training/studying/skilling up. While this may have a benefit to the company because I am a more skilled worker, the time I spend doing this is actually non-productive time for the company. Basically I try to make sure that my time working is spent falling in the last two categories because its personally more beneficial.
I got a dog and named him "Stay". Now, I go "Come here, Stay!". After a while, the dog went insane and wouldn't move at all.
[ Parent ]

perhaps the biggest procrastination i've ever done (3.00 / 3) (#33)
by circletimessquare on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 11:10:06 AM EST

is to go about writing, fact checking, linking, grammar checking, tone fixing, submitting, editing, and then commenting underneath, a story on kuro5hin

all at work under the radar

hours man, hours

(gotta love alt-tab)

;-P


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

I'm procrastinating right now... (2.50 / 4) (#35)
by chewie on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 11:19:00 AM EST

...in reading this article!

Good article (2.83 / 6) (#38)
by TheGreenLantern on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 12:30:29 PM EST

I plan on implementing many of these suggestions, right after I visit the diary page. And check Fark. And Slashdot. And GameFAQ's. And the diary page again.

It hurts when I pee.
"send and receive" button (3.00 / 5) (#39)
by chutan on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 01:52:29 PM EST

I recently removed "send and receive" button from Thunderbird mail client tool bar. That releases me from subconsciously clicking on the button whenever I'm tired. Waiting for client to check a list of accounts, only to get no new messages or junk mails doesn't help my boredom anyway. It was hard for the first few days. On numerous occassions, I clicked on the toolbar and found the "new message" window pop up instead.

Nice (none / 0) (#49)
by solstice on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:52:40 PM EST

Hope you don't figure out you can have it automatically check your email for you every 1 minute. ;)

[ Parent ]
Seriously though (none / 0) (#50)
by solstice on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:55:08 PM EST

Shutting down email is actually a good idea. I almost always leave Thunderbird open and hidden (using Watchcat on Windows to take it off the taskbar). I invariably go read every new message when the new mail popup window scrolls up telling me I've got some new messages. This is a huge flow killer. Most of the time the emails are just some mailing list that I don't really care about, but it still interrupts me. If I want to really work for a while, I have to remember to shut down my email completely. It's good too, because when I get done working I can open it back up and see 10 or so emails to read. :)

[ Parent ]
hmmm (none / 1) (#40)
by ethereal on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 02:32:35 PM EST

[Quote]
In fact, I went one step further and decided to make this page a productivity tool. I type in what my next goal is, and a time I want it completed by. Then I can click one of three buttons:

    * I completed this task on time
    * I did not finish this task on time
    * I didn't do any work

And the web page keeps a running tally (using cookies) of items I finished on time, items that took longer than the allotted time, and times I didn't do any work and just goofed off.
[/quote]

And I bet that was a good day or two of work there, wasn't it :) .  At least if you did it right....

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Nah, I copied the code [N/T] (none / 0) (#46)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:12:12 PM EST



[ Parent ]
If you're going to nitpick... (none / 0) (#60)
by ravuya on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 12:47:35 AM EST

...why didn't you confront the fact that he wrote an article about writing the code instead of working?

/// My page (free oss games: macosx, linux, windows)
[ Parent ]
because: (none / 0) (#72)
by ethereal on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 02:46:29 PM EST

Pick a reason:
 - that would have been the obvious cheap shot
 - other people had already hit that note
 - I know myself that it's a lot more fun to take a couple days to write a nifty tool in order to automate two hours of real work, whereas the article seemed inspired by a sense of, well, boring old duty to fellow procrastinators

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Get Back to Work! (2.50 / 2) (#42)
by jobi on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 03:23:16 PM EST

Nice idea about the "Get Back to Work" browser startpage. Now I might just put off these boring worktasks for a while and implement something like that... Let's see... Apache, mod_perl, MySQL and maybe some nice artwork too... This might save me from doing any real work all the rest of this week!

Seriously, though, nice idea. Not going to use your page though, a local file is easier to reach.



---
"[Y]ou can lecture me on bad language when you learn to use a fucking apostrophe."
And what would be the point? (2.00 / 3) (#43)
by anthroporraistes on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 04:09:30 PM EST

When I'm doing work for pleasure, I get into the flow, when I do work for someone else, I don't, and see no need to.  Basically you wrote an article to enable me to make my task masters happy.  There is no reason for me to be uber productive at work, its my time, their money, someones gonna get ripped off, better them than me.  

