"Happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace." Aristotle
December 14, 2007 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Related AskMe.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:03 AM on December 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

The 4-Hour Workweek. I think he may be the guy who turned down employment offers from Google (an everyday event for the common man).
posted by ersatz at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2007

These are great, particularly the Crunch Mode article. Thanks, backseatpilot, for posting the link in the AskMe.

I read that Bertrand Russell piece yesterday, and I like it immensely, but it's really making me wonder: what's the difference between "work" and "leisure" for me, honestly? He's talking about work = factory, leisure = folk dancing. That's pretty meaningless to me and lots of other (sorry, I hate this phrase) "knowledge workers." For me, work is likely to be lots of hours on the computer, and leisure is likely to be ... lots of hours on the computer. Or, in a best-case scenario, my leisure time is spent working feverishly on a project of my own (writing a story, directing a scene, launching a website, etc).

I do prefer leisure to work. But it's more about the freedom to choose what I work on, not the work itself. I spend much of my leisure time working because it's inherently satisfying. Is this merely a symptom of my sick, internalized, Calvinist ideas about the value of work? Should I start learning how to polka?
posted by ourobouros at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Guide to having a four hour workweek:

Make tons of cash selling a book about how to have a four hour workweek.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2007 [6 favorites]

I guess I should have checked to see where the "via" link went - apologies.

My company has webmail and VPN access for all of us, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. It allows to stay home when we're sick, but more importantly it means that most of my coworkers are essentially on call 24/7. These people have no concept of going home and relaxing, which I find mind-boggling. Of course, from the other point of view, they get annoyed when I don't answer my e-mails at 9 in the evening.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:12 AM on December 14, 2007

In 1908 — almost a century ago — industrial efficiency pioneer Ernst Abbe published in Gessamelte Abhandlungen his conclusions that a reduction in daily work hours from nine to eight resulted in an increase in total daily output. (Nor was he the first to notice this. William Mather had adopted an eight-hour day at the Salford Iron Works in 1893.)

In 1909, Sidney J. Chapman published Hours of Labour, in which he described long-term variation in worker productivity as a function of hours worked per day. His conclusions will be discussed in some detail below.

When Henry Ford famously adopted a 40-hour workweek in 1926, he was bitterly criticized by members of the National Association of Manufacturers. But his experiments, which he'd been conducting for at least 12 years, showed him clearly that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight hours — and the workweek from six days to five days — increased total worker output and reduced production cost. Ford spoke glowingly of the social benefits of a shorter workweek, couched firmly in terms of how increased time for consumption was good for everyone. But the core of his argument was that reduced shift length meant more output.
That's interesting, but I wonder how well the experiment translates from 1900's manufacturing work to computer programming. They require entirely different mental and physical resources. It could be that Game programmers are still productive at 12 or 14 hours of work a day. On the other hand, it might actually be best at just 6 hours a day. I would also bet it differs greatly among individuals.
posted by delmoi at 9:49 AM on December 14, 2007

Thanks for this. I just want to add, everything's a compromise. When is it better to do a lot of things half-assed, verses doing a few things well? Also, even being able to do a few things well, consistently, requires habits. It's pretty much impossible to develop good habits when one is in crunch-mode all the time. PTSD sure, good habits, no.
posted by wobh at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2007

They require entirely different mental and physical resources.

A very salient point--the industrial jobs were repetitive and manual, and the 8-hour/5-day magic combination was based upon that kind of activity. With so many workers now mostly using their brains all day, rather than repetitive physical tasks, I wonder if all of these studies should be repeated. My guess is that the ideal numbers might be different now.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:22 AM on December 14, 2007

...but I wonder how well the experiment translates from 1900's manufacturing work to computer programming. They require entirely different mental and physical resources. It could be that Game programmers are still productive at 12 or 14 hours of work a day.

I would suggest that programmers utilize far more mental resources through the workday than the factory worker of the 1900's did. I would imagine that mental fatigue is a much more serious issue, whether admitted or not. There's a reason the industry is famously caffeine-addicted.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Less work. More play.

I've said it hundred times and it needs to be repeated a hundred more: The one thing in life you can never get more of is time. It's no coincidence that many of the worlds wealthiest and/or happiest people understand this early.

Selling this priceless asset for paper is a fools game. Selling your time for consumable crap is even dumber. Wealth should be measured by time doing what you love not by what you own. The sooner people figure out ways to beat or rig that game the better off they are.

Can everyone in today's global consumer economy do that? Do what I have done? Sadly, no.

See you at the finish line suckers. I'll be the one in the lawn chair sipping Valdobbiadene Prosecco.
posted by tkchrist at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

I work at a game company, and there are programmers here who work very effectively in crunch, and they tend to crunch even when it's not required. Others of us don't, and management is flexible enough to let each programmer work in the way that is most efficient for them. Granted, our "Crunch" normally consists of a whopping 50 hours of work a week with free food, so I'm not sure what other companies do.
posted by JZig at 11:11 AM on December 14, 2007

I wonder if Aristotle was talking about leisure as we think of it, or whether he was talking about the distinction between the activities necessary to support life - providing food, shelter etc - and the activities that one engages in once the necessities are satisfied: contemplation, writing, political activity, etc. Basically, his concept of "lesiure" does involve drinking wine and making out with hotties, but it might involve some things that we wouldn't automatically put under that label.

