Work Less, Get More Done: Analytics For Maximizing Productivity

For three years now I’ve been running a small software business in my spare time.  It has been a very educational experience, especially in showing me that many things we think we know about software, programming, business, and the like are wrong.  This is a bit of a shock, especially for well-worn chestnuts which have intuitive appeal, which we have come to invest with moral significance, and (most importantly, because we all think we’re smart) we’ve believe so self-evidently true as to make investigation a waste of time.

For example: I have come to the conclusion, over the last three years, that working hard is overrated.  This is an idea I have been kicking around for a while, but it was thrown into sharp relief by a blog post entitled The Only Alternative Is To Work Harder, by a gentleman named Paras Chapra over at Wingify.  Paras and I have corresponded over email a few times, so I say as one analytics junkie to another: the notion that working longer hours is correlated to better business results is a pernicious social pathology.

Working Longer Hours Is Not A Competitively Defensible Advantage

For the last five years, I’ve been a Japanese salaryman, and have often worked 70 hour weeks out of a sense of social obligation.  I understand, very well, the social pressures which could lead someone to write “If your nearest competitor or neighbour works X hours, you must work for X+1 hours.”  It is just a terrible strategy.  Your competitor can adopt it as easily as you can, and then you’re playing a game of multiplayer endurance chicken against everyone else in your market.  You can’t win but you can certainly all lose, by ending up with an entire community where soul-crushing hours are normative.  (There are certain tendencies to this among Silicon Valley startups.  Take it from a Japanese salaryman, guys: it is a disease so vicious that in addition to hobbling businesses it damages society itself.  We’re barely beginning to recover from it decades later.)

Why can’t you win?  Well, suppose that longer hours are indeed the key to success and that Paras is willing to work longer hours than 99.9% of the population of India.  I don’t know how many hours that is at the 99.9% level, but call it 82 a week.  He’ll work 82 hours and then find, oh shoot, over a million people are willing to work more.

Working harder is a particularly bad idea for startups because you are likely competing with people with resources which, relative to yours, are infinite.  I compete with several educational publishers who employ tens of thousands.  Paras competes with Google.    Our competitors have more man-hours in a week than we’ll have in the next decade.  Engaging them on those terms is madness.

Why Smart People Keep Falling For This

Working long hours is near the perfect storm of meme spreadability.

It flatters the sensibilities of many religions — Max Weber was putting the Industrial Revolution down to the Protestant Work Ethic a hundred years ago.  It sometimes confuses me that it is so popular with atheist Japanese salaryman and agnostic Silicon Valley founders.  Then again, programmers at most companies work on a schedule designed to maximize the productivity of illiterate 18th century water loom operators, so expecting rationality might be excessively optimistic.

There is also a sense that working less is somehow, you know, cheating or immoral.  Take the reactions to 4 Hour Workweek (which is, incidentally, a tonne of self-promotion and self-help book hucksterism concealing an ounce of solid productivity gold): a lot of people are emotionally invested in the way that they have always done things being the correct, proper, morally acceptable way of doing things.  A lot of my fellow software developers feel the need to work long days because otherwise their customers will see them as lazy, despite the fact that their customers can only perceive the external indicia of the labor rather than the labor itself.  My customers don’t know that I average four hours a week on my business any more than they know I average 70 hours a week on my day job: all they see is the web site.

It is easy to fall into this trap of productivity being defined in terms of observed effort exerted because in the typical face to face organization it is easy to see who is “working hard” and very difficult to measure actual productivity.  The manager (and peer employees) always knows who was putting in heroic efforts at 10:00 PM last night.  However, your organization almost certainly doesn’t track productivity in any rational, systematic fashion.

This is a pity, because you can’t improve what you don’t measure.  Web analytics has taught us that our cherished beliefs about web design don’t matter an iota in the face of actual customer behavior.  Customer development has shown us that most of the time we’re spending enormous amounts of resources (including time) on products which will fail for lack of demand.  What is the use in one-upping the competition and spending 83 hours to their 82 when you’re both producing something that no one even wants?

Poor Metrics For Productivity

Of course, if you pick a poor metric and try to optimize for it, bad things happen.  For example, many large Internet publishers put auto-refresh code into their pages to inflate page views.  That adds no lasting business value (although it might succeed in getting a few more scraps from CPM advertisers prior to them abandoning the campaign in favor of models that actually work).

