Workin’ 9 to 5? [Weekly Head Voices #28]

(This post touches on one noteworthy good news tidbit from my last week, then secretly waxes nostalgic over Dolly Parton, showcases some cheeky parkour and then, after complaining about my overloaded schedule, raises backyard sociological questions as to the most suitable work approach: Time-driven 9 to 5 or output-driven? Oh yes, its WHV Nerd Index is a reassuring 0/5, so it’s safe for everyone!)

I couldn’t come up with a catchy title involving Dolly, so you’re going to have to make do with what I have.  When I say Dolly, I’m not referring to the cloned sheep, but to her Country singer namesake Dolly Parton.  Google seems to think that Dolly Parton (3 million hits) is more famous than Dolly the cloned sheep (1.25 million hits), so now you know. In any case, Dolly (Parton, for those of you with really short attention spans) once starred in a movie called Nine to Five and, being a famous Country singer, also performed the theme song, called, in a completely unexpected turn of events, 9 to 5. And yes, I do remember seeing the movie more or less when it came out, and I vividly remember Dolly Parton: She was on our television a whole lot, plus that her unique appearance would make it hard not to.

Dolly Parton with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda at the left and right respectively: The leading Nine to Five cast. Those were the days!

Perhaps as a kind of unicorn chaser, or, if you’re secretly a Parton fan, just as an entertaining interlude, I’d like to show you this wonderful YouTube clip of two British parkour gentlemen, who obviously have a great deal of pleasure in their chosen careers:

On the good news front, our Articulated Planar Reformation (APR: remember it, use it, spread it) paper will be presented at IEEE Visualization 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah!  The citation is as follows:

P. Kok, M. Baiker, E.A. Hendriks, F.H. Post, J. Dijkstra, C.W. Löwik, B.P. Lelieveldt, and C.P. Botha, “Articulated Planar Reformation for Change Visualization in Small Animal Imaging,” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2010.

It’s called a citation, because you should cite it. Often. :)

On the being-busy front, I, Captain Obvious, have recently realised that the reason I’m so busy at the moment, probably has to do with the fact that I have perhaps a few too many projects on my list! Looming and very serious deadlines are August 16,  August 27, August 30, September 15, September 16 and October 2.  These include papers and research proposals as well as the development and running of completely new undergrad and postgrad courses. Continuously feeling like a mole that has been tasked with digging a multi-lane highway through a mountain-range, I have been spending some time (not much, don’t worry) thinking about my method of working.  Once again, the most significant optimisation I could employ was minimising interruptions (facebook, twitter, email, damn email!!) and maximising periods of concentrated work. One measure that really helps is using an egg timer, real or virtual. Whilst the egg timer is counting down, you’re not allowed to touch or think about anything else besides the activity you’ve set for those 30 to 45 minutes. Once the timer goes, you have to spend 5 to 10 minutes goofing off, preferably away from the computer. If you sometimes wake up in a daze and notice that you’ve been facebooking away through the pre-lunch half-hour (20 new friends! yay! who are these people?!), the egg timer is for you!

This leads nicely to our final bit of backyard sociology, an issue that recently came up in discussions with my SO, TNR and TPN (see here for abbreviations): Which do you find the most suitable work approach, time-driven or output-driven?

In the time-driven approach, one goes to and leaves work at agreed-upon times, performing work up to some agreed-upon standard. However, when the day or the week ends, work really does too. One leaves the office, and, besides the normal mental after-effects, there is no expectation that one is going to spend time doing more work. In the output-driven approach, there is much less (or no) expectation as to the hours one will spend working.  In fact, in many cases, one is allowed to plan one’s work day as one pleases, even integrating brief stints at the beach if one’s schedule of meetings and other required physical presence so allows. However, one’s work output is measured, in terms of cases handled, papers written, students supervised, products delivered, and so forth. Even in cases where one has not taken any liberties, this often leads to work in the evenings and on the weekends.

Where I work, output-driven is the norm amongst the research staff members. It sounds like a really good deal, as one could in theory do all kinds of neat things in what is normally considered to be work-time.  In practice however, meetings, deadlines and achievement pressure all conspire to complicate capitalising on the perceived perks. In the end, days are full and evenings and weekends too. Mostly this is fine, as the type of work I do mostly overlaps with what I would consider my hobbies in any case and I can get all passionate about most of the projects I’m involved in. Also, the freedom can be exhilarating. Sometimes, however, I wonder what it would be like to leave the office on Friday and completely switch off the work part of my brain. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to spend a whole weekend thinking exclusively thoughts that have to do with family, friends and sun. Perhaps it’s got nothing to do with my job, and everything with my brain.

