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How much of your time at work is actually devoted to working?

I will shamefully admit that I waste a pretty significant amount of time at work. I will define "waste" as any clocked-in time that is not directly related to my assigned projects. It's hard for me to say, but I think I would break down my use of work time thus:

  • 65% - full-on work time.
  • 20% - non or partially-related research (reading development articles, stackexchange, etc.)
  • 13% - complete waste (going to the bathroom, walking around, chatting, reading gamefaqs, etc.)
  • 2% - work on other projects (worst offender).

I would posit that some of the wasted time may actually be beneficial. For example, walking around helps me think, chatting helps me relax which in turn helps me code, and a lot of the knowledge I acquire from my research applies directly to my work.

I would also like to point out that management has no problem with either the quality or quantity of my work. In fact, they consider me highly productive.

How would you break down your work time? Do you think my use of time is acceptable, or am I doing something wrong (especially if you are a manager)? What do you think is an acceptable breakdown?

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marked as duplicate by Steve Evers, Mark Trapp Jul 23 '11 at 19:49

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What do you mean by "work on other projects (worst offender)"? Is this working on personal projects using work/company/program/project resources? If it is, not only is that a waste of time, but you might be giving up your rights to that work. –  Thomas Owens Jul 23 '11 at 15:32
"13% - complete waste (going to the bathroom" - how is this a waste of time? –  ChrisF Jul 23 '11 at 15:33
@Thomas Owens yes, you are quite correct. –  Explosion Pills Jul 23 '11 at 15:34
@Job isn't that a little extreme? –  Explosion Pills Jul 23 '11 at 16:27
@tandu: Perhaps, but... My wife and I once owned a software company. One time when we had to travel a lot, some of our projects started slipping. Then one of our employees quit, started his own company, and made a ton of money. I found out later that while we were out of town, he was using his work time we were paying him for, and our computers and resources, to develop his product. I was nicer then - now, his sorry butt would be in court so fast he wouldn't know which end was up. Really, man, don't ever do your own projects at work. –  Bob Murphy Jul 23 '11 at 17:14

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Working on other projects should be avoided for the reason Bob Murphy point out in your question's comments. But 2% is less than 10 minutes in a 8h work day. I prefer that than 10 minutes spent on Facebook.

I think, however, you should deculpabilize yourself about a part of what you qualify complete waste. Going to the bathroom is one requirement of the biological machine you are. Just like eating, drinking and sleeping (recovering).

About recovering, walking around and chatting are IMHO, necessary to that same machine to function properly on the long run. You qualify complete waste what I could qualify legal pauses. 13% is a bit more than 60 minutes: 15 minutes pause every 2 hours of work is quite honest. I personnaly pause 10 minutes every 45 minutes!

Your boss (and yourself) should focus on what is important instead of such details: getting the work done.

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Well, you are in problem solving industry. You are wasting your time if you are staring in my display while don't having idea how to solve something.

Take a break. Have a chit-chat. Call a wife and ask her how she is. Read a blog. Your brain is like your muscles. If you are trying to run 100 meters under, let say, 13 sec and to achieve that goal you are running 100 after 100, not only you won't hit the goal, but you would become even worse. Stop! Relax! Warm up and try it again!

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You are asking the wrong question.

Imagine this scenario: you have two subordinates and you give them identical assignments. The first, Caleb, works all day on the assignment and by six o'clock is almost done. The other, Fabio, checks his email, posts a question on StackOverflow, updates his Facebook page, gets some hints from SO answers, downloads some open-source code, hangs out in the kitchen for a while, modifies the downloaded code, takes a long lunch, and it done with your assignment by three.

Who is the better employee?

I think there's a strong inclination among some people to say Caleb, but why? Fabio certainly got the job done better and sooner. There's a certain Calvanistic (or Stakhanovite) appeal to the image of a self-sacrificing, always-at-his-desk employee. You can claim that Caleb's approach is more repeatable, that Fabio is a slacker who just got lucky once, but I'm suspicious. (Certainly if the contest had turned out the other way, and Fabio retorted that his laid-back style usually works, you'd reject his complaint out of hand.) Often a relaxed and imaginative style does often work better than a nose-to-grindstone, no-nonsense approach.