Similarly, my day job used to measure engineering productivity in, essentially, hours.  If I worked 20% more hours in August than I did in July, I was 20% more productive in August.  I remember one of my “very productive” weeks: after sleeping in a hotel because I was not physically capable of commuting home, I got to work and started pulling tickets, then opened the appropriate file and started coding.  I then continued for 90 minutes chasing rabbits before I realized that a) I had started working on a file totally different than the feature being discussed and b) the problem I thought I was fixing was not written in the ticket, anywhere.  I had literally hallucinated the entire request.  I then proceeded to spend the rest of the day committing crash bugs into the trunk, confusing our contractors with instructions that might as well have come from someone abusing drugs, and generally spinning my wheels.

Under the productivity tracking system we had at the time, that was my most productive day ever.  You don’t want to emulate that example.  For more examples of things not to emulate, see the Mythical Man Month.

Good Metrics For Productivity

I sell software online in my business. It is very, very easy to identify the direct driver of business value: selling software.  One conversion is worth $30.  It is even pretty easy to identify contributors to that: working up the funnel, trial signups aren’t worth as much as sales, but given their observed conversion rate 70 cents is a decent estimate.  “Casting to currency” lets you compare the worth of two different things, easily.  An intervention which generates 10 sales is less worthwhile than one which generates 4,000 trial signups (all else equal).

In practice, this works well for tracking productivity, too.  Just assign an arbitrary value to tasks, based on your best guess of how much value they add for the business.  Then, track how long it takes to complete the tasks, and figure out where you’re adding disproportionate amounts of value and where you are spinning your wheels.  Do more of the former, less of the latter.

When in genuine doubt about the value, guess what it would cost to have somebody else do it for you.

The Pseudo-Wage

When I started my business I thought it would be amazing if I eventually earned $100 per hour working on it.  (This is a princely sum for 20-something programmers in Japan.)  Its funny, people generally get very good with practical experiences of the mathematical properties of averages in school and then totally forget about that experience in business.  If you want a 92 average, you’d better not routinely get 60s on your homework.  If you want to earn $100 an hour, you’d better not busy yourself with $5 an hour tasks.

Examples:

  • How much is mailing a CD worth?  Like many software developers, I offer CDs of my software.  The primary purpose is to get the sale from people who would not buy if it were purely virtual.  Thus, my labor in generating CDs is worth however many marginal sales the CD option nets me, plus the marginal revenue from actually paying more for the CD.  If I had A/B tested the option, I’d have a very rigorous notion of how much CDs are worth, but we’ll go with a guess: 25% of sales of the CDs would not have happened but for the CD option, thus a single CD is worth $5 (what I charge) + $7.50 (a marginal $30 sale every 4 CDs) = $12.50.  When you consider that I’d have to do all the burning, enveloping, addressing, licking, and mailing myself (in very small batch sizes), its reasonable to assume that doing CD fulfillment myself would be worth on the order of $50~60 an hour.
  • How much is A/B testing worth?  I generally try for about 5 new A/B tests a month.  If the successful ones combine to a 5% improvement (not infrequent) and you generously assume that takes 10 hours, then over the course of a year I’ll earn over $1,500 from them, for over $150 an hour.

You’re Measuring Productivity.  Now, Improve It

Clearly, this means that instead of licking more stamps I should be writing more A/B tests, right?  Sure, I can lick one stamp and write one A/B test, but my time is my most important and limited business asset, so I have to be sparing with it at the margin.

“But Patrick, that is all well and good, but you still have to mail those CDs!”, I hear you say.  No, I have to make sure the CDs get mailed, which is a distinction with a difference.  No middle American schoolmarm perceives additional value over having my saliva the envelope her software came in.  I have long-since outsourced the actual production and mailing of the CDs to SwiftCD.  They cost me about $6 each and, when I was still typing orders in manually, increased the amount of orders I could fill in an hour from about 4~5 to about  10 (note, again, small batch sizes mean this was dominated by setup-and-teardown time as I lost productivity to friction turning on my computer, opening email, copy/pasting over details, checking them, then turning off the computer and running to work).  That results in a significant increase in my psuedo-wage: after deducting the extra cost of outsourcing versus insourcing, I still make ~$100 an hour versus ~$50 doing everything myself.

