This has been talked about a lot in the last 5–10 years. As the internet enabled the rise of remote work and distributed teams, we started to ask questions about our typical, expected, current ways of working. One specific question has been whether the amount of time for a week should remain as it has for the past century.
As companies in the SaaS and design world asked these questions, some have come to the realization that the maximum amount of time possible does not necessarily equate to the best end results. Sadly, others are still firmly buying into the idea of hustle, of working as many hours as physically possible each week. Simply because investors require a return on their investment and the clock is running (and the investors are not afraid to back teams making competing products).
So what is the best way for a team (small or large) to structure their week?
The answer is it depends.
Dave Martin from Help Scout makes a case for simply keeping things to their 40 hours. And he gives tips for doing just that. And for people in our industry, especially start ups, that’s an important message.
There are too many places putting the pressure on to work up in the range of 60 hours per week. There’s enough research out there now to make a strong argument that this is actually a detrimental approach — you’ll produce worse results rather accomplishing more. Even if some teams achieve success over the short term, our businesses should support us living a successful life, so we must measure the different approaches over the long term.
Mikael Cho from Crew takes it further and says that it’s time to get rid of the 40 hour work week. The de facto norm is a holdover from another time, when work was structured in different ways with people doing vastly different things. And while I agree with him in a sense, this is not the reality for some industries. For knowledge workers, that’s great. For tradespeople, not as much.
Some careers are seasonal; you’ll work more than 40 hours a week in some months, then no work at all for others. And some trades provide services in emergency situations and, as a result, some weeks will end up being longer. As long as it’s not the norm and workers are compensated, this is not necessarily an evil. There is no “one right way” to how we should work.
But for many of us, is the century old practice of putting in a solid 40 hours a good one? The team at Basecamp has experimented in this area and settled into the rhythm of 40 hour work weeks for most of the year, then switch to 4 day work weeks over the summer months (32 hour work week). Other teams have since followed suit and seem to do all right.
In his post, Mikael addresses a few more related points; this discussion is not merely about the total number of hours. If we’re going to consider changes, then we should also answer the question of what hours of each day make the sense. Is 8–4 or 9–5 the best time for everyone? And do they have to be consecutive hours, or does it ok to break your hours into chunks?
My opinion? Well, I certainly value that we’re blessed in this day and age to ask these questions. In most cases, our parents and grandparents were not having this type of discussion.
Overall, I also enjoy the flexibility and freedom provided by my employer, Wildbit. We’re firm on no more than 40 hours, but if you get your best work done in 32 hours and the remaining 8 would just be filler, no one will complain. In fact, I feel more driven to do my best because of the grace I’ve been given to guide my own efforts.
And in my own life, I’ve watched my habits and tendencies as my overall life changed. When our children were 5 and under, our days felt very different than what they feel like today (our youngest is 6). And so having a role that can shift with those needs feels like the best possible option. Exactly what hours of the day I do my best work will change over the season of life.
Hopefully, the nature of work is changing enough that we can adapt.
Tim Harford takes a good look at what makes for the best productive work environment. Surprise — pristine, design focused spaces are not the answer.
He covers some history in this post, including the details of M.I.T.’s infamous Building 20 (also covered in detail in Deep Work) and the Pixar offices under Steve Jobs. Through the piece, Harford is making the case that so many great innovations come from spaces where the worker is in control of the environment. He refers to studies that prove just that:
Haslam and Knight have confirmed what other researchers have long suspected – that lack of control over one’s physical environment is stressful and distracting. But this perspective is in stark contrast to those who see office design as too important to be left to the people who work in offices.
So why has the trend of building elaborate buildings loaded with all the bells and whistles and free beer become a fixture in the Valley? Harford claims we put the emphasis in the incorrect order.
But we’re often guilty of confusing causation here, believing that great architecture underpins the success of great universities, or that Google flourishes because of the vibrancy of the helter skelters and ping pong tables in the Googleplex. A moment’s reflection reminds us that the innovation comes first, and the stunt architecture comes later.
For those of us who work from home, this is a good reminder. We’re in control. We do not have the budget to build a Googleplex, but we do have the ability to shape our space as see best fit. And that is something to be embraced.
Seeking His Presence
Last month, I shared my thoughts on what I see as the primary paradox of the Christian faith. Our faith is a gift, it is God’s work. First and foremost, he seeks us out. He did this with Adam and Eve in the garden and he hasn’t stopped since. And when he seeks us out and calls us, he works in us “to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
But in the Bible we find there’s also a focus on our work. What A.W. Tozer refers to as our “exercising of the gift” in order for it to achieve its purpose. This month, I’d like to focus on defining the end goal of exercising that gift.
