8 hours a day: a good idea that works

When the wife of an Electronic Arts employee blew the whistle on the whole gaming industry, with its institutionalized 'crunch mode' scheduling, folks started paying more attention to whether enforced overtime leads to actual productivity. No surprise-- it doesn't! Buggier code, and less of it, when you factor in the following recovery weeks (and sometimes even when you don't.)

In his excellent Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work, Evan Robinson gives us not only the usual cautionary tales, but a historical overview and an abudance of references to research in the field. I hadn't realized that productivity studies had established an 8 hour workday back in the early 1900's, with a clear drop in output shown at 9 hours per day. Ford gets the credit for adopting the 40-hour work week, but that's all water under the bridge-- studies continued up through the 1960's and extolled the benefits of the 'reduced' work week.

In my own experience, I get about 4 solid hours of creative productivity a day, hours in which I can write prose, reports, or code, can learn new things, and can generally function at peak. I get another 1 - 2 hours doing things that require less thought, like keeping up on social and business correspondence, or posting blog entries such as this one. I hear similar things from other folks in IT, web design, and similar fields. I think that one reason so many meetings exist in the typical office culture is that people can't sustain an 8-hour creative work day. The standards of the assembly line and the paper-pushing world may simply be unrealistic in this context. Yet one "lesson" from Evan's point of view is that in every industry studied to this point, an 8-hour day was the most productive. Why would we be different? Good question-- maybe we aren't.

One of the gems discussed is the importance of SLEEP, and the studies showing the real impairment of people who aren't getting enough of it. Apparently being awake for 21+ hours puts most people in a state where their driving abilities are comparable to folks over the legal BAC limit for drunk driving. Artillery crews will fire unhesitatingly on friendly targets or off-limits targets such as hospitals. Of course, people in the studies report feeling only slightly impaired, and 'knew' they were still doing 'okay'. Riiiight. To quote the article:

It's ironic. Most software companies will fire an employee who routinely shows up drunk for work. But they don't think twice about putting the fate of this year's silver bullet project into the hands of people who are impaired to the point of legal drunkenness due to lack of sleep. In fact, they will demand that these people work to the point of legal impairment as a condition of continued employment.

Give 'em heck, Evan!


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