Productivity Technique #1: Outsource.

This is the first of three major tactics for improving productivity: outsource anything that your personal presence does not add value to.  Equivalently, outsource anything where the replacement price is less than your desired pseudo-wage.

Remember that outsourcing imposes an overhead cost, and payment is due in your time rather than dollars.  Often, this overhead swamps the actual monetary cost of the project.  This kills many outsourcing development projects, because communicating (detailed, constantly changing) customer requirements consumes an enormous amount of time on the part of both sides.

In my own business, I very rarely outsource development, for this reason.  I also don’t outsource direct interaction with customers, because I feel that as a small business knowing what my customers want is an important differentiator.  Everything else, though, is on the table.

My most important use of outsourcing is getting content written for my website.  My software creates bingo cards, and offering bingo cards in the exact niche a searcher is looking for helps convince them to sign up for the free trial.  For example, if you’re looking for a Halloween bingo activity to play with class, the fact I have one ready to go increases your likelihood of sourcing your immediate and future bingo card needs with me rather than making them yourself or going to a competitor.

I used to write my bingo cards myself, and I’m fairly good at it, but eventually I figured that while it was a worthwhile activity it didn’t really get all that much more worthwhile as a result of me doing it.  Instead, I put out a call on my blog for freelancers, and eventually worked out a mutually rewarding relationship with a highly-educated American teacher.  She bangs out the cards on her own schedule, and once a month I click “Post” on my backend interface and then mail her a check.

The economics of this arrangement are so staggeringly efficient that people tell me I have to be lying about it.  The pages my freelancer writes for me were visited 65,000 times in September, producing roughly $1,300 worth of sales for me through getting people into my various conversion funnels.    I did less than five minutes of work to maintain the freelancing relationship in September.  Do you want to do the math?

There is no possible way for me to achieve results like that merely by lengthening the number of hours I work in a day.  Additionally, because I’m capable of producing like that (via, e.g., leveraging freelancers intelligently in a business process which uses software to make them efficient and then extracts business value out of their labor), there is no need to spend excessively long hours working for the sake of working.

Productivity Technique #2: Automate Your Processes.

Software developers should really spend more of their time creating tools for themselves, but we’re hardly the only vertical this applies to.  One of the best points of an awesome lecture on lean startups is that a startup’s most important product is the process the startup uses to create products.

This idea is so powerful that I say, without a hint of exaggeration, it has changed history.  A huge portion of Japan’s rise to global prominence was a result not of working harder, morning radio exercise routines, of the superiority of wet rice cultivation for creating productive societies (all of these, and more, were explanations advanced by authors on the syllabi for the courses I took in the process of completing my East Asian Studies degree — which will teach you to trust academia).  It was by having a few decades of head-start on process improvement as a science.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that folks have also identified process improvement as a cause of Japan’s economic boom.  However, “Toyota considers it a worthwhile use of time to shave 15 seconds off the construction of an automobile” is so counter-intuitive and unsexy that people reach for the much more obvious, morally correct, visible explanation that Toyota workers work so much harder than GM workers.  This is despite inconvenient facts such as the fact that Toyota can reproduce their productivity advantage in American factories using American workers, and has, repeatedly.  Journalists and management consultants never let facts get in the way of a good narrative.)

Process improvement works for small companies, too!  For example, my use of freelancers rather than myself to write bingo cards is one example of a process improvement, but when I started the process was horrific.  They’d create the word lists (as text files), then have to manually run them through Bingo Card Creator, take screenshots, do manually cropping, etc etc.  This is a lot more efficient than having me do the same steps (their time is cheaper than mine, and I can always find another freelancer but finding a 25th hour in a day is sort of tricky), but there was clearly room for improvement.

I actually outsourced creation of the first improvement: it was a script which, given specially named text files as input, would open up Bingo Card Creator, emulate a user on the keyboard clicking on the particular buttons, and then open up PDF viewer, emulate hitting Print Screen, open up MSPaint, etc etc.  It was a system held together entirely by duct tape, but it worked.  It took me an hour every month to supervise the script and correct unhandled exceptions but it worked.  The productivity of my freelancers immediately increase.  This let them get more work done in less time.  I then bumped up their wages and the resulting more-money, less-busywork combination has kept them sufficiently happy with the arrangement that it has continued without a serious hitch for more than a year now.

