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Posted on: Friday, 07 May 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Have you ever seen folks who admire other folks for their work, their focus and their commitment and wonder why they don't have any of it?

Have you ever seen companies who like to give examples of other companies that are hugely effective and wonder why they themselves are not as effective?

Have you ever seen vice-presidents, directors, managers and team leads talk about how some team in a different company that they knew built an amazing service in three weeks and how their team takes too much time or is never able to get anything done?

Word of advice:

Whenever you see the discussion of this sort, the person who starts a discussion is probably the reason you, your team or your organization is ineffective.

No, I don't mean that the person who starts this conversation is necessarily a bad human being, stupid, evil or any of that.

Maybe he is just a nice manager, trying to get his team to do more and make them as effective as the 'other team' he has seen somewhere else. Maybe he is getting bogged down by other nice managers above him who are trying to get the team to do more and make them as effective as the 'other team' they saw somewhere else. Maybe he is just getting bogged down by a nasty client.

But then, having said that, the fact remains that he is in-fact making the team ineffective.

Chances are, that this gentle-man who started the discussion in the first place, is making the team ineffective by pushing them and making them work harder. I have personally witnessed managers taking great pride in discovering the fact that their teams are staying late to get things done. David Heinemeier Hansson from 37Signals has excellent advice regarding the topic of staying focused and getting things done, when he is asked a question at a conference

Question: I am in front of my computer ten to fourteen hours a day. I am supposed to be writing code. But I find that, I spend a lot of time getting distracted, surfing the web, trying to keep up with rails. Did you have any similar problems? What advice can you give to developers to keep on track and what motivated you to crank down and crank out a product?

Answer: I think the problem is you are trying to work fourteen hours a day. Who the hell gets anything productive done for fourteen hours a day? Try working five hours a day.

If you only have five hours a day to spend on something, you'd focus your time a lot better.

We've just gone down to four day work weeks. We are trying to work just eight hours a day. The amount of productive time I get out of that... two hours... three hours? I think people are just not willing to accept the fact that you can't, in a creative endeavor as programming, work for fourteen hours a day. It's ridiculous!

If you could just get three great hours in per day, you would get a ton more done.

To be honest, as a developer, I have been guilty of this too. If you are managing me, all you have to do is tell me that the sky is falling and we 'really-really-really' need something by this weekend and chances are you will find me rip off my shirt, move to my super-hero uniform and jump right out of window flying in my funny super-man underpants.

We as programmers, even the best of us, are sometimes just as guilty as our managers, when it comes to nurturing the belief that if you are pressured to close fifteen non-critical bugs by merely announcing to you that they are critical and that they have to be done today, you will actually end up staying all night and closing every single one of those bugs the very same day.

The next time the sky is falling try working less for a change. Get in just about three to five hours of focused work a day and keep opening the IDE every single day. Next time when you get an email in the middle of the night make your own judgment call on if the issue is really critical or if it can wait till tomorrow. If it can wait till tomorrow, logout.

Work less, stay focused and if you find yourself moving into a constant firefighting mode for fifteen hours a day and you cannot get shit done, learn how to say no, logout and get some sleep. The same applies for your team if you happen to be leading one.

Maybe you, your manager and your organization is trying too hard.

Slow down.

Chances are that you will be much more creative, much more innovative and much more productive.

I wish you good luck.