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Why We Should Rethink the Eight-Hour Workday

I know my energy levels don’t align with a 9-5 day, as I definitely have a few non-ideal hours during that period where I’m running on fumes.  My most effective workday would probably start with email and calls from 7-8, a workout from 8-9:30, in the office 10-12, lunch and a 30 minute power nap, an afternoon full of face-to-face meetings with an afternoon snack break around 3.  I’d leave the office about 5:30 for happy hour and dinner, which is still a great time to be discussing work if it’s with coworkers, and be home by 7:30.  It sounds like a long day, but with breaks woven in and recharge time built into the day, it’s pretty optimal for me.  Lifehacker explores some of the reasoning and history behind our traditional 8-hour day and why it might not make sense anymore:

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Why We Should Rethink the Eight-Hour Workday.

 

A Small Organization Might Better Advance Your Career

Malcolm Gladwell is always full of interesting ideas, and this one is based on a study of colleges but could apply to any organization (like your employer).  He proposes that since we compare ourselves to those around us, we are more easily demoralized in a big place where many more people will be over-achievers (statistically, of course – this is Gladwell).  A good argument for a small team within a big org, or a small unknown startup vs a big well-known multinational, at least at a stage in your career where you are building your confidence.

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Malcolm Gladwell’s David And Goliath – Business Insider.

To grab this book for Kindle:

Pondering the Westward view

Sitting on the vacant second floor near the office’s west-facing windows in a rare moment of reflection during what is normally a hectic and nonstop workday, I am noticing for the first time what’s actually outside these walls. Across the street is a millwork facility, and behind it a new parking garage built for the Starbucks HQ that I’d never noticed before today. Behind that is the Burlington Northern rail yard and the northernmost reaches of Elliot Bay Harbor where the massive cargo cranes tirelessly juggle shipping containers like a never-ending Lego kit. One such container rolls by in the foreground atop an 18-wheeler’s specially-fitted trailer, the driver snaking his way through the orange cones and steel road plates littered down South 1st Avenue, remnants of a perpetual construction project that currently toils a few blocks further south. Across the sky a small private jet slices through the hanging clouds, descending towards Boeing Field’s southbound runway, and not long behind it a cargo transport flight on a longer approach, its silver fuselage glinting in the waning winter sun. It’s a very raw neighborhood, marred by no attempts to mask the purpose of the sprawling warehouses that are its trademark. Even as SoDo has seen some of its industrial tenants be replaced by stylish warehouse condos and shabby-chic loft workspaces this has only peeled back the neighborhood’s skin and exposed the meat and bones of the heavy industry that first made Seattle a boomtown and the blue-collar workforce that quietly keeps the city running despite a culture largely focused on the pleasures of white-collar life.

As one of those white-collar workers I have enjoyed this office’s proximity to the massive physical scale of America’s industrial machine, and as one of the high-tech laborers pushing the country into an era of electronic accomplishments rather than physical ones the honest tangibility of this largely-bygone impotus to America’s previous-century growth has been a valuable source of perspective.

On my last day in this office – the company is relocating to a more modern (and much more tightly-crowded and “efficient”) space near the financial/legal district and Chinatown – I can’t help but wonder what the next century of industrial revolutions will bring and what the littered past of my industry and the ones that come after it will look like to those that follow us. We won’t leave behind vast warehouses, complex machinery, massive infrastructure or huge environmental change. Just digital records, unfinished ideas, and a smattering of office furniture to show for all our efforts to change the world.

A very busy day full of grown-up activities.

Yesterday stood no chance of being an average tuesday anyway, but it really spun into a tsunami that i couldn’t leave you all out of. I spent all day yesterday at the W hotel for a work training, which meant i wore slacks – but no tie, this is still advertising, and i’m still in Seattle – and carried a black computer bag and valet parked, and pretty much felt like a “suit” in the New York sense. There were catered lunches and team happy hours and a raucous private “wine room” with a nine course italian meal and, obvs, all the wine we could imbibe. There were already enough moments of stress, excitement and general wackiness to fill a tuesday scheduled for me that i needn’t have layered any more on. But you know i did. 🙂

I snuck out in between sessions to meet Gloria, my awesome realtor, to sign and initial 30 pages of fine print and write a huge check, placing an offer on a townhouse in Lake Forest Park (north and east of Seattle, one exit closer to the city than my current apt). Then i spent the rest of the day clutching my phone compulsively, daring it to vibrate with a message from Gloria.