(Incidentally, I eventually spent some time and replaced the duct tape.  Remember, it was still taking me an hour a month and I still had access to a computer: clearly, there was room for improvement.  I eventually tightened up the automation, decreasing it from 60 minutes to 40 minutes, then refactored some of the automation and got it down to 30 minutes, then leveraged an unrelated technology change I made and got it down to the current five minutes.  Five minutes isn’t zero minutes, either, so I still have work to do.)

Process improvement takes time.  Consider it an investment in your business’ future, and charge yourself for it.  I outsourced the first draft of that automation and got valuable results for $100.  (Why didn’t I write it myself?  Automating interfaces is Not My Bag, Baby and it would have taken me far more than an hour to do.)  As it is, all the development I’ve ever done on every draft of that system, plus all the handling of freelancers, adds up to less than twenty hours.

Productivity Technique #3: Eliminate Unproductive Uses of Time.

The final technique for maximizing your productivity is eliminating uses of time which do not add business value. We’ve all got them, most of them probably unknown to us because we don’t track our uses of time well.  (I use RescueTime.  If you don’t, install it today and spend some time aggressively categorizing what websites are worthwhile for you to be on.  Consider this a very, very effective process improvement.)

For example, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a bit of an analytics junkie.  RescueTime reported to me that I was spending upwards of 1 hour a day on Google Analytics.  I had an honest conversation with myself on whether I was getting $100 worth of insights every single freaking day out of Google Analytics.  The answer was, no, not really — I was essentially engaged in a nervous habit, opening Analytics and drilling down through a million reports to feel productive when I wasn’t mentally ready to actually be productive.  In particular, I had a few favorite screens I’d check too often — trial downloads per day, for example.

I eventually killed that habit by surfacing that number on my admin dashboard for my website (where I have to go to resolve routine customer service inquiries).  That way, the number flashes by the corner of my eye once every morning as I do productive work.  It is also set so that it gets cached for 24 hours, so that the monkey-brain WoW playing scrolling-numbers-are-dopamine-cast-into-integers side of me can’t get fascinated into sitting on the page and hitting refresh all day.

That sure isn’t going cold turkey, though.  A better example: I used to spend much, much more time on blogging than I do currently.  This is my 447th post to this blog, and I consider the blog one of the main contributors to my business doing as well as it has.  However, over the last three years, I’ve learned something: 90% of the value from the blog is in far less than 10% of the posts.  I’ve always written a mix of long-form, packed essays (you have now suffered through at least one — congratulations!) and shorter articles about more minor topics.  The shorter articles typically take me about an hour to write, whereas this article took me about four.  However, my long essays produce more traffic, more discussion, more links, and better writing (this last one subjective, the others less so) than the shorter articles — and vastly out of proportion to the time invested.  On a links-per-hour scale its better than a hundred to one in favor of the articles, I kid you not.  This has lead me to gradually curtail most of the minor posting to my blog.

You probably have something which could stand elimination in your business.  If you’re using Lean Startup-style processes, you should find out which of your development efforts are being 100% wasted because your customers don’t want what you’re making.  The solution to this is simple: stop that development.  You may spend time on social media when you could be working.  Work more, play when you get home.  (Says the guy who has racked up in excess of 200 hours on Hacker News — I never said I was particularly good at this.)

Maybe you spend time developing social media sites when you could be developing something people would pay for. ( Just kidding, Twitter.)

Well, OK, mostly just kidding.

Worker Smarter, Not Harder.  Then Go Home.

“Working harder” is a poor strategy which your competitors can trivially replicate.  Instead, spend some time measuring what tasks add value to your business and at what imputed wages.  Outsource those tasks which are below your desired imputed wage, automate any task where appropriate, and simply don’t do things which don’t add value.

I generally resist the urge to put a call to action in my blog posts, but just this once: working for the sake of work is a waste of time, resources, and human potential.  Try some of the suggestions from this post and see if you can’t cut a sliver of time off your work week — 15 minutes, an hour, whatever you can do.  If it works out, spend that time doing something which matters to you: read your kid a bedtime story, volunteer for your church, play WoW, whatever.  We should work to live, not live to work, and maximizing what the economists call “leisure” and what I’d rather rebrand as “stuff of lasting importance” should be a major goal for our careers and businesses.