But when I doing my own personal writing, art, whatnot, I don't mind the flow experience, since it is for ME.

There was a study, I think by the same guy, where he said that people don't enjoy things they love, when they are forced to do it.  When you get paid, all enjoyment is sucked out of it.

---
biology is destiny

I can think of a point (none / 0) (#59)
by QuantumG on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 12:38:32 AM EST

Maybe you join can't get yourself to do the basic minimum amount of work needed to keep your job. In that case you need as much conditioning as you can get so you don't lose it. If you don't learn this you'll just drift from job to job until you're completely unemployable.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
So your getting fired in a few years? (none / 0) (#73)
by ultimai on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 06:24:21 PM EST

Think about it. That kind of attitude gets you fired. If for some reason your just really good and can be productive despite that attitude then get a better job that can actually use your capbilities to the fullest. (and a better paycheck because your more rare)

[ Parent ]
Ha ha (none / 0) (#75)
by ksandstr on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 02:40:15 AM EST

That's what you think.


[ Parent ]
Well there you've kind of answered it for yourself (3.00 / 5) (#44)
by Fon2d2 on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 04:17:02 PM EST

Haven't you?

Considering:

Work is a sort of conditioning. It's not natural to sit at a desk for hours on end, nor is it natural to perform dull, repetitive tasks, but we train ourselves to do it.

And also:

Studies have shown that the average office worker does only 1.5 hours of actual work per day. The rest of the time is spent socializing, taking coffee breaks, eating, engaging in non-business communication, shuffling papers, and doing lots of other non-work tasks.

The question naturally arises not "why aren't we getting back to work?" but "why are we still at work?". You seem to have demonstrated in your article that not only are current work habits against human nature, but that most people only pretend to practice them anyway. So why not give up the farce, do as the French or Swedes do, and actually spend time with people outside of work?

I agree 100% (none / 1) (#47)
by marktaw on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 06:13:22 PM EST

And I make that point in my article Getting Things Done!

[ Parent ]
It's got something to do with "morals" (none / 1) (#77)
by ksandstr on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 03:20:08 AM EST

And the idea that in order to be worth something you need to piss away over half of the waking hours of the prime of your life either getting to work, getting back home from work or doing uninteresting things that you would never even consider for goals that don't benefit you at all outside the "work, dammit, or we'll fire your ass, and then you'll starve!" factor.

That more sensible policies are only starting to get implemented, and only in a few countries, is probably a sign of how deeply this sort of thinking has been drilled into everyone. Yet it won't be that long before 98% of all manual labour is handed over to mechanical means of production (i.e. "robots") and those not born into money will have to become "service specialists" for the wealthy 0.3%. Anybody who doesn't want to become a canine pedicurist, manservant or monocle-polisher, or plain fails to kiss enough ass will be out of luck.


[ Parent ]

You sound a lot like Rifkin. (none / 0) (#89)
by Fon2d2 on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 09:42:49 AM EST

Did you read "The End of Work" as well? I never really did like him that much. Kind of a doomsayer in my opinion. And honestly, you can bring about a lot of positive change in your own life. It's about opportunities. Most people are handed far more opportunities than they ever realize. We (I include myself) either don't notice or choose to pass for one or more bad reasons.

You're right however: the problem is deeply embedded. Not only that, certain aspects of the problem are deepening such as the rich-poor disparity. I don't think it necessarily has to be that way however or that it's that way intentionally. I see it as more of a status quo that's grown out of years of history and tradition. Some things give me hope: flextime and the ability to work from home for example. As timecards become more meaningless perhaps employers will recognize we're there to do specific jobs and not count hours.

On the flipside of that coin however is a larger sense of job insecurity. If you really want to be responsible for your own time and get paid per job, then it also makes sense you can't rely on one large company to take care of you your entire life. That means each person will be responsible for staying current with their education and being able to find new work... sort of a blurring of the distinction between contract work and the typical salaried job which to me seems only normal in the oncoming future.

