A novelist friend introduced me to a productivity technique I’ve found effective. I spread it to my friends, and now to my horror management types have discovered it. A friend just told me he told it to someone and she was going ‘to try it out with her team’. So I thought I’d best write a how to before it became ‘micromanagement is good’.
You do ‘hours’ with a partner. The partner can be anybody. I find it works best with friends – with people I have a no-responsibilities relationship with. Folks I know on IRC or twitter. Personal friends. etc. You need a stable of such people so you can always find a partner.
DO NOT do ‘hours’ with your boss, your coworkers, or anyone you have a direct responsibility towards. Somebody who is in same company but working on different project for another dept is a great choice. Your spouse is probably in a category by itself.
There’s a channel for ‘hours’ on #hours on freenode.net IRC.
How to do it:
A: Hey, want to do ‘hours’?
B: Sure. This hour I’ll read over the Smith contract and try to get it sent off.
A: OK, In this hour I’ll fix the bug where there’s trash html in the email field sometimes.
B: OK, it’s 11:23 my time, see you at 12:23
…. at 12:23 …
A (or B): Hey, ding ding ding, time’s up, how’d you do?
B: There’s a clause in the Smith contract that needs to go to the patent attorney. Found that in 15 minutes, so spent the rest of the time cleaning up the mess in the server docs directory.
A: Great! Glad you spent the remaining time productively. I got a phone call, that burned some time. I discovered the bug’s more complex, it’s nothing to do with the email field directly, instead the RPC thing is overwriting the DOM randomly. Want to do another hour?
B: Sure. This hour I’ll finish cleaning up the mess in the server docs directory.
A: I’ll continue debugging the RPC issue. I doubt I’ll finish this hour.
…. and so it goes. Eventually somebody is ‘done with hours’.
You’ll soon find out tasks fall into two categories – the majority are more complex than you thought. The minority are far simpler than you thought.
Guidelines for the interaction:
- Brief – a couple sentences max
- Be honest – if you got distracted reading something on the net, say so.
- Be supportive – if the other person got distracted and played a game, say you’re glad they recognized they needed the break, or if they played a game 15 minutes and realized they were doing ‘hours’, congratulate them on catching themselves.
- Treat ‘hours’ with some responsibility – don’t fall into starting an hour and wandering off, not checking in (obviously if something interrupts, production’s down, tell your partner you can’t check in at end of hour).
- You’re not a taskmaster
- this is a voluntary thing to do. Do it with people you’re comfy with
- generally decline when you’re ‘in the groove’. It’s most effective when you’re faced with tasks you want to avoid – boring, unpleasant, dull, stressful.
- by contrast, it’s OK to do ‘hours’ to support your partner. Hours need not be ‘work’. “In this hour I’ll walk the dog” is great. (Funny part is, since doing this I find I get more things of the ‘walk the dog’ variety done, and my down time on hours is of better quality).
You won’t click with everybody. Some people just don’t find it useful, or comfortable, or effective. I suggested hours to a friend, she complained that her partners often asked for emotional work when she did… wow, different world than me.
Now, it’s actually a powerful technique. Right along with dynamite, buzz saws, and large trucks. DO NOT do this 40 hours a week. That direction is burnout.
If you’re a hapless worker who’se being pressured to use this technique by management, point out this blog post as the originating document for the technique.
So, important rule:
You can always say NO to hours.
If somebody tries to nonconsensually do hours, it’s a rule – you are allowed to say “fie upon thee, thou hast demanded I do hours. Your mother is a partridge and your father has a loan.”‘
If such person is your boss, and they don’t respect that, then they have, by the rules of hours, just agreed that the workplace is represented by the Communication Workers of America.
(if that happens, please let the CWA know they have a new shop. If you’re overseas, pick your own union).
Hey, if you want to be REALLY productive, learn Prolog. It’ll change you as a programmer. I’m giving a 2 month (1 month if you just take basics) intensive Prolog course starting saturday, April 11, 2020 (few days from now).
We’ll learn the basics of Prolog, then move on to some amazing add-on systems (you can alter Prolog’s semantics).
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Thank you for writing this, I found it insightful!
It is so quirky it might just work 🙂 I’ll definitely be giving this a go.
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