Once Upon a Time in Work Harder Land

Wow! It looks like you are really working hard. Can you prove it?

Gee, Bob. I see you’ve been working hard lately.

Once upon a time there were two network engineers who maintained an IT department spreadsheet of tasks for network expansion, maintenance, troubleshooting, auditing, etc. IT managers would add tasks to be prioritized, then each network engineer would add their name next to the work as they claimed it. Later on, they would add a timestamp of when it was completed.

It was an efficient, low-tech solution in a high-tech department which in and of itself deserves an article or two, but back to the story…

Network Engineer A, whom we will call ‘Alice’, would come in at 8:30am and leave at 5:30pm Monday through Friday, barring emergencies. Network Engineer B, we’ll call ‘Bob’, would come in at 10am but stay until 8 or 9pm most weekday nights. He would also log an additional 4 to 8 hours between most Saturdays and Sundays.

If you never looked at the spreadsheet — and most people had no need to — you would swear blind that Bob was the hardest working person in the company. By comparison, Alice was a slacker who was obviously just punching the clock and cruising from payday to payday. In fact, this was the general opinion of the rank and file who watched them come and go every day. Bob’s dedication to his work was the stuff of legend.

“Did you hear that Bob worked all night last night?”

“Bob is amazing. I never see him leave even when I stay late.”

Obviously Bob is the kind of employee that managers dream of. The trouble was, according to the spreadsheet, you could see that Alice was claiming and completing three times more tasks than Bob and many of the tasks were much more complicated and took longer to complete. So how could this be? Was Alice sneaking in to work after hours without logging her time? Was she claiming work that she was really asking Bob to do? Was she logging into the network from home in her pajamas to complete tasks that didn’t require physical hardware changes?

Alice was working harder in ways that didn’t require her to be present for 60 hours a week. By combining tasks that were related or on the same systems, she could plan her time on each system to avoid waiting around for servers to reboot or for someone else to complete a prerequisite. It did mean that some tasks had to wait until later, but the overall result was that a lot more work was completed in significantly less time.

Bob, on the other hand, was racking up heroic hours but spent a lot of time waiting around or going back to the same system several times a day as he came up to the next open task in the list. He didn’t plan his time, he didn’t think about what he was doing and used his waiting time to chat with people in desks near where he was working. He was a popular guy.

For him, working hard meant staying later than everyone else and logging weekend hours. Somehow he forgot that the point of working is to get something done.

To the surprise of almost everyone except the IT Director and Alice, Bob was eventually let go and the company lived happily ever after.

No matter your job title, ask yourself if your hard work qualifies as smart work. If you are a manager, don’t be fooled by long work hours. Hanging out isn’t a skill, efficient time management is.