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Posted on: Sunday, 31 January 2010 by Rajiv Popat

On a typical day that looks like any other, for anything between three to ten hours, I am an employee.

Most of that time, I spend firefighting.

Fred wants to a discussion regarding his salary, Jack is having a problem with the data-access layer, somewhere the sky is falling. I'm adapting, prioritizing, talking, taking decisions and above all I am reacting to random uncertainty as it rolls my way.

Then there are days at a stretch when I cannot seem to get much done.

Seventeen emails I have not responded to sitting in my inbox. I just missed a status call. Last I checked I was going to get back to Jack in the couple of minutes. It's been two hours since I told him that.

FU@#K!

Then the magical time of the day happens. Usually, this is late evening for me. When the cubical farm is quite. When I am not speeding. When I am not cruising on employee-auto-pilot-reactive-mode. This is when I am not assertive. I am not running around solving problems. I am not in meeting rooms. I am not scribbling things desperately on the whiteboard trying to make a point. This is when I am not ATL+Tabbing between applications.

Late evenings, for me dear reader, are my happy hours.

This is the time, when I set those crazy baby neurons free and let them wander where they feel like wandering. I give these neurons the liberty to fail; even make a fool of myself.

Sometimes, it is a new idea for a blog post. Sometimes, it is a new technology that I am trying to dissect and understand which will later turn into a training session for my team. Sometimes, it's an open source framework I am playing with which I will later release.

Sometimes, it is just a few webcasts or just a few videos containing deeper insights into the human mind. Sometimes it will just be playing with new ideas that will not let go till they become product features or new products.

Put simply, my happy hours are the time when I am working, sometimes even for my organization, but I am doing so without wearing my employee cap. This is when I am going slow. Without trying to prove a point. Without desperately trying to get things done. Not just enjoying, but actually loving, whatever it is that I am working on. This is my disconnect from a system that is designed to turn you into a robot.

I love my happy hours.

Most organizations around the world feel hugely insecure with employees spending happy-hours. I had my share of these organizations until I stumbled upon my current organization, where happy hours were not just acceptable, they were actually encouraged. Today happy hours are an integral part of our leadership.

So much so that every once in a while I find myself giving appraisal feedback to individuals I am promoting: You are way too strongly attached to the organization. You need to detach for a couple of hours, look outside and bring the learning back into the organization. You need your happy-hours.

Its your happy hours that will make you much more valuable as an employee. It is what you learn in these happy hours, that will become your long term investment for your career in your organization. It is your happy hours that will empower you to steer your organization or your team members in directions that they never thought of taking while they were busy fire-fighting or doing what they were told to do.

So the next time you have the outlook window blinking with seven follow up icons, code waiting to be written, problems dying to be solved - ask yourself if you are completely ignoring your happy hours in the midst of blinking meeting reminders, pending email responses and long To-do lists.

The employee mode won't take you far, not even as an employee.

Go ahead. When you get a chance, disconnect and take your happy hours. You will be doing yourself and your organization a favor.

I wish you good luck.