[ Parent ]

Required Number of Hours (none / 0) (#95)
by TrailDiva on Wed Feb 02, 2005 at 12:00:08 PM EST

Maybe we wouldn't be procrastinating to get back to work so long if we were able to leave when our work was done. Most employees are expected to put in an 8 hours day, regardless of what's actually done during those 8 hours. I've worked in places where your work day was more dictated by getting a job done, rather than putting in hours. Productivity would probably go up if working efficiently meant leaving work earlier.

[ Parent ]
Another good book: The Now Habit (none / 1) (#57)
by Cloetus on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 08:32:43 PM EST

You've hit a few of his main points dead on. Basically, procrastination IS the reward.

One of the key concepts is to work, now, for 30 minutes without stopping. Starting, in other words. Like so many things, it seems obvious, but it's effective.

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore



I'm going to read the article (2.75 / 4) (#58)
by xutopia on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:50:31 PM EST

after this little thing I want to do.

if you have an office job, quit. PERIOD (2.33 / 3) (#63)
by Cloud Cuckoo on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 01:58:14 AM EST

No matter how efficient you are and how much you castrate your human impulses with ridiculous self-brainwashing, in the end you'll just be some boring depressed schmuck who happened to accomplish 20% more for his master than the jerk in the next cubicle. You said yourself than people aren't meant to work from 9-5 in a tiny box, so don't do it. Go weld or haul bricks or something. If your day is spent pondering your (in)efficiency, and equating yourself with a dog, then damn man, step back. Yeah you'll get paid less but everyone knows that excessive wealth won't make you happy anyway. All that stuff you mentioned works but deep down I think its insulation from the cold dead reality of a life being wasted.

If you have a job, take it to the office (none / 0) (#66)
by dimaq on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 06:11:27 AM EST

it occurs to me that an office, i.e. a place dedicated to work (or study) is a Good Idea. Good in a sense that doing work at home, you are filled with distractions - you can make tea or you can stare outside or you can pet your cat or you can think of all the household things you were meant to do and was putting off...

in short, an office is a productivity tool. an office job is a job (company wants you work) supplied with an office (company provides you with basic tools to do the work).

it's only bad if you hate it.

[ Parent ]

This is only true if it is a good office... (3.00 / 3) (#70)
by skyknight on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 08:08:36 AM EST

Unfortunately, managers don't realize this. Many managers simply think of an office as a pressure cooker, a way to aggregate a handful of people together to work toward a common goal. This is folly, at least, it is folly for software development where a significant portion of the work can be done without human contact, and another significant portion can be done over electronic communication. The design portion benefits greatly from proximity, as it requires the ability to talk, gesticulate, and scribble on a white board furiously, but other components of office work are often hindered by the sub-optimality of the typical office environment.

A good office provides three things: all of the tools that one needs to practice one's trade, shielding from distractions that disrupt or hinder the thought processes associated with the work at hand, and comfort to keep one's body from growing weary and thus cutting work time short and undermining efficiency.

At my last job, I was working on a team of developers on a software project for a medical school. It was fairly complex, involving stuff that required concentration. Unfortunately, the office space was a disaster. They didn't actually have proper office space allocated for us, so they placed us in a cube farm with half a dozen librarians. The result was constant distraction. It is extremely difficult to maintain focus when someone starts yammering on the phone, or two people randomly start a conversation next to your cubicle, or someone starts running the photocopier that is right next to your desk. Compound this with the fact that there was no break room, and I was suffering from a constant state of burn out.

I would wager that at that job if they had simply provided me with an enclosed office, and given the three developers a shared to couch upon which to flop when burned out from coding, that I could have easily been two or three times more productive. When you figure that a developer costs ~$100k/year (certainly when you factor in benefits and office space overhead), it is a woefully false economy to skimp on something like a $1000 couch and a few walls. It just doesn't make any sense at all. The bean counters think that they are skillfully wringing a little more economic efficiency out of their operations, but in fact they are totally undercutting developer output, the result being that they are squandering tens of thousands of dollars in order to save a pittance.

Almost nobody understands this. Compound this misery with the fact that software developers thrive on momentum, and you're basically paying developers to spend all day flailing. Developing code involves keeping several pieces of information cached in short term memory, and if you are constantly being bombarded with distraction, having your cache flushed, you will spend all of your time trying to cache information and none of your time getting work done. In this regard, offices are very much like the buzzers that the government strapped to people's heads in Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, set to activate whenever the person starting thinking clever thoughts, so as to prevent him from gaining an unfair advantage over his peers.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Oh look, shiny! (none / 1) (#71)
by Democratus on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 02:44:37 PM EST

I think that putting the onus on your managers or office is ignoring your own failings.

