You Don't Work as Hard as You Think You Do

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A recent revelation for me has been that I don’t spend eight hours a day programming. This was a shock. For a long time I was estimating my effort as if I was spending every minute of the work day slinging code. If I estimated a project at forty man-hours, I would figure eight hours a person per day and do the math from there.

The simple truth is that you don’t work on a task for eight hours a day. I’d hazard to say that at best, you can do four.

It is impossible to convince people of this fact.

We like to think of ourselves as hard workers. We take pride in our dedication. How dare anyone suggest we’re giving less than one-hundred percent? Ego gets in the way, even in the best-intentioned of people.

I know you don’t believe me. Thankfully, you don’t have to. Grab yourself a trial version of TimeSnapper, fire it up on a Monday, and forget about it for a week. On Friday, play back your days and see just how much time you spend productively coding. I’ll guess it’s not as much as you thought.

It’s ok to cry. I went into denial when I first saw my results. I tried to convince myself that the recording was wrong, and that I was spending more time writing code than the machine itself had recorded. In the end, the truth set me free. A lot of time goes to meetings, discussions, fire drills, random tasks, email, and the internet. Not to mention task switching.

My absolute maximum task dedication is three or four hours of coding on a single project  a day; and that’s a day without scheduled meetings and few formal interruptions. While a little depressing, this is useful information. When it comes time to estimate development for a new project, I know not to budget eight hours a day.

In the end, knowing where your time goes makes it easier to spend it wisely.

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