My only point in all this is, judge a tree by its fruits. How productive are you compared to your colleagues? Compared to your competitors? If you aren't ahead -- way ahead, since most of them aren't even motivated enough to ask the question -- yes, consider how you are working. Are you allowing yourself to be distracted? More importantly, are you allowing your all-important "flow time" to be disrupted, either by Skyping and visits to the coffee machine on the one hand or by staff meetings and reports to your manager on the other? Are you keeping up with your field, so you know the latest and most efficient styles? Are you leveraging the tools available to you? Are you taking enough breaks that you aren't beating your head against obstacles in sheer frustration?

Measure output not input.

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I (and my managers) would rate my output as above average at the very least. I think another very separate question is: is it my behavior at work that helps contribute to my output? I feel that I am really not well managed. Is it my fault that my potential is being wasted, or is my manager to blame (or is this responsibility shared)? Is it my style of work that helps produce my output, or do I behave how I do because I am able to produce as much as I can? –  Explosion Pills Jul 23 '11 at 19:09

Great answers here.

Also going around chatting to people is really useful for your job. I remember reading a study showing that among technical people with otherwise equivalent education, skills, and ability, the most successful were the ones with the biggest professional social network.

Why would this be? Because you make "work friends". Then when you have a problem at work, you won't have to solve it all by yourself. You can go talk with your "buddies", and maybe somebody can help you solve it quicker than you can. In fact, because you've talked with them a lot, you'll probably know who the best person is. And because you're friendly with them, it will get done quicker and more efficiently than if you're some weird stranger pestering them.

Incidentally, I'm with Pierre: as a programmer, you have to take mental breaks. I often use a timer to do 25 minutes of full-on programming, and 5 of something where I get away from my desk. I'm naturally kind of a slob, but when I do that consistently for a week, I have a really tidy office.

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Answer from a Soft.Dev., hobbyst Psychologist with A.D.D.H.: Try to stick to your work.

Anyway, sometimes, developers need to take breaks. Many times, I had a problem that takes 4 hour without solving, go to lunch, and solve it, in 5 minutes.

Sometimes, as many developer I go to stackoverflow / other programming sites to get some answers I do require for my job, and help others.

Avoid any project that is not job-related, and leave it for your personal free time. Sometimes, I make some tools (transform data) that indirectly are required for the job. If you do that, you may want to inform your boss.

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Being active in communities like Stack Exchange isn't necessarily a waste of time. It trains your mind to jump into a problem and solve it quickly and recalls knowledge you otherwise may forget about if you don't need it. You stay in touch with actual developments and technologies that you may later use in your company's projects (happened to me several times). On the long run you will most likely save as much time by becoming a better programmer that way as you loose by reading and answering questions.

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I'm currently greatly enjoying the Pomodoro technique, which makes me incredibly productive, in the sense that I keep working for sometimes 8 or 10 hours straight. But the principle of this technique is to work in short atomic periods of time, the pomodoros, separated by small pauses, with a bigger pause each 4 pauses.With the default times, the cycle is as such


Ultimately, you work approximately 83% of the time. It's a very intense but non-frustrating and non-tiring configuration, so I'd say you're still well in the limits of what constitutes both a good brain hygiene and a productive work ethic with the numbers you describe.

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What do you do during the breaks? –  Explosion Pills Jul 23 '11 at 19:51
There was actually a poll about that on the Pomodoro website a few years ago, I think. It's up to you, but just going to the kitchen, boil some water and making a tea can take almost five minutes, as well as going to the loo. When I stay at my computer, I sometime watch 5 or 15 minutes of a movie (and this way, no part of the movie is boring, that's actually the best way to watch some movies). I also did some juggling, and improved a lot while working very hard... –  Nowhere man Aug 16 '11 at 17:56

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