If you can't concentrate enough on a task to ignore conversiations, copiers, office noise, etc. then you need to work on your powers of concentration.

In my experience, developing code is a process that rests much more on the competance of the code writers than if there is a couch in the office.  Coders seem to think that the mental fatigue they suffer is somehow greater than many other desk jobs.  Too often I hear some of us whining for a break room, or free soda, or some other "gimmie" because they need these things to support their fragile genius.

Something I have seen wreck a coding project though - isolation of the coders.  Nothing compartmentalizes knowledge faster than putting coders in their own offices or (worse) their homes to do the work.

I've done code work (collabroative and solo) in many varying environments and haven't noticed a practical difference in the quanty or quality of the code produced so long as communication lines were open.  The key is simple.  Have good coders.

Good coders (in my experience) can work in a cubicle just as well as an accountant, secretary, claims adjuster, or CFO.  People come in many varieties, of course.  Just don't ask me to alter my workplace because some people can't keep their mind on the task at hand.


[ Parent ]

Cubes (2.00 / 3) (#74)
by dave331 on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 07:45:34 PM EST

Good coders (in my experience) can work in a cubicle just as well as an accountant, secretary, claims adjuster, or CFO.

Maybe the accountant, secretary, claims adjuster, and CFO would also be a lot more productive if they didn't have to work in an environment full of distractions. In other words, the cubicles hurt everyone's productivity, not just the coders' productivity.

[ Parent ]

Re: Cubes (none / 0) (#78)
by Democratus on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 10:36:42 AM EST

Well, the parent of my comment specifically points out developers as needing these special considerations to work effectively.

He states:
"it is folly for software development where a significant portion of the work can be done without human contact"

He then complains about a job where he was placed in a cube farm with all the other office workers - citing how he was unable to keep his concentration with all the other workers in the room and no break room to help with burn out.

Then he specifically uses the salary of a developer as justification to buy a couch for them.  Berating the "bean counters" for undercutting the output of said develoers.

The post seems to portray developers as "special needs" workers that must be pampered like an A-list movie star on a set.

With this, I must disagree.

I do agree that an improved office environment can help any worker (accountant, et al) to be happier and more productive.  But having managed the budget for an office, I understand that it is not economical to fill the workplace with couches and separate offices and break rooms aplenty.

You budget what you can afford for the employees - all of them - and hire the people that can get the work done.

[ Parent ]

Management (3.00 / 3) (#83)
by fcw on Sat Jan 22, 2005 at 05:47:37 PM EST

The art of good management is giving people what they need to get their jobs done, and then getting everything else out of their way.

Anyone who thinks that allowing people to get their jobs done effectively amounts to pampering has a lot to learn about management.

Cube farms are one of the worst possible environments for people who must do thinking work that requires concentration. Smart managers know this, and do what they must to create distraction-free environments for programmers, since they know that every interruption is money and time wasted. Poor managers try to treat everyone the same, because it makes their budgeting easier, and blame their staff for having insufficient coping skills in the presence of random interference.

For more information on how to help programmers be more effective, read Peopleware.



[ Parent ]
Indeed... (none / 0) (#88)
by skyknight on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 06:47:37 AM EST

I was having trouble taking him seriously after he made a comment equating software developers to secretaries in their requirements for office space. He is clearly of the mind that software projects can be done piecemeal in a fashion no different that what is done on factory assembly lines. I fear for the people he manages, and the users of the software that his groups have created.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Management, Indeed (none / 0) (#90)
by Democratus on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 11:16:19 AM EST

The art of good management is giving people what they need to get their jobs done, and then getting everything else out of their way.

I must strongly disagree with this statement. Good management is 80% hiring the right people for the job and environment. With the right staff and sufficient tools most other problems will tend to vanish.

Anyone who thinks pampering certain employees because their job is "higher level" has a lot to learn about management.

Treat all employes well (not some bad and some good) and you will see improvements in efficiency and productivity from all the ancillary functions that truly make a company run.