An update came about six pm, that the selling agent liked my offer and was going to suggest their client accept it. But the seller was working the polls, which don’t close until nine, and hadn’t seen the offer yet.

At almost eleven, as i was headed home to sit by the phone in more comfortable clothes, my pocket emitted Gloria’s distinctive tune. Two words that i needed to hear: mutual acceptance. There’s still inspections and appraisals and piles of paperwork, but 50% of the battle has been won in my favor. It’s exciting and scary and most of all makes me feel very grown up. 🙂

And it has a two car garage, room for all my toys. 🙂

Habits of Highly Un-effective People

We can only make progress when we’re able to let go of old methods and embrace new ones. While self-examination is great, i find it’s much easier to identify annoying, troublesome or inefficient habits in others and target those habits for extinction. The workplace is an ideal arena in which to expose yourself to the ineffective habits of others, as you spend a large block of time trapped in a confined space together separated only by fabric-covered cardboard sheets and a layer of animal pictures and thumbtacks. Some of the practices i’d like to see swiftly abolished include:

  • Using the bathroom as a conference room.
  • Dialing on speakerphone. (should be punishable by death)
  • Forwarding emails to large groups of people tagged simply “FYI”.
  • Emailing a link to a file or webpage without checking first that the link works.
  • Printing something, to then turn around and fax it.
  • Printing something, then never picking it up off the printer.
  • Printing an entire slide presentation.
  • Printing email.
  • Opening a trouble ticket just to ask a question.

Look around at work today. What could your coworkers do better?

Congestion Is Not Your Friend

I was going to wax poetic about some art today. I found you all some nice photography of crushed junk and industrial-type stuff (very cool), somesoviet architecture interesting Soviet architecture sketches that were never built (but were no doubt effective tools of propaganda – if they had ever built these i would have been impressed) and even some edible art in the form of coffee sculpting (just look at the pictures, it’s totally not in english, or you can try reading the automated translation but it’s so bad i could only laugh/cry).

But then i started thinking about how today’s wednesday, and i only have 3 more dayschalkboard mug after today at this job, and then monday i start as a software tester downstairs (side note: woo hoo!). Now although i haven’t even cracked any of the books i’m supposed to be reading (i’ve been busy, ok? plus it’s been sunny out, and i have t-tops that need to come off regularly!) and i pretty much have zero idea what i’m getting myself into, i have obtained a nifty mug for my future desk and i’m plotting my commute strategy for monday and beyond. So i’m feeling pretty prepared.

So let’s talk traffic. We all know Seattle has issues; i’m not even going to go there. I don’t really mind it – it’s just part of living in an urban area – but then, i’m an off-hours commuter and have always been either a weird-time or weird-route driver, so i’ve never really experienced the joy that will be a 9-5 northend-to-downtown I-5 shuffle. Maybe 6 months from now you’ll mention “traffic” and i’ll shiver uncontrollably and my left eye will twitch.

Anyway, let’s not gripe about it; let’s look at some solutions. Now if you’ve been following along since, oh, the inception of this little digital diatribe, you can expect that my solutions are not going to involve (1) crummy tv news people or (2) listening to AM radio until ‘X’ minutes on the hour but rather will focus on things with batteries, or buttons, or monthly subscriptions to some sort of telco operator.

I’d seen the TrafficGauge a couple years ago, andTraffic Gauge for $50 upfront and $5 a month i could carry around a little PDA-sized gadget with live (4-minute delay) traffic status. Clear spots are good, blinky spots are bad. It also makes you aware of home games in the baseball, basketball, and football areas, although it makes no distinction between Husky and Hawks games, which i thought odd, as they affect traffic in completely different parts of the city. Overall, though, it seems like a nice, self-contained way to peep the slowdowns and pick a bridge. My personal verdict is “no”, however; the last thing i really need is another digital whatzit to fill my pockets and another monthly subscription, and because my real decision will be between I-5 and Hwy 99 and – although they do tout future plans – there is no 99 coverage yet.