No Responses to “Work Less, Get More Done: Analytics For Maximizing Productivity”

  1. Rich October 4, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Fantastic post. Thanks; I’ve been waiting for it.

    I’m reminded of two things:

    1. Increasing your hourly rate at which you work is better than simply tacking on a cheap hour onto the end of a string of cheap hours.

    2. Time and money are often interchangeable, but while you can always make more money, you can never make more time.

  2. Paras Chopra October 4, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    Hi Patrick, thanks for writing a detailed post which you say is an anti-thesis to my post. I agree to most of your key points here that measuring the output for each unit of effort put in is ultra important and that there can be no real progress without measuring productivity.

    However what I fail to see is that it cannot be an excuse for not working harder. In fact measuring productivity makes you even more motivated to put in more hours as you can (and often do) clearly see that the amount you derive from a business correlates to the hours you put into it. Of course there are gazzilion other factors which determine eventual success such as vision, *rightness* and *smartness* of effort, big competitors like Google, intellect, funding. However, somehow I fail to comprehend why such factors should be considered a case against hard work.

    Regarding your point of “working hard” as a bad strategy because it is easy to copy, that is my point exactly. One may not be subscribing to “working hard” strategy, but that doesn’t guarantee that his competition also doesn’t adopt that stance. Irrespective of his beliefs, competition will work as hard as they can. So you have no other option but to take the best guess (and worst case) and work even harder.

    No doubt your points on outsourcing, automating and delegation are valid and make sense. Good thing about such activities is that they free you from sub-optimal activities such that you can work harder on the stuff that matters. You can make an exponential dent to your chances of success, if you put in *MORE* efforts doing things that really matter.

    Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed your post but I still subscribe to my philosophy of working harder. Of course, one should realize when he is bordering at insanity. Mental and Physical Health first. Work later.

    Regards
    Paras Chopra

    PS: Google being my competitor gives me even more kicks to put in more effort. I know I can never match them in resources, that is why I avoid working average hours which would eventually spiral to not working at all because, hey, I am competing against Google and of course I stand no chance.

  3. Ion October 4, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Very, very good post.

    I’ve always felt this way about work, and thought there were few people who understood the concept… i see you are among them.

  4. Marcin Komorek October 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi,

    I’ve been following your blog for a quite a long time. I like it a lot :)

    I agree with the “work less, get more done” message of this post. Haven’t read “4-Hour Workweek”. Working 4 hours/week seems pretty extreme to me. But 70 hours/week feels pretty much extreme for me too. IT’S A LOT. Working that much must end with burnout in the best case (heart attack in the worst). For me “4 Hour Workday” looks OK. Oh, make it 6 – I like what I do :) And I mean quality work day here, free of distractions and so on. By quality I understand not only “doing things right” but also “doing the right things”. Couldn’t agree more with you. Thanks for reminding, there is always space for improvements :)

    For 9 years I was a salaryman, developing software for a Big International Corporation in its R&D branch in Poland (I was born and live here).
    Some time ago I started my spare-time micro-ISV endeavor. About a year ago I created a time tracking app for iPhone (I wanted to track my time 24/7 so desktop app would not work for me). Developing the app and using it as my own “dog food”, I discovered that the time I spend in my day job vs on my micro-ISV projects was like 4/1.
    Even then, the income ratio was more like 2/1. The satisfaction and fulfillment ratio would be hard to measure ;)
    Now, the income ratio would be like 1/1. Except that I quit my day job in May, this year. Sitting on one of the endless (and often pointless) meetings I just said to myself: “Staying here just doesn’t make sense any more. Just do the math, man. It’s not the best allocation of your time.”. Of course it can all go very bad in our little micro-ISV world, but I think the safety given by a day job is illusional as well.

    Having said that, I’d like to ask you a direct question. I hope you won’t find it rude. Why haven’t you quit your day job yet?
    What stops you from taking the next step – delegating these 70 hour/week to someone else? “Do you want to do the math?” ;)

    All the best,
    Marcin

  5. Patrick October 4, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    >>
    Having said that, I’d like to ask you a direct question. I hope you won’t find it rude. Why haven’t you quit your day job yet?
    >>

    That’s a perfectly reasonable question, Marcin. I will (probably) do it eventually, but there are a few complications to the timing of it: I need a certain level of income stability to avoid failing in my duties to my family, I have a certain sense of social obligation to not leave the day job in a lurch, and there are immigration/visa-related issues to think about.