In a time when I could just buy code from India or Russia, I think that providing a decent wage and a reasonable work environment for coders is more than sufficient.

Effective management, in my experience, is creating a positive culture for all employees. Part of this is keeping the numbers managable. (A warehouse floor with 10,000 cubes isn't a happy place.) But it is also important to avoid building a corporate class system.

Good coders, and therefore good product, can thrive in such an environment.

Your milage, of course, may vary.

[ Parent ]
You know, (3.00 / 3) (#76)
by ksandstr on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 02:54:28 AM EST

The "it's a bad carpenter who blames his tools" quip and its variants are only relevant if the tools are actually good.


[ Parent ]
Oh look, clueless! (2.75 / 4) (#81)
by skyknight on Sat Jan 22, 2005 at 08:16:24 AM EST

It's not rocket science to say that having good coders is crucial to output. However, that totally neglects the nature of software development. It really isn't like other professions. I'm not saying that it's somehow special, just different, and that being attuned to these differences can dramatically increase output. Furthermore, I'm hardly slow when it comes to churning out work. At the job I had this past summer, my boss basically didn't know what to do with me because I kept on finishing things so much faster than he expected. A project he expected me to do in a month was done in three days.

The fact that you can equate the work done by secretaries to that done by software developers is laughable, though not wholly surprising given that you claim to be a manager. A secretary's work typically involves many tasks, but each of them is fairly isolated and requires little overhead to get up to speed.

A software developer's task bears remarkable similarities to that of a book author. Writer's block is a very real problem, particularly when working on complex software. Work comes in bursts, as you spend a significant amount of time stuck, and then suddenly break through the wall and code like a maniac for hours on end until you are too exhausted to continue. Software work also typically requires holding a large number of things in short term memory and using them to manipulate code. Going from a cold start, it can take a good ten to fifteen minutes to get up to full speed, and if you are constantly getting jostled then you will end up thrashing, spending the preponderance of your time on the overhead of preparing to do work.

You are right that having open communication lines is important, but you are neglecting the fact that it is a double edged sword. Having communication lines that are too open can actually undermine a project as well. Given the amount of overhead required for a developer to get into a productive state, it can be very damaging for developers to pester one another with questions that they could have figured out on their own with just a moment's glance at a manual or a web search. Having developers near one another but with walled offices is, in my mind, the best of both worlds. They are close enough that they can easily plan an impromptu meeting via e-mail, but well enough isolated that they aren't constantly knocking one another out of a state of productive flow.

I'm really just gobsmacked that you could equate secretaries and software developers in their requirements for office space. That is just intellectual laziness on your part, I think. Their job descriptions are so fundamentally different that to assert that they have the same office space requirements is nothing short of madness.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Are we "special" yet? (none / 0) (#94)
by Democratus on Thu Jan 27, 2005 at 02:30:18 PM EST

Of course it isn't rocket science.  It's common sense.  But how many workplaces follow this sense?  You are very lucky if every place you worked has consisted of only top-notch talent.  Let me assure you that this isn't the rule.  And your story of surprising your bosses with such rapid development?  One month of work done in three days?  What that really tells me is that your bosses were idiots or they were used to dealing with bad employees.  Neither is germane to the topic.

I'm sorry that you are so unable to handle my views on office space.  You seem so offended by my comparison of coders to other office workers.  While you try to head off that perception - it still smacks of elitism.

Over the past decades I have worked as a secretary, a coder, and a manager.  I have written countless lines of code both in solo and corporate projects (primarily c++ and java).  I've written commercial code and I've managed teams that have written commercial code.

At no time did I, or any of my teams require huge amounts of space to accomplish our coding.  In fact "six pack" coding (where all coders are in a block of six cubicles) has built more communication and esprit de corps than any of the "hide in a box" environments I've encountered.

What are you doing that you need so much space for each coder?  Callisthenics?

I like your comparison of writing code to writing prose.  However the habits you describe (slow, stuck periods followed up by frantic hour-crunching) are bad habits.  Discipline and organization can allow you to live a normal life, working 40-your weeks and having a life outside of work.  Good object-oriented architecture, solid design work, and a skilled team will bypass nearly all of the hardships you have described.  This is where good management and communication pay off.  The primary task of management is to get the job done on time and on budget.  Only slightly less important is the responsibility to keep the work "just a job" - allowing everyone the luxury of weekends and 8 hour workdays.

