With a title like this, this entry just begs for the list format. On the other hand, I have heard it’s not editorial kosher to make a list of only two items, so I’ll slavishly refrain.

I have found that I am enormously allergic(*) to punch card time clocks or their modern equivalent, time management/accounting software. My reaction is probably beyond what many people would consider reasonable, but I can not and will never work in a job where you punch in and out or otherwise account for every hour of your time insofar that this job has any kind of creative aspect to it. The brain just doesn’t work that way for a creative job. I can’t sit down and concentrate on one subject and expect good ideas to begin arriving. Good ideas come out of one’s subconsciousness once it has been sufficiently “front-loaded” by concentrating for a while. (More in this book.) This idea may appear tomorrow in the shower. It may appear in 5 minutes sitting on the toilet (a lot of my best ideas occur in the bathroom) or while working on something else. The idea of checking your brain in and out in 15 minute blocks is downright moronic. It works for jobs that involves screwing nuts onto bolts. It may even work for adding numbers in columns. However, it does not work for creative problem solving.

(*) As a separate issue I also can’t stand people standing behind me looking over my shoulder while I think/work.

A similar problem is the management idea that “you are not allowed to work on anything else than what we’re paying you for”. If you’re a nuts and bolts worker, this makes sense. If you start working on your own car on company time, it’s pretty clear how this would reduce your effort on the assembly line. On the other hand, this idea is taken too far when company policy stipulates that you are not allowed to write down great ideas for “non-company business” when you are clocking company time. Sure that may take 5 minutes or even 35 minutes, but those 5-35 minutes might not have resulted in any productivity any way. In fact it might have allowed the subconsciousness to come up with a solution for the company problem. Indeed, if I’m not allowed to think about anything else on company time, I will make sure not to think about company matters outside of company time. This is a loss for the company since a creative brain works around the clock. Forsooth(**), overall, I think everybody losses on that arrangement.

(**) I haven’t said “Forsooth” in a while, so there it is again, ha!

Overall, using the time clock and billable hours is a really bad idea for creative problems. They are at best a poor solution to the problem of being unable to estimate just how long it takes to solve a problem which involves unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Frankly, I think the reason companies use time-tracking for creative workers is simply due to a one-size-fits-all or everybody-fit-the-software(***) policy. The optimal solution would be to charge per piece or simply pay a retainer.

(***) Have you noticed why managers always schedule meetings in 15 minute intervals despite the fact that meetings never take exactly 15 minutes? The answer: time-management software!

Originally posted 2010-10-18 12:19:12.