Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What currency is there other than time?

I said something to a coworker yesterday, and it baffled her. In fact, I think it might have lowered her opinion of me. And this thing I said is central to how I operate, so I thought I'd roll it out here and see if I'm just messed up. Probably.

It has to do with laziness. That's a bad word for it, but it's the word I used at the time so I'll stick to it. My basic premise is that every organization needs a certain amount of laziness in it, to improve efficiency. We have this problem at my company where people do the most amount of work possible because they believe that produces the best end result. This leads to sixty hour weeks, fatigue, poor morale and a functional breakdown of the corporate engine. The quality of work suffers, and in the mean time you've wasted an enormous amount of time getting there.

The problem is that we don't value our own time. It doesn't matter that the company doesn't value our time, because it doesn't, but we as workers don't value our time. So if we get a high quality product by working 40 hours, but could be getting a high+1 quality product at 60 hours, people will put in those 20 hours for that +1.

And I won't.

I imagine this will become difficult at some point. It's built into the system. Here's an example: There was an unreasonable amount of design that had to be done for a project over the course of about two weeks. Many jobs going through the system. And, for reasons that are not entirely relevant, they were all going through a single designer. They tried to get some freelancers in here, but for various reasons weren't able to get people up to speed in time, so we only had one designer on the task. And she worked unreasonable hours. Slept two or three hours a night most nights, and over the weekend before the project was due did not sleep at all. That's correct. She stayed up for 48 hours straight to get the task done. This is what we do to people.

So back to laziness. Any rational person faced with that would say "Sorry, it's not going to happen." and things would fall as they would. We're not talking about putting out a fire or triaging patients, here. We're talking about direct mail. No one was going to die. You know what would have happened if we'd been late on that project? We'd pay rush charges on material delivery to the vendor. But that would cost money and, as previously described, our time is free.

I value my time. I don't look for reasons to work extra on a project. I produce good results in the minimum amount of time, with the minimum effort. If I doubled my hours would my results improve? Probably. But I'd be miserable.


At 8:48 AM , Blogger Psychophant said...

That reminds me a lot of Helmuth von Moltke's classification of officers, and how the ideal military officer was the lazy and smart, while the energetic types were a danger.

"According to historical legend, von Moltke divided his entire German officer corps into one of four distinct categories: the mentally dull and the physically lazy, the mentally dull and the physically energetic, the mentally bright and the physically energetic and the mentally bright and the physically lazy.

Those identified as the mentally dull and physically lazy were obviously not on the fast track to promotion to the general staff or anyplace else. Still, there are in life repetitive and unchallenging tasks that need to be performed that members of this sub-group can usefully discharge.

The single most dangerous von Moltke type in any organization, military or civilian, is the mentally dull and physically energetic. Here is found the hapless but tireless individual who, having fouled up three assignments long before lunch, cheerfully searches for new mistakes to make. He requires constant adult supervision and is not a candidate for retention, let alone promotion.

The mentally bright and physically energetic officer was destined not to become a commanding officer of the German General Staff, but instead to be a staff officer. According to military scholar Dennis Showalter, professor of history at Colorado College and visiting professor at West Point and the Air Force Academy, this type is "bright enough to see the fourth side of any three-sided problem ... manifestly smart but with an irresistible inclination to micromanage."

All of this leaves the mentally bright and the physically lazy for promotion to the general staff and a position of ultimate command. Here is the officer who is mentally bright enough to determine exactly what must be done and yet lazy enough to figure out the easiest, least complicated way to do it. By definition, this type does not immerse himself in details. He is able to delegate."

Pity you are not in von Moltke's staff.

At 12:29 PM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

This is my favorite thing ever

At 7:56 AM , Anonymous Matt Drew said...

I think the company does value employee time, and that value is quantifiable - how much each employee is paid. I think the issue is one of management. In my current job, I often work hours such as the ones you described. However, I also get comp time and a lot of leeway on scheduling, as well as bonuses when we do well.

If you're uncompensated for that effort, then your take is absolutely correct - there's no reason to make the additional effort. Plus doing so marks you as someone who values your own time LESS than the company, because what you are doing is, in effect, lowering your pay.

Lazy and smart people are by far the most useful employees, because they become more productive through systemic improvements, rather than blunt effort. If you're in a place that doesn't put a premium on systemic improvements, then you've got a problem. :)

At 8:29 AM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

Matt, this is precisely the problem. People work these hours and make these sacrifices with no real recompense. And there's a strict rule about working 40 hours every week, and eight hours every day. Staying late today doesn't mean you can come in late tomorrow, or ever. Part of that comes from the fact that the owner doesn't trust anyone with flex time.

Anyway. It's a troublesome situation, but I'm a little short on options right now. Something will come of it, eventually.


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