What do you think, time-driven or output-driven? Start-up people, what do you think about being able to switch off? Time-driven fans, care to chime in? You can let it all hang out in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Workin’ 9 to 5? [Weekly Head Voices #28]”

  1. I’m pretty sure I mentioned the Pomodoro Technique to you this week (, it uses the Egg timer extensively and in synergy with a special egg-ified todo-list. As a plus, it facilitates goofing-around time — and visualizes it! You might want to download the free e-book and read it on your soon-to-be-purchased reading device. When combined with GTD, perhaps this Daily Tomato Squashing (TM) will help you through your daily time anxiety. TNR signing out, Cheers!

    1. TNR!!

      Not this week, but you certainly did mention it some time ago, at which time my fevered old mind probably filtered it out, not recognising the Importance of the Egg Timer! Thank you very much for bringing it here.

  2. Nice! I’d recommend ChromoDoro, an awesome little Pomodoro extension for Chrome ^^ It even looks like a tiny tomato. I combine it with the autofocus system (simplified GTD) for maximum anti-procrastination effectiveness.

    1. You’re a Pomodoro-ninja as well? Respect! :)

      I’m currently just using the gnome timer applet, but I’ll give Chromodoro a shot. I did see it when searching for timers, but the fact that it’s associated with my browser (which I’m sometimes trying to avoid when trying to work) scared me off.

    1. Dear Skaaptjop,

      As always, you arrive with the goods: Philosophical questions that really make one think!

      I do believe that even with your unique kind of “work pressure”, a Pomodoro timer would surely help, even if only due to the ticking sound warning cow-orkers away.

    1. Exactly! Peter K. managed to train mice to operate a miniaturised Nikon SLR, mice which are then able to photograph even smaller animals!

      Next step is to train the mice to train the smaler animals (amoebae for example) to operate even smaller cameras, and so on.

  3. Hey CPB… Interruptions are definitly the biggest time wasters. You probably get a lot of emails. I average around 100/day. If you are using Outlook you get a lot of pop-ups that interrupt you; stuff you don’t need to respond to straight away but often do. Lots of rules help to filter out the “sandwich van” notifications etc. Another technique is to close Outlook completly (depending on meeting and call reminders obviously) and just process emails say 3 times a day. I have a saying: leave a problem long enough and it often solves itself. Someone else might answer the question, or the lazy people might actually work it out for themselves if you stop replying immediately. I also use a to-do list (which must be electronic – paper based lists just change too often). Then target priority tasks into morning and afternoon sessions with email sessions around these, depending on your schedule. I find if I spend 10 minutes planning my day and have some goals, it becomes more productive. But sometimes you just have to say “no”.
    I like the egg timer idea though. I might have to try it.
    Oh and lastly, DON’T neglect your family because of work. This is very, very bad for everyone in your life including yourself.

  4. hi Charl,

    I distinguish creative work, maintenance work, and politics. The creative work is the most important for all of us: entrepreneurs, professors, researchers, you name it. I try to spend most of my day on that. Maintenance is everything from buying envelopes to scheduling meetings to writing responses to blog posts. I try to do this as efficiently as I can. Politics is only important if you work in a (large) organization. I used to spend a third of my time on that, now its practically 0 % since I am a one person company.

    I can do real creative work about 4 hours per day. Usually that happens in the morning. Including the maintenance work I am usually doing something work-reltaed between 9 am and 5 pm, but it has nothing to do with someone telling me to be “at work”, but everything to with my energy levels.

    About switching off; I use GTD to keep me sane and consider non-work activities as integral parts of my life. When I spend time with friends, I am really there. (hey Charl, when is our next session?)

    Below are some sources of inspiration for all you creative friends of Charl.

    Enjoy your work, Stijn

    Jason Fried – 3 min video

    David Allen – 13 min podcast interview

    Steven Pressfield – weekly blog post

    1. Stijn, thank you for this peek into your life!!

      I’ve just subscribed to your weekly view and monthly insight RSS feeds, I’m sorry that I only see these now. They should also appear in the right sidebar of this blog when you update.

      It’s indeed time for a SMC meetup!

  5. My work environment is effectively output driven. With the relevant exceptions, people don’t really care when you work and when you don’t, all that matters is that you get the work done.

    The problem is there’s always more work than there is time, wanting to get *everything* done means working 24/7. Thus I must either get a clear idea of how much output I should deliver in a week (impossible, as so much of the work is smaller interrupt-driven tasks helping out various people – how do you sum that up?), or for sanity just stop working after a certain number of hours.

    Lately I’m focused on reducing the hours I spend in the office. The baseline I’m aiming for is … 10am to 6:30pm. (That’s not what I end up doing though, of course.) Consequently over the last three weeks, I’ve done a lot and all, but so much was distractions from what I was really expected to deliver, that my output is disappointing. *sigh*

    </my jumble of related thoughts>

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