I believe that is our seeking of his presence.
From the scriptures
It’s a marvellous truth that the Spirit of God uses different verses to speak to different people in different ways. The following have been pillar verses for me over the years, especially the first two.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 ESV
What a wonderful truth. Not only does faith involve our belief in his existence, but our belief in the idea that God rewards us when we seek him. I’m not preaching the prosperity Gospel here; the reward is not material or monetary. Rather, it’s being able to enter into his presence, to enjoy sweet communion with our Saviour and our Father.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
Psalm 14:2 We see this exact theme repeated in Psalm 53:2 as well.
Interesting point made in the note from the NET on this verse:
Anyone who is wise and seeks God refers to the person who seeks to have a relationship with God by obeying and worshiping him.
Again, the focus of the seeking is relationship. The Psalmist(s) understand this and echo the call often.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
And Jesus spoke often of God’s kingdom and encouraged his audience that seeking it was more important than all our needs in this life, in this fallen world.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
God will take care of our material and physical needs, but our focus should be on him and his ways.
Seek and you will find
The good news in this truth is that if you seek his presence, you will find it. Indeed, the verses above show God’s attitude towards his creation; he keeps a watchful eye out for those who are searching. For something …
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
And when Paul addressed the Areopagus in Athens, he alluded to this truth as well:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’”
This is another marvellous truth. Although we cannot come into the presence of God’s glory without the redeeming work of Christ, God himself is not far off. He is not hidden in some secret place, only available once a person solves the right mystery. He is here, manifest in creation all around us.
Everything hinges on this
My goal here is to share the purpose of this newsletter for 2017. Based on comments of so many of you, this is a struggle. So many of us have a desire to seek his presence, but it gets drowned out in the noise. Or we recognize intellectually that we should desire his presence, but when the opportunity presents itself, we choose to fill our time with other things.
Here are some of the comments shared with me:
When I don't schedule then the spiritual side of things always loses out
Busy-ness … makes the spiritual aspects of life hard
The world constantly battles for my attention and I too easily choose it over the sweetness of my Savior
I struggle taking the time out of my super busy schedule to make room (for spiritual things), when it should be the opposite, that it empowers me and the rest of my life
The cares of life always are ready to crowd out what really matters
All the disciplines of the Christian faith, all the tips & tricks, are for this purpose. At the end of the day, we should want him … the exercise and disciplines are used to increase that desire. And that is the purpose of this newsletter (in 2017 and beyond). And, like knowledge workers who need to make small changes to their daily habits, so too do we children of God.
That will be a big focus for me and my writing in 2017. But before you get to the practical, I find it vital to focus on the end goal first.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
That is how I want the thread of my days to look and feel!
Jesse Day shared this interesting piece on the value of writing things down.
The purpose of writing is not to store facts for later. Well, it can be, if you’re writing down an address or phone number. But the purpose of writing down ideas is to document a thought process. When you go back and read what you wrote before, you are transported back to that experience of thought. You are able to pick up where you left off, and continue whatever journey you had embarked upon.
He makes his case by defining the difference between experience and information and how the latter can help us recall the former. I love this concept, but golly gee, thanks for the added pressure, Jesse!
One of my maybe goals for the year has been journalling. It’s habit that feel by the wayside several years back for me. Sure, I journal my Bible reading. And I have several different types of content piped into my journal. But plain old fashioned writing down the events of my life and how they affect me? Not happening (unless you count this newsletter, which could be considered a journal of a sort — it requires almost daily writing and includes many things that are top of mind for me … but I digress).
I believe in the power and value of keeping a journal. But I struggle to find the time. This post was a good reminder of the value and caused me to consider once again a change here.
I don’t talk much about sports around here. Truth is, I don’t watch much any more. My boys and I will catch some hockey and basketball highlights in the spring. And we play and/or coach basketball in the winter months. But apart from that, I do not play or watch sports at all. With one exception.
NFL football and my Patriots.
Like most Canadians, I grew up watching hockey and cheering on my local team. I’d spend evenings shooting a tennis ball against the wall in our basement while listening to the Canucks game on the radio. This was long before season subscriptions and every game of every major sport being televised. I’d stay up until the 11:40 Late News hoping for a couple of clips from the latest west coast game.
But that all changed in 1994.
