Tag: productivity (page 1 of 30)

Getting out of a rut

I didn’t send out a Thought Shrapnel newsletter at the end of May as I’d hardly posted here during the month. There was no particular reason I could fathom for this. I guess I just got stuck in a rut of not-writing-here.

As David Cain points out in this post, ruts are often of our own creation and happen when we relate to a ‘dip’ in mood, luck, or progress. Happily,  I’m back posting here and I’m in the opposite of a rut when it comes to exercise!

Ruts can be years long – that near-decade in which you didn’t touch the piano at all — or just a few days – you ordered out Tuesday instead of cooking, did it again Wednesday, and then again Thursday. Whatever the duration, ruts are temporary dips in our apparent ability to do a thing that’s important to us.

What I’ve noticed about my ruts is that they are mostly my own creation. Something external precipitates them, and something internal sustains them. Bad luck and bad weather are unavoidable, but a long rut can begin, and persist, even when the bad weather itself only lasted a day.

My theory is that ruts are what happen when you experience a dip – in mood, in luck, in progress – and you respond to it in a certain very human way: by doing something that makes you more prone to such dips. A simple example is the common sleep-caffeine spiral. You have a bad sleep for some reason (there was a party next door, or you saw a mouse in the cellar) and the next day you feel tired, and when you feel tired you sometimes have an afternoon coffee. This makes you more prone to more bad sleeps, which makes you more prone to afternoon coffees, and so on. You responded to the dip by doing something that creates more dips. All of this feels perfectly natural as it is happening.

Source: The Rut Principle | Raptitude

‘Slack’ and work

I’m composing this having done about 19 paid hours of work this week. I’ve also contributed to Open Source projects, written here, done some housework, parenting, and various other things.

I don’t define myself by paid work. I can’t really even properly tell you what I ‘do’ for a ‘job’, to be honest.

According to Bertrand Russell, this is all well and good. As Andrew Curry notes in this post, we should be aiming for about 60% capacity at any given time. I usually end up averaging between 20 and 25 hours per week, so it looks like I’m doing OK…

Portrait of Bertrand Russell

One of the key parallels that’s useful to draw here is between the idea of working less and ‘slack’. Slack is a difficult concept to pin down, but can exist in forms from queueing theory to buffer states. Working fewer hours than the current default 40-hour week is probably what most people do already, and it is also probably likely to move our slack-meter to a more optimal level.

Running with significant slack is often more efficient than running systems at high capacity. If you’re mathematically minded, Erik Bern simulates this via some code in the queueing theory link above, but G Gordon Worley III…gives a simpler explanation:

If you work with distributed systems, by which I mean any system that must pass information between multiple, tightly integrated subsystems, there is a well understood concept of maximum sustainable load and we know that number to be roughly 60% of maximum possible load for all systems.

This property will hold for basically anything that looks sufficiently like a distributed system. Thus the “operate at 60% capacity” rule of thumb will maximize throughput in lots of scenarios: assembly lines, service-oriented architecture software, coordinated work within any organization, an individual’s work, and perhaps most surprisingly an individual’s mind-body.

“Slack” is a decent way of putting this, but we can be pretty precise and say you need ~40% slack to optimize throughput: more and you tip into being “lazy”, less and you become “overworked”.

Allowing flexibility and time into our systems so that we can sit idle is not an admission of defeat, but instead has the potential to be optimal in many circumstances.

I’m not sure how many working hours a week the dogma “operate at 60% capacity” translates to, but Bertrand Russell thought it might be twenty.

Source:  10 June 2022. Work | Dystopia | Just Two Things

Testing a 4-day work week

I already work what most people would call ‘part-time’, doing no more than 25 paid hours of work per week, on average. I’m glad that employers are experimenting with a shorter workweek (for the same pay) but inevitably one of the metrics will be ‘productivity’ which I think is a ridiculously difficult thing to actually measure…

“After the pandemic, people want a work-life balance,” Joe Ryle, the campaign director for the 4 Day Week Campaign, said in an interview. “They want to be working less.”

More than 3,300 workers in banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality and other industries in Britain are taking part in the pilot, the organizers said. Mr. Ryle said the data would be collected through interviews and staff surveys, and through the measures each company uses to assess its productivity.

“We’ll be analyzing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life,” Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and the lead researcher on the project, said.

Source: Britain Tests a 4-Day Workweek | The New York Times