  6. Dennis Gorelik October 4, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    Patrick, what do you think is the optimal number of hours to work per week?
    Working too much causes burn out and inefficient work.
    Working too little causes too little to be done [even if you are efficient].

  7. Dan October 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm #

    Well written, insightful article- thanks Patrick!

    I contemplate the topic of how to add disproportionate value on a daily basis, and like you suggest I made of list of the most valuable tasks/processes. Beside each one I noted which ones play to my best strengths. It’s a simple way of remembering how to prioritize.

    There’s a great book you should read called E-Myth by Michael Gerber. His central argument is that what’s valuable is the system, not the product being developed. In other words, what’s valuable and proprietary is the WAY THINGS ARE MADE, not what’s actually made. Makes sense, because with strong systems a business could theoretically attack any market niche that fits in its circle of competence.

    Looking forward to more posts, and good luck with your value-add hacks!

    Cheers,

    Dan Hodgins
    Vancouver, Canada

  8. Patrick October 5, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    >>
    Patrick, what do you think is the optimal number of hours to work per week?
    >>

    I think that probably depends on the person. I am personally most productive at about 4 to 6 hours per day. I’d be happy doing that four days a week, with minor incidental tasks on the other days (on the level of checking email or what have you).

  9. Karthick October 5, 2009 at 1:06 am #

    Great post Patrick. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Tim October 5, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    Hi Patrick,

    You say you worked 70 hour weeks out of social obligation in Japan and that it’s a disease. But then you say that process improvement was a big reasons for Japan’s economic success. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me:
    1) If processes are so well improved why do they need to work 70 hour weeks?
    2) How can they not see that working such long hours does not improve on the overall life process?
    3) Does process improvement stop at the door of social/cultural factors?

    Just thought you might be able to shed some more light on this.

    Tim

  11. Ryan October 5, 2009 at 8:42 am #

    I started reading 4-hour workweek looking for the gold nugget that has to be hidden away in there but couldn’t get more than a few dozen pages in because of the self help huckster-ism.

    Anyone seen a good summary of the book or a great “tips for outsourcing” article with practical advice?

  12. Patrick October 5, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    These are very general comments and representative of no particular company I’ve ever worked for:

    1) There is no “need” to work 70 hour weeks. If anything, the process improvement helps to offset the damage to productivity caused by the working culture.

    2) Smart people do stupid things all the time. Japan isn’t alone in the punishing work hours — indeed, by some measures, Americans work more these days. (That is largely a function of labor force composition, actually, but suffice it to say there are many salarymen in America.) When this issue was discussed on Hacker News, more than a few people accused me of being, ahem, a self-delusional slacker, saying that workaholism was a necessary prerequisite for success.

    There’s also the correlation-is-not-causation problem: people (Japanese and otherwise) associate Japan’s rapid economic growth with superhuman hours because, hey look, a) we worked harder than humanly possible and b) we went from warn-torn-basket-case to economic superpower in a generation. QED. This is a lot like the basketball player giving all the credit to his lucky undies.

    3) Suffice it to say there are limits to it. We’re SLOWLY changing the rules of the game.

    I was at a large meeting today where a VP claimed that the schedule for his division was written in the expectation of 0 hours of overtime being worked — that sort of thing would have been UNTHINKABLE at my company even a few years ago. (My employment contract specifies my salary “Under the assumption you work 30 hours of overtime” — which is the polite way to say that the *base* work week is 55 hours and you start counting *real* overtime on top of that. That contract was written only a bit more than two years ago.)

    I can think of any number of American companies which have no-go zones for process improvement. Let me hum a few bars: suppose you found a repeatable way to identify the most productive sales managers, tested it thoroughly, and were thoroughly confident it was correct. You decide to base promotions on the scores it delivers. You fire it against your HR database and, of 200 candidates, it suggests you promote 198 white males. Would your organization follow the data?