It's interesting to compare the increasing number of friends I have who devote their free time to non-profits to ancient Greeks who kept farms so that they could participate in the business of the polis.
posted by lbergstr at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2007

Or you could summarize everything I just wrote as "different people have different ideas of fun."
posted by lbergstr at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2007

I would suggest that programmers utilize far more mental resources through the workday than the factory worker of the 1900's did. I would imagine that mental fatigue is a much more serious issue, whether admitted or not.

I doubt it. I mean, I've worked crap jobs, like doing overnight stocking at target or working in a phone center doing polling, and then (when the election was over) telemarketing for a short time, in High School I worked at KFC Those jobs sucked, and the phone center job didn't require any physical activity at all.

Yet, I'd much rather program for 16 hours a day, day after day on interesting projects then work any of those jobs. Certainly it's true that I'd rather work 8 hours then 16, just like it's true that I'd rather work 4 then 8. And obviously you are going to want to spend time with friends and family (which was the problem with ea_spouse).

I don't think "use of mental resources" has anything to do with "mental fatigue." In fact, the opposite is probably true. The most mentally fatiguing work is work that requires just enough brainpower to keep you from daydreaming without giving you something that really engages and excites the mind.

The other mental issue though is the kind of work you're doing. If you're doing something that requires a lot of creativity, then not getting enough sleep will kill you. But if you're doing something that requires only a little creativity, like most debugging (obviously there are some real monster bugs out there) then not having enough sleep won't really kill you.

Well who knows, but I do think programmers working at the turn of this century are much better off then factory workers at the turn of the last.
posted by delmoi at 11:25 AM on December 14, 2007

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I work part-time (21-25 hours/week, generally) and my main ambition in life is to reduce that number to as close to zero as possible.

See also: Quitting The Paint Factory.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:38 AM on December 14, 2007

Regarding the argument about tech workers now...

IMO, part of the problem is that the majority (not all) of IT managers are extremely poor at judging output. 90% of the bosses I've ever had have been extremely poor at judging output between developers. If developer A finishes a project in 1 week and developer 2 finishes in 2 weeks, they tend to assume the second project was twice as complicated. The amount of bugs in the code and how well you get along with your coworkers were much more important than your actual production rate.

To put this in another light:
If on January 1st your boss could lay out all the work you need to accomplish for 2008 and told you once it's complete you can stop showing up (just check in once daily to see if there's any fixes), when do you think you could be done?

(side note to The card cheat: I predict you will reach your main ambition in life by the time you die)
posted by Crash at 12:25 PM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the ol' dirt nap has a way of reducing one's workload...
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:30 PM on December 14, 2007

Brigham Young is supposed to have advocated eight hours' work, eight hours' sleep, and eight hours' recreation. (When I heard this cited in a speech at Brigham Young University, we eight to ten thousand students listening thought it sounded like a pretty nice idea.)
posted by eritain at 2:01 PM on December 14, 2007

The right to be lazy.
posted by nicolin at 2:03 PM on December 14, 2007

I still can't believe that Americans work so many hours and take so little time off. I think most people just don't know how much better off people in the other countries are in this regard... if they did, there'd be a lot of shouting in the street about it.

I think it has to do with insurance in the end; people are so worried about bennies that they'll do almost anything for them. Once you're sucked into that mindset, it's not hard to say yes to working stupid hours and having really short vacations.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:59 PM on December 14, 2007

I'm on a four day, thirty hour week. It's glorious. And if I could shave another day off without damaging my quality of life or that of the business, or my staff, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
posted by Jilder at 6:34 PM on December 14, 2007

posted by heeeraldo at 8:37 PM on December 14, 2007

at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks

If your deadline is two months away, it's not really a deadline yet. 40 hours until you have three weeks left, then 50, 60, 70, hours a week respectively, then 48 hours straight getting it out two days late, because they lied about the real deadline, then sleep for a week.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:10 PM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

From the IDGA article:

"Many of the studies quoted above come out of industrial environments, and it may be argued that the more creative mental work of programmers, artists, and testers is fundamentally different. In fact, it is different , and Colonel Belenky explicitly addresses that:

In contrast to complex mental performance, simple psychomotor performance, physical strength and endurance are unaffected by sleep deprivation.

The ability to do complex mental tasks degrades faster than physical performance does. Among knowledge workers, the productivity loss due to excessive hours may begin sooner and be greater than it is among soldiers, because our work is more affected by mental fatigue. "


"In our study, FDC [artillery Fire Direction Center — ER] teams from the 82nd Airborne division were tested during simulated continuous combat operations lasting 36 hours. Throughout the 36 hours, their ability to accurately derive range, bearing, elevation, and charge was unimpaired. However, after circa 24 hours they … no longer knew where they were relative to friendly and enemy units. They no longer knew what they were firing at. Early in the simulation, when we called for simulated fire on a hospital, etc., the team would check the situation map, appreciate the nature of the target, and refuse the request. Later on in the simulation … they would fire without hesitation regardless of the nature of the target.

At 15 days into the simulation the 4 hour sleep/night battery is firing less than a third of the rounds that the 7 hour sleep/night battery is firing."
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:10 AM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

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