I had been running a hockey pool (that’s like fantasy football, but calling it “fantasy” would get you a raised eyebrow or two) with my pals for 3–4 years when a new friend convinced us to try the same thing with the NFL. He’d grown up in Windsor, Ontario and spent his youth watching the Detroit Lions. Our crew had spent our younger years watching the occasional CFL game, but had no exposure to the NFL.
And so I headed into our first fantasy football draft with no clue that sports in my life would change forever.
I spent most of a 7 hour road trip reading a fantasy football magazine. I didn’t know any players, and barely knew the team names. But I ended up drafting Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates from the New England Patriots. I came in first or second in the league, I can’t quite recall. But I knew one thing for sure: the Patriots were my team!
Three years later, they played in the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Brett Favre led Green Bay Packers. But other than that, it wasn’t easy being a Patriots fan. There were some so-so seasons, and some terrible seasons (especially the Pete Carrol years, long before his time with USC and the Seahawks). But that too changed, thanks to the fateful Mo Lewis hit on Bledsoe that put Tom Brady into the role of our starting QB.
And, as the saying goes, the rest was history.
I tell you all that for one reason: although I don’t watch a lot of sports anymore, I can appreciate excellency. And we have the privilege of witnessing the greatest stretch of sustained excellence the world of professional sports has ever known. Sound superfluous? Perhaps, but I believe it to be true.
There have been other dynasties (the Yankees, the Bulls, the Oilers, plus the 49ers, Browns, Steelers, and Cowboys in the NFL), but none have been as consistent as the Patriots. Their run over the last 16 years is unprecedented. 12 division titles, 7 Super Bowl appearances (5 of them wins), 6 straight trips to the AFC championship, and a win/loss record that exceeds all dynasties before them.
That excellence is of course due in large part to two men: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. If you follow the NFL at all, you’re familiar with all of this. And I can understand that many people do not like them. Despise them even. But you cannot deny their excellence.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some other people’s thoughts on this topic.
Michael Silver waxing poetic on the excellence of Brady mid-season
Brady’s comeback vs. the Seahawks in Super Bowler 49 … as exciting as the comeback against the Falcons was because of the historical precedence, I took more satisfaction from the previous victory over the Seahawks. Brady’s numbers against the best defence in football 3 years running were as good as it gets (13 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. After his final throw of the night, a three-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 2:06 remaining, Brady’s passer rating for the quarter was 140.7)!
Not to take anything away from his performance against the Falcons in Super Bowler 51 … I did not realize this while watching, but after 8:31 in the 3rd quarter, Brady was 26 of 33 for 284 yards, 2 TDs, 15 yards rushing, and a 122.7 QB rating. He has Dan Quinn’s number!
I don’t even watch a lot of actual games any more. This year I took in one full regular season Pats game, as well as the playoffs. But the love for my team hasn’t diminished at all. It’s easy to hate on sports … there’s a lot that’s wrong with them, especially at the professional level.
But there’s also a lot that’s right. As I’ve been coaching my son’s grade 4/5 boys basketball team, I’ve been reminded of the good. It’s been a privilege to get to know 10 young guys just getting comfortable with their bodies and what they can do. Their different personalities and how they come to work together. We’ve got a really solid group with natural ability, but it’s their sportsmanship and willingness to dish out the pass as often as drive to the hoop that has impressed me most.
And that’s part of what has impressed me about the Patriots over the years. Their culture starts at the top and everyone buys in. The group works together, even when it means less for themselves (the Patriots are well known for not paying the mega dollars to players, to the point where players from other franchises who desire to win will take a smaller salary to play in New England).
Anyway, as I’ve savored the latest Super Bowl victory, it caused me to ponder how I’ve enjoyed something most sports fans can only imagine. Year after year after year of consistent excellence.
I’m not a big reader of Seth Godin, despite how popular he is. But this post was great. Fair warning: it is a sales pitch at the end.
I love this quote:
Culture defeats strategy, every time.
Mr. Godin makes some great observations that the most important skills in the workplace are the ones that never get any attention. Not in our education, not in hiring practices, and not when recognizing good work. Why?
We underinvest in this training, fearful that these things are innate and can’t be taught.
He’s making the case that most “soft skills” are not innate, but are learned. The problem is that this learning is accidental.
Of course we learn them. We learn them accidentally, by osmosis, by the collisions we have with teachers, parents, bosses and the world. But just because they’re difficult to measure doesn’t mean we can’t improve them, can’t practice them, can’t change.
It’s a much longer read than most of his daily posts, but it’s worth taking 10 minutes to go through his list of skills at the end.