Why Your Software Developer Needs To Go To Sleep

“Well, you really want your IT guys [or department] to be the kind of guys that don’t have a life or girlfriend. They just sit behind their computers all day and night.”

Um, okay.

Time At Work Does NOT Equal Productive Output

I was sitting on my couch reading the other night (okay, I was playing Madden) when a solution to a software problem we’ve been trying to solve suddenly popped into my head.

We were trying to think of the best way to create a set of CSV files for a partner company to access to track some basic data entry.

While I was sitting there debating whether or not Drew Brees was going to cut it as my new franchise Quarterback, I suddenly realized that we shouldn’t be doing this with a CSV file at all, but rather (and contrary to task instructions) with a member portal.

Does this mean I should just play Madden all day? Unfortunately, no. However, if I hadn’t taken the time to rest and give my mind a break, we would have likely kept going down the road that we were “supposed” to, which wouldn’t have created the best solution for the client or their partners.

24/7 Connection Doesn’t Mean 24/7 Work-Life

This one has been written about in countless articles and books, and is becoming a more popular topic:

The obsession that our culture has with work is having a significant impact on our livelihood, families, and workplace productivity.

Just because we are now connected 24/7 doesn’t mean you should expect to hear back from someone within minutes at 9 pm (or, even 9 am).

Oh, but this issue is urgent?

In the excellent Phoenix Project book, the author says it best:

Something seems wrong in a world where half the e-mail messages sent are urgent. Can everything really be that important?

Most “urgent” issues that come across my desk are only “urgent” in the same sense that makes us pay a little more for overnight shipping.  Just because something is “wanted now” doesn’t mean it’s “urgent.”

Knowledge Workers Should Work Fewer Hours

What ends up happening is that this “developer” (the one with no life) is in front of a computer for 12 or 14 hours a day, but that doesn’t include:

  • The 90-minute lunch
  • The 2 hours spent on forums, Hacker News, Stack Overflow, or (more likely) Facebook
  • The hour-long discussion about whether or not Russia did hack the election

In a famous 1993 study of young violinists, Anders Ericsson found that the best ones all practiced the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each.

He discovered the same pattern among other musicians, writers, chess players, and athletes.

I’ve found this (or a variation where you work for 55 minutes and take a 5-minute break, and then an at least an hour for lunch) is the best form of productivity. Fewer hours, but hours where you work 100% of the hours (no distractions because Aunt Sally lit up Facebook with a new fake news article).

I know, the new credo is that we need to work 80 hours a week, and be connected 24/7 in case “something comes up.”

Companies and countries encourage this mentality (more work means more productivity right?) while completely ignoring everything we scientifically know about productivity and performance.

We never challenge an executive or (really any worker) when they exclaim they’ve “worked 80 hours this week.” We accept them as someone who must be a hard worker and ignore the fact that it likely means quite the opposite.

Instead of worrying about hours in, I’d like to see a work culture that is concerned about the productivity during hours worked.