TrafficGauge gets its data from the WSDOT, who generously provide it themselves in a snappy webpage that will probably become my new breakfast buddy. This map is super, with little links to the various road cameras and color-coded blockage indications. They’ve got all the major roads on there, plus what little bits of the secondary routes are monitored, and even specialty maps for things like the Canadian border crossing and (something i really like) the estimated travel times between key points on the spiderweb. I’ve noticed lately the WSDOT is putting this travel-time-calculation info to even greater use, erecting new timeframe signs on the freeway in seemingly random (but probably highly discussed in cloistered committee) places. They feel all european and stuff, and appropriate for a high-tech city with a progressive approach to transportion issues (you can feel free to cough “monorail”, “light rail”, “seatac”, or your choice of buzzwords here and snicker disapprovingly. it’s ok, we all do it).

I don’t use this one super often, but i like how condensed and informative it is: the I-90 traveler page hosted by UW. Not only is that elevation-adjusted road graph just neato, but compiling all the pass cams in there, too, makes me just feel all warm and fuzzy, even when the passes are snowy and blowy (blowy ?).

I know what you’re thinking: “I haven’t installed my StompBox in my car yet to check traffic with my new 17″ powerbook whilst in mid-commute! And i’m not cool with a $5/month debenture for a one-function PDA that lumps the approbatable Dawgs and the forgettable Seahawks into the same traffic-affecting category!” I totally agree. That’s why there’s Wiresoft‘s free WAP traffic reports. It’s the nifty WSDOT color map in a pint-sized (or, depending on your device, teaspoon-sized) WAP version! Punch this in with your thumb – “http://www.wiresoft.net/traffic/seattle/” – and enjoy! Yay! Something else to do with my phone while driving! 🙂

Frantic! But in a good way…

I have an actual letter in my hands, a promotion to the software dev department downstairs; I’ll be an Associate Software Developer in Test as of April 15th. I received and accepted the offer today, and once i train my replacement i can advance down to the 4th floor and be part of the team that’s building the systems i’ve been monitoring for the last 6 months. I’m very excited! Definitely the most significant jump in my career to date, and a chance to finally put my development and coding skills to use (at my day job, at least). That’s right, kids, i’m going to be using that college degree. I mean seriously, how cool is that? Although i will have to stop griping about those student loan payments now, as i’m finally going to be seeing some ROI on that whole higher education deal. Hmm, maybe i should pay the dues that i let lapse on the alumni association, now that i’ll be able to afford it… Anyway, expect me to be pretty much in a dazed shock for the next month or so, then really excited when the news finally reaches the cognitive part of my brain, then totally off the map for a few weeks while i dive into something new and exciting. But don’t worry, I’ll actually have *more* of a social life now that i’ll be a salaried, M-F guy, so keep me on those saturday bbq calendars this summer!

I was already a little wired today. I’ve been up to the shop in Everett every day so far this week, checking on my car, bringing up spare pieces, getting a first-hand tour through all the things i did incorrectly last winter when i built the engine… (that last part is not the highlight of my visit). When i’m not harassing my mechanic team, i’m shopping for, picking up, transporting or otherwise engaged with all the supplementary parts required for the job. I ordered a piston and rings kit today, coming from texas via overnight. Wiseco forged with high-boost rings, overbored by .020 to 87.5mm with a lower (8.5:1) compression. Neato! I also found the perfect to match my sweet new rims, BFG g-Force T/A KDW’s – a high performance tire that still accomplishes wet grip (something important around here, even tho i rarely drive the car if i think the weather’s going to suck), in 245/40-18’s up front and 275/35-18’s in the back. And check how cool the tread pattern is! Cool tread pattern is really the cornerstone of quality tire selection.

Had to buy a few other small things for the car, but thanks to Travis and his connections with the dealership, my new clutch disc was all kinds of a bargain. And one of my mechanics, Johnny, is a very generous guy and offered to sell me the wiring harness i needed for less than he bought it for – and quite a bit less than i would have paid elsewhere – because he bought it for his car and isn’t going to be swapping his right away. So my brand new engine wiring harness is shipping- and tax-free, and has already been delivered. 😉 So things are working out well so far, and despite the giant bill this is all incurring, i’m still really positive about the whole thing. Excited, actually, as my car will finally run like it was supposed to!

I also spent a couple days this week helping Christi try to get her 300z in good running order, as she’s driving to texas on tuesday, and that’s a long way to go on five cylinders! Hopefully we can figure it out and get her motor purring to her (admittedly high) standards before then. Nothing like having a deadline!

