12 June 2009


Came across this great observation in Tom Demarco's book Slack.

The best predictor of how much a knowledge worker will accomplish is not the hours he or she spends, but the days.

The twelve-hour days don’t accomplish any more than the eight-hour days.

I find this to be very true in my own life and career. In fact, I tend to leave the office earlier than anyone else I know... and with all due humility I'll gladly compare my accomplishments and contributions with just about anyone.

Here's the thing - I'm an early bird, and I know my producivity, creativity and overall ability begins to drop off in the late afternoon. If I stick around the office for a few extra hours, the office is getting the least productive part of my day. Plus, it's keeping me from being with my family, which makes me itchy and hurts my morale & motivation. Those extra hours end up being a net loss, not a gain.

So - if you want to get the most out of me, let me leave early. Focus on the days, not the hours. And frankly, I'm writing that as a reminder to myself, as I get ready to head in to a new job in DC. I'm telling myself that not only is it ok to not work long hours... it's better for everyone if I don't.


Anonymous said...

I agree - i had a graduate professor, who was a real rogue for academia, say that the person that worked the longest hours was your most inefficient worker because they could not get their work done in the alloted time. We should all measure the amount of work done - not the time put in.

The Dan Ward said...

Thanks, anonymous (love your quotes!).

I wanted to add that for some jobs (security guard, cashier, etc), being present for a specific amount of time IS the job. But for knowledge workers, it's not about hours. It's about contributions.

Pete said...

The post by Anonymous is contradictory. He/she says we should measure the amount of work done, not the time put in. However he/she measures the amount of time put in to determine the most inefficient worker (more time=less productive) without any regard to amount of work done! Maybe the person putting in more hours is focused and productive for longer periods of time and accomplishes more!

Measuring on work done not hours put in requires you to not judge people based on the long hours they put in.

The Dan Ward said...

@Pete - I suspect our Anon friend was assuming that all the workers produce an equal amount, but some just stay longer. That's probably an incorrect assumption, as you point out.

And I think you nailed it - what matters is what you actually accomplish. The guys who work 12+ hours at the White House (I just watched a show about them the other night) aren't necessarily less productive for having spent that much time each day. They've just honestly got a lot on their plate, and part of their job is to be physically present... (but I suspect there's a certain amount of putting in hours for appearance sake, even there).