Coding is just a job and a coder is just an employee.  Just like the CFO, the manager, and (yes) the secretary.

[ Parent ]

Have you noticed... (none / 0) (#97)
by skyknight on Sun Feb 06, 2005 at 09:12:05 PM EST

that software is really bad? Are you under the impression that the software being created these days is any good? It's not. It's unbelievably bad, in fact. This is largely due to the fact that people don't know how to manage software projects. Good object oriented design is not a panacea. The devil is always in the details, and there is nothing like solid concentration to deal with this, something to which a distracting environment is not conducive. No, I do not need space for calisthenics. I need a quiet space so that I can sever the connection between myself and the outside world and become completely absorbed in a problem. You just can't do this in a cube environment. As such, cramming six coders into an incubator strikes me as an incomparably bad idea. Programming, and not just banging out code but doing it well, is a task that is involves a hell of a lot more than pushing keys on a keyboard.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Your making excuses, get back to work! (none / 0) (#79)
by greggman on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 12:08:31 PM EST

I'm someone that generally enjoys my office job.  I'm a game developer.  Making games may not be for you but there are plenty of jobs people actually enjoy doing that happen at desks.  Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Animator, Illustrator, Programmer, 3D Artist,  (some more than others).

The difference between the guy that gets things done and that guy that procrastinates is probably tens of thousands of dollars a year.  Which equates to toys, houses, travel and other FUN.

While I'm sure you could name counter examples I suspect on average that's the case.

[ Parent ]

procrastination (none / 0) (#84)
by valentine9 on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 01:03:23 PM EST

Not to mention pussy.;-)

[ Parent ]
But... (none / 0) (#98)
by The Voice of Reason on Wed Feb 09, 2005 at 05:09:20 PM EST

But for every decent office job, there are a thousand horrible ones. And at least with a non-office job you get some exercise or fresh air or you see different places and meet people, in a shitty office job you just sit there rotting away. It's the same with a factory job or flipping burgers, it's not about the money it's the sheer mind-numbing pointlessness.

[ Parent ]
Bernie Krause. (none / 1) (#65)
by Kasreyn on Thu Jan 20, 2005 at 04:54:14 AM EST

Now that's a name that rings a bell.

Ever hear his album "Gorillas in the Mix"? *grin*

to anyone not clued-in to this, it's an album of music orchestrated entirely of sampled and tracked sound files of animal noises. And no, it's not the cats meowing Jingle Bells. It's much more interesting and weird than that. Worth a listen.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Some are born to procrastinate (none / 0) (#80)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Fri Jan 21, 2005 at 11:24:33 PM EST

Procrastination is a habit. People aren't born procrastinators or hard workers.

Unless you have ADD. Or one of many other medical conditions that may cause a persons attention levels to drop below the norm.

"Get back to work"? Gimme a break. (2.00 / 2) (#82)
by sudog on Sat Jan 22, 2005 at 03:27:27 PM EST

Our average leisure time and our ability to enjoy leisure has been slowly and methodically eroded over the last few decades, and our spending power also.

Why should we be getting back to work?! We should be given more leisure time, not less. The whole promise of progress was to make our lives easier and more filled with meaning, but all I see is people like you who seem to think that we're not working hard enough.

Screw you man.


To Address the Complaints (none / 0) (#85)
by Proteus Moteus on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 03:41:39 PM EST

First of all great article. I plan to put it to the test shortly.

To all the naysayers let me say that this article merely points to a strategy of getting what you want to do done. It makes no claim whether you should be working harder in a cubicle as a wage slave, repairing your home, or starting your own business. As long as you aren't doing something to avoid other duties then you aren't procrastinating.

The point is if you want to do something that you are avoiding then there are strategies to correct this behavior. What you work on was clearly outside the scope of the article.

not just about the office (none / 0) (#93)
by aijay on Thu Jan 27, 2005 at 09:00:21 AM EST

can't believe so many readers took this article to be a "how to be a better slave to your office master" treatise. or cement the work/leisure divide. leisure gets procrastinated. and the flow gets disrupted and hijacked even when you're working on something you love. nice life-hacks marktaw, thank you.

good words (1.00 / 3) (#99)
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