So since i’m going to be getting a raise in April, i can start shopping for all those things i couldn’t afford before. Like maybe an iPod that works (although i’ve already been stashing bills in an envelope for that fund, and i’m almost there). Of course, i can pay off a lot of debts, too, which will be great. Or i could just blow it all on gold teeth with spinners. Thoughts?

Big plans for saturday? Yeah, me too.

Just trying to keep myself entertained here… if i accidentally waste some of your time, too, well, bonus for you! Yes, it’s another exciting saturday at work; 12 hours of talking to myself, clicking reload on Gmail and my RSS feeds, and otherwise suffering from social withdrawal. The busy days go by pretty quickly, but busy saturdays are really not that frequent, and since i do this every week i’m at least getting better at finding things to amuse myself.

Sometimes the best way to deal with something is to look at it in a different way. It gets very claustrophobic in here sometimes, in a room saturated with white noise and lacking even reflected sunlight, much less a live window to the rest of the world. As i can’t really leave the building, either, it becomes quite a steel-and-carpet prison. Today i decided to explore my cage and focus not on the walls and key-card doors that hold me in, but on the vantage those 5 floors of cinderblocks provide me over the byways below. As such, i’ve composed a small photo gallery of a sunny saturday afternoon as seen out the (apparently infrequently cleaned) windows of my office building, at least from the vantage points i could negotiate via conference rooms, hallways, and the like. [Edit: Additional photos added to this gallery on later dates, as well.]

I am not always in the mood to approach things so poetically. Sometimes it’s nice just to throw money at your problems and see if that makes them go away. Enter, the GBA. ‘Member, we talked about this last week? Well, ebay is both my deliverance and my defeat… one impulse buy and 7 days later, and i’m holding a blue Game Boy Advanced SP. Used, of course – my powers of rationalization have their limits. My first impressions are that it’s awesome, and that it’s teeny-tiny and so very portable. It’s going to fit right in with the other toys that find themselves crammed in my pockets. A small selection of used games will keep me happy for awhile (notice my classy game case there, too?) and so far it has eased the passing of time quite remarkably today, and will – i predict – earn a permanent spot on my top-ten-things-to-pack for trips of pretty much any length, be they cross-continent or simply to ghetto Albertsons for cookies.

As is nearly always the case, the camera-to-computer data offload produced a few images i’d forgotten about, so here’s a bonus shot from monday the 14th of snow falling out my front door. I was all excited, hoping it marked the beginning of a major weather pattern change. Perhaps it was a Valentines Day present from mother nature? Alas, it was a cruel tease; it melted faster than Micheal Jackson’s nose in a tanning booth. Any affections i may have held for mother nature are completely withdrawn; we are so totally on a break.

Night shift

I’m almost a full day off right now – i’m awake, at work, covering the night shift, when on a normal workday my alarm would be set for about 30 minutes from now. I’m doing ok staying awake, but that doesn’t mean i’m not going to be *really* ready for bed when i get home. I don’t know how i did this in college. Am i really getting that much older, or is it just that i’m out of practice?

Only one more week until i get keys to my new house. (I’m calling it a house, cause even tho it’s technically a duplex and it only has one bedroom, it feels quite a bit like a house on both the inside and out). I talked with one of my coworkers the other day (i honestly don’t remember, the days really blur together when i all i do is sleep, eat and work for 4 days in a row) that lives only a couple blocks from the office, here in Pioneer Square. I have to think he’s crazy. Sure, it’s historic and charming, but i certainly get my fill of the stumbling all-day drunks, the mid-intersection shouting matches and the constant panhandling on my one trip outside the building to Starbucks each day. I’m pretty sure i wouldn’t want to come home to this area, too. And then i found out he pays $1400 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment with an underground garage! Eek! I jokingly told him that’s more than i make in a month…

I should have some great links to give you tonite, er, this morning.. whatever. Or something funny to say… i’ve had the last … (long pause) … (still thinking) … 5 hours talking to no one by myself. But i really can’t remember anything of any consequence; i spent all the concentration i had left for the morning, er, night getting some SQL jobs started and sending out some notification emails like i’m supposed to do on this shift, and after that requirement was met, my brain checked out for the night, er.. day. If you could see how slow i’m typing right now, you’d laugh…!

Last time i checked, Jerry Bruckheimer was not directing my life story

Been a totally productive day of reading comics on Penny Arcade and watching whatever random cinematic enterprises are being broadcast today on TBS. Right now, it’s Austin Powers 2. It’s kind of funny with the sound off… but not totally.