  13. Phil October 5, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    Interesting article. I personally totally disagree with Paras. I guess in the simpliest words this resume to “quality over quantity”. Few quality hours of work are far better than lots of poor hours of work. In this sense the best management of “your resources” is to work just up to an optimum quality level. According to this for example if you work more hours per day, you will likely work more tired and that´s probably may mean, with less quality and less motivation*, specially if you do it because you are committed to do it by a rigid work structure. Something totally different happens when you work driven by your own internal motivation.

    There are also a lot of other topics about productivity that correlates to this one. For example “the daydreaming productivity” covered in LH. I Recently read (I don´t know if these were the exact numbers) that most of the google apps/services were developed by engineers using their 20% of free time for private proyects. How nice is that.

    Else, what happens with the creativity, the strategies, etc? the “Hard work” kill them. And they are a key of success, the direction and proyection of your proyect/business, as well as your source of innovation.

    My father is a psychiatrist, unlike most of his fellows, some times he spends a whole night with a patient, others a few hours, but the important thing is that he gets to the root of the patient´s problem. Sure he has a mess with the waiting room :D, but nevertheless, he´s full of patients.
    Hours of work are not the most important, again quality; in this case I would better say that there are “other priorities” rather than the measure of time: to help the patient. In the same line there are other “productivity priorities” than the “work hours” or hard work.

    So when talking about work, talk about quality, creativity, innovation, definition of strategies, planing, etc rather than simply hours of hard work. In other words, the “hours of hard work” are secondary´s*.

  14. kyle mitchell October 5, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    do you find it ironic i read this post while wasting time at work?

  15. Phaoloo October 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    Yes, agree with you we should work smarter, not harder. In a short term, we might consider working hard may get things done. But gradually it kills our productivity and performance and even our healths and our happiness. And will we be happy then? The answer absolutely is a big NO. Thanks for tips.

  16. Forsooth October 6, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Working smarter, not harder is a little easier for smart people to do. Since I can’t be sure that I’m smart, I prefer to keep slugging away, just in case…

  17. Mo Flanagan October 6, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    RescueTime >> Installed

  18. Work Smart - Rodney Brim October 6, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    Lots of people resonate with the work smart phrase, as evidenced by the number of responses to your blog – which is great. I applaud your effort to attempt to move from the concept to specifics. I like the attempt to define it as working on something measureable of something that generates revenue. Sometimes those apply less and less, as the size of the organization increases, especially in terms of knowing what generates revenue.

    I wonder if work smart could be translated into “work efficiently toward the objective of your job role.” Don’t introduce side diversions or chaos or dead-ends or … or invest in others attempts to do the same. Work smart starts sounding like a continuing fine-tuning of being outcome focused and learning as you go. I don’t know that it necessarily is the opposite of work hard. The two seem to have some areas of overlap. Metrics begins to be just one way of knowing if you’re hitting your outcome.

    I’ve been blogging about working smarter the last few months – would enjoy any comments and dialogue – http://www.managepro.com/blog/index.php/category/work-smarter/

    Rodney Brim

  19. Tim October 8, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    Great post.

    My business partner and I have built a sustainable business in a year that is ‘ramen profitable’ – well, actually more like ‘organic vegetarian profitable’.

    We picked a nominal day rate of £400 that we wanted to make from the business. I’m not sure we’re really achieving that but it informed a lot of the ideas of how we would work. We use a VA to deal with our customer service. We could get better at metrics but we’ve struck a decent balance in the mean time.

    We worked very part time, a few busy weeks at the start, a few more busy weeks over the middle and probably a day a week or so here and there. Now we’re at the point where we don’t have to do it part time but we still don’t work mad hours and it is growing.

    By not doing a lot of things we got a chance to work out what the market actually wanted prior to building it, that really helped.

    We also juggled around the business early on to find a different type of customer than the one we’d originally set to serve and made a lot more money in the process. If we’d locked on to our original idea and then worked 80 hour weeks to build the ultimate solution we would have missed our most profitable customer type.

    It really is about playing the game with your head up and looking out for new options.

    I recently read the E-myth Revisited which is all about building a business that you can own rather than building a job. That’s now informing a lot of my decisions about how to build an outsourced product development team that doesn’t suck so I don’t have to write all the code.

    -Tim

  20. Kevin Moore October 8, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Patrick,

    Wow, great post, you’ve seemed to hit the nail on the head for this one.

