Eight Hour Burn

For the manager who thinks FortyHourWeek is a cop out, try this on for size:

To work 80 hours in a week, programmers have to pace themselves. Programmers just can't maintain diamond-hard focus for that long. So, the question for long-hour-workers is, how much less than total concentration do I have to sustain so I can stay at work for 80 hours in a week?

There's another side to the question. How totally would you have to focus before you were obviously good for absolutely nothing come five o'clock? What if you only had to maintain your energy for five days and then you got two days of rest, how much harder could you focus? Don't surf, don't email, don't read the newspaper, don't go to boring meetings.

For the truly brave, work that hard Monday and Tuesday, spend Wednesday on work-related goofing off, then focus for Thursday and Friday. How much more intense could you be if you focused four days out of seven?


If you can even reliably create that diamond-hard focus at 9am every day on demand, I salute you. I can't. Many of the people on MentalStateCalledFlow seem to think it's tricky to get into too.

I'll happily accept that half of the hours in an eighty-hour week are wasted. The trick is knowing which half

-- the half spent at work, obviously


One of the benefits of Extreme Programming for our little group, once we fully implemented it, was that we typically followed the five day pattern above of 2 on, 1 goof, 2 on, weekend. The MentalStateCalledFlow is made dramatically easier by ongoing requirements, pair programming, and solid, continuous progress. -- JeffBay


I can't stay focused and productive for more than about five or six hours per day. After that, my brain is fried and I need a few hours of recreation and sleep before I can work again. It's not a matter of losing interest or getting distracted; I just become a stupid, incompetent person. For me, an EightHourBurn is too much, and I can't do more than about 30 good hours of work per week. I like to think that I am intensely focused and that I get more done than the average person does per hour and burn out faster, but maybe I'm just weak.

In any event, I've decided to avoid full-time employment. If someone is going to require eight hours of work from me per day, I have to work ten or twelve hours a day to be comfortable claiming eight hours of productive work. I've done sixty-hour weeks for the past ten years, but I'm not doing them any more.

I am not comfortable charging for "goofing-off" time, even if it is necessary for a SustainablePace. The weird thing is that managers would actually be happier if I just went ahead and charged for eight hours a day, even if I am not putting in that full amount of time. But I don't want to participate in that fictional state of affairs, especially when I am required to affix my signature to time logs.

It is better for both me and for my employers if I just stop working when I get tired. I have more free time and they don't have to pay me for unproductive hours. I hope that makes everyone happy.

What you say seems logical, I'm just not sure that logic is the right tool for the job here. ;)


The whole problem is a result of this bad management logic where they think that a time-clock is an accurate measurement of payment for work done. It's resultant from either a manager that can not comprehend what programmers do, or a manager that is too far detached from the daily work of the peons.

The result is that some people finish their work in 5 hours, 3 hours, or 7 hours, and then goof off the rest of the day. I know a place where one group was in charge of accounting over 12 units of production, and my friend was in charge of 100s of units. The other group would be on facebook all day and wonder how my friend could manage. It's simply the fact that my friend actually used all 8 hours in a day.

That's what results from measuring pay by a time-clock.
See also MyMindKeepsWandering, PeopleWare, PlayHurt

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