It’s been a stressful weekend, but maybe it’s looking up. For one, i only have 2.5 hrs of work left. And then i get my two days off (instead of the usual three – i covered for someone today). But i thought i was working again tonight – covering half the night shift – but Vince straightened me out when i came in to relieve him this morning – that’s next weekend that i’m pinch hitting for the graveyard team. And i’m (at least so far) not working the extra day shift next sunday, so that’s a 19-hour workday i managed to avoid.

Vince was also nice (and trusting) enough to lend me his key card to get into the building – and so i could leave the NOC to, oh, microwave some cup noodles, use the bathroom, and scavenge in the candy bowl at the front desk. I somehow managed to misplace mine at the end of my shift friday, and have spent the timespan since then stressing about it and getting frustrated with myself for being such a total tool. This dovetailed nicely with the daily stress of work (not so much the doing nothing part, but the always being on edge in case i have to do something part, that is very exhausting) and both of those were easily interwoven into the stress of packing, moving, and paying rent in two places this coming month. And is it just the weather, the time of year, or what, but why is everyone in a bad mood lately? I know we all need a vacation and aren’t going to get one this holiday season (or maybe i’m the only one that’s working thanksgiving, christmas, new year’s, and all the other major holidays this season?) but that’s no excuse for everyone to be mad at *me*. If you need to misdirect your anger somewhere, send those evil thoughts towards politicians or telemarketers, or some other life form without feelings and a soul.

Ugh. Let’s keep the rants short today. My head hurts too much for long, intense sentences. Although pressing my forehead against the cool glass of the monitor cabinet is very soothing… try not to think about the slimy forehead mark i’m leaving on the glass that wasn’t that clean anyway or the extra-intense radiation at this distance hard-boiling my brain…

What i really need a vacation from is drama. Drama everywhere – work, home, friends, bills, career, cars. Last time i checked, Jerry Bruckheimer was not directing my life story, so why all the accelerating climaxes and confounding plot turns? I did not sign up for this! My contract clearly says “romantic comedy” and mentions something about “occasional moments of cheeky seriousness”. Granted, i have not read ahead in the script (boy, wouldn’t that be nice!) but i really don’t see all these loose ends tying up nicely into a happy ending that involves fading light and someplace picturesque. If anything, it’s more like watching a sweater be unraveled, and at the end all you’re left with is a shapeless pile of twisted thread. And believe me, the thread unravels steadily every day, and i think as it flows out one ear it takes pieces of my brain with it.

Just today my theory was proven summarily true, as i found my key card only moments ago on a shelf in the corner, right where i hang my jacket. Where i hang my jacket on weekdays, that is, when i’m sharing this office and all the chairs are used. But on weekends when i’m here alone, i’m lazy and drape my jacket over an empty chair… and thus hadn’t walked by this shelf or seen my laminated face grimacing up from it’s attached keytag since friday afternoon. Instead, i spent saturday evening tearing apart my bedroom, my office, my Pathfinder, the front yard, and small sections of the street with a flashlight and what must have been an appropriate-only-on-halloween-eve fiendish stare only to terminate my search while still fruitless and seek distraction.

Danielle and i found some distraction at Dave T’s halloween party – and found a good excuse to wear our costumes (that she was mostly responsible for assembling – thanx Danielle for sewing all the patches on my coveralls!). We didn’t stay too late, but enjoyed ourselves for a bit before getting me home to bed so i could work this morning.

With the whole DST switch it should have been a little easier to get up at 5.30 am, but noooo… tired stupid me didn’t set any clocks before i went to bed, so i drug myself out of bed and downtown, and was halfway down the block from my parking space when i brandished my phone (to call Vince to come let me in at the front door – remember i am still key-less at this point) and was greeted with a cheerful “Do you wish to update the time?” which apparently is poorly translated from the Finnish phrase for “Haha sucker! You’re an hour early for work! I can see the L on your forehead from Helsinki!”

So across the street from work with a little over an hour to kill, and running on less than 4 hours sleep anyway, Mr Sandman won me over and i crawled into the backseat of my Pathfinder, covered myself in that blanket i keep in the back, warily set an alarm in the phone i wasn’t sure i could trust, and crashed out fully-clothed in a dark downtown street like the bum that i am.