    I agree with your comments about the 4 Hour work week book also, it generally seemed like one or two good ideas and a lot of fluffery.

    I will continue to work smarter and not harder.

    Keep up the great work.

    Kevin

  21. Joel October 16, 2009 at 5:48 am #

    Great post. I find one of the hardest parts of starting a small business is knowing when to stop working. I don’t think that working is inherently bad, especially if it’s work that you enjoy. But family, relationships, and health always have to come first.

  22. Hari October 21, 2009 at 4:59 am #

    Work as much as you are paid to.

    Never work over office hours for free, otherwise you devalue yourself and then it creates a negative impression should you ever want to have a life or kids and want to cut back your hours to normal office hours.

    If you are paid for every single hour, then it’s up to your boss to justify the extra cost if they want you to work longer hours outside of 9-5.

    Don’t work too hard though, otherwise you will burn out.

    Longevity comes with sustainable moderately paced working, not giving yourself a heart attack at 35.

    Lastly, with regards to IT which I work in, it’s a waste of time to deal with middle to lower layers much when higher level people are so much faster. Companies are now starting to realize that having a team of 6, 4 of which are only 2nd line is a total waste of time and money, when you could have a team of 4 superstars for the same money that can all work faster and get more done in the same time.

    This causes IT to be an ever more closed off ecosystem to new entry as it simply isn’t worth most companys’ time or money to deal with lower to middle level IT folks and have to deal with skills/productivity/churn and upskilling and all sorts of problems associated to it. I actually had yet another experience of this with an ISP I dealt with recently that offered me a job.

  23. Sylvain November 7, 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks a lot for the tip on RescueTime. Looks like exactly what I need.

    I have been following your business adventures for a while now and I have to say it is really interesting . I am sure your site will show up on RescueTime, and not in the “distractions” category.

  24. Ashley Moran November 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    I really appreciate this post. Right now I’m caught up in a mixture of different things. One job is consuming a huge amount of my time, far more than I normally let happen (it’s a rush job I got caught up in). On the other, I _know_ I am not applying certain lean principles than would increase the effective value of time I invest. Some things, however, are unfortunately not easily rectified – I don’t know if it would take more time to convince other people to reduce what I see as waste, than to allow the waste in the short term.

    What you provide here is a simple metric (and derived applications) that will benefit me in both situations. The former situation is unusual for me, but the latter I will probably find myself in time and time again. Thanks for writing.

  25. Rick Falls December 11, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    Hi Patrick,

    Nice insights and very well researched and stated conclusions.

    One thing that I’d add is focusing on what you’re good at and what you enjoy.

    I get bogged down in the mundane things too on occassion. I prefer to do the customer contact to insure that the communication is concise and then I’m fine with outsourcing practically anything that I don’t enjoy.

    I must say you nailed me on #3.

    Being a voracious learner and research junkie myself, It’s amazing how one can tend to drift off into learning something new and interesting on a regular basis, although I’m sure the knowledge will serve a client through me sometime soon.

    The spending time on non selling products is huge as well.

    Thanks again Patrick, good stuff.

    Rick

  26. Liam the Product Creation Guy September 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Fantastic post. One thing to add. I worked in Japan for 6 months as a coder. I did 40 hour weeks, many of my Japanese colleagues did 80 hour weeks.

    The difference a lot of the time though was a lot of my Japanese colleagues were present for 80 hours, but not necessarily working. I’d generally get more done in 40 hours than they would in 80, not because I was smarter or better but because I was more diligent.

    So those extra hours really are counter-productive.

  27. Pete September 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Thanks for the great post. Good advice on maximizing productivity. Work day to day can be extremely difficult. Is the answer to enjoy what you do or do what you enjoy? It’s tough. Thanks for you insight though.

    I stumbled upon this blog like I did yours. Though their insight on work was very meaningful: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/our-house/

    Thanks for the post! I’d love to see more like it.

  28. Pete September 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Whoops! Sorry! Just noticed I posted the wrong post. This is the one I read about work: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/work-wurk-n-adj-or-v-1-effort-directed-to-produce-or-accomplish-something-2-also-known-as-hell/

    -Pete

  29. my life dream December 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi Patrick,

    Sounds like you have learnt a fair bit from 4 hour work week! If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend REWORK by the 93 (is it?) designs guys.

    All the best

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