Smashing schedules in the mobile age

Truth? Myth? The 8-hour sleep cycle. The 8-hour work day. The 40-hour work week. Most of us have probably seen the recurring tweets, blogs, and articles about the truths and myths behind these industrial traditions. In fact, when I first decided to write about this topic, I was planning to focus on the 8-hour sleep cycle. Until I realized that the 8-hour work day was strongly connected.

So I decided to perform another one of my experiments. In my previous post about spicy rotations, I argued that to keep my projects fresh and to avoid burning out, the key is to “rotate my product-specific Agile teams, just like I rotate my favorite restaurants”. Why not extend that idea beyond my work hours? Why not apply it to my sleep cycle or my entire day? What is my natural work cycle?

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Hi, my name is Jay, and I’m an IBM TRIRIGA information developer at IBM. For two full weeks in April, I relaxed my working, playing, eating, and sleeping schedules to their most “natural” cycles. Even if I felt like playing the Assassin’s Creed IV video game or watching Japanese touge racing videos at night until 3am in the morning, when did I experience my most productive work hours?

What are the truths and myths about sleep?

Sleep! Here are the first two articles that sparked my interest in the concept of “segmented sleep”.

A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep. Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists.

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria. Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

According to Ekirch’s argument, typically individuals slept in two distinct phases, bridged by an intervening period of wakefulness of approximately one hour. People also used this time to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning. This was also a favorite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbors, had sex, or engaged in petty crime.

The human circadian rhythm regulates the human sleep-wake cycle of wakefulness during the day and sleep at night. Ekirch suggests that it is due to the modern use of electric lighting that most modern humans do not practice segmented sleep, which is a concern for some scientists. Superimposed on this basic rhythm is a secondary one of light sleep in the early afternoon and quiet wakefulness in the early morning.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

What are the truths and myths about work?

Work! Next, here are a handful of articles that highlight the connected idea of “integrated work”.

According to the findings, people spend an hour and 14 minutes each work week on social networks, 34 minutes on games and another 27 minutes on personal email. Survey respondents offered different reasons for not working in the office. Almost half (46 percent) said they were unsatisfied at work; 34 percent felt underpaid; and 24 percent cited lack of deadlines or worthwhile incentives. We waste time at work, because we are bored and aren’t fully engaged in our professions. Frankly, it also feels good to connect with each other, learn new and interesting things and play games…

During my first month of graduate school, my strategic communications professor, Ed Grefe, told us that the next time we’re bored at work or don’t feel challenged, we should “just do something.” Research what competitors are up to; connect with clients; look for important trends in the media; or offer to help someone else. Don’t just sit there Googling pictures of cats. Do something.

[Y]ou probably know someone who says they work 60- or 80-hour work weeks. They are probably lying about it. Research shows that those who report 50-80 hour work weeks rarely underestimate their contributions but rather grossly overestimate them…

Here’s another way to look at it: if you are putting in 60-hour work weeks, is it because you could not get the work done in 40 hours or is it because you really have that much work? I know many people whose work in 2 hours surpasses others’ work in 8 hours. Should they be punished for being efficient? Maybe we should get away from bean counting our hours and measure our work on completing tasks. But who’s counting anyway.

Today, everyone is connected all of the time. We’re doing a lot more global business and technology has integrated our personal and professional lives into one life. There is no 40 hour work week now because your company expects you to work continuously because business keeps going on, regardless of the time and location. 81% of U.S. employees check their work email outside of work hours, 59% do it on vacation and 55% do it after 11 pm at night. Last year, Mozy found that employees continue working until around 7:19 pm after they leave the office at 5 pm. 15% of managers even feel like it’s acceptable to call employees after work until 9 pm.

If employees are forced to do work outside of the office, then they should be able to do personal things at the office. In other words, let’s stop forcing people to work at a certain time and location. It’s pointless in this high tech world. Instead of pushing people into the 9 to 5 model because you’ve always had it, create a workplace flexibility program. I know you can’t answer the question “why is there a 9 to 5 workday” because you have no clear explanation or evidence that it has an impact on productivity. In fact, professionals who work from home are more productive reports Gallup and the Harvard Business Review.

“Work,” said Matt Kaplan, Vice President of Products at LogMeIn, ”is no longer a place you go to. Rather, the workplace is defined by the tools you use, wherever you are… There’s a growing understanding that productivity is a very personal thing: What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.”…

Indeed, the rise of mobile technology has brought the very notion of work back to an almost pre-Industrial Revolution paradigm. Before factories rose and blackened city skies across Europe, the cottage industry dominated working life; weaving, spinning, sewing, and smithing were all done at home. In short, the distributed workforce is nothing new, but what is new is the degree to which companies the world over are embracing it.

Early in the 21st century, a few forward-thinking companies began to question the reasoning behind centralized office work. What, they asked, is the value of having everyone in one place when such a thing is no longer necessitated by technology? What was once a trickle became a flood, and now companies large and small are embracing the concept of a mobile, distributed workforce.

Is there a broad and simple way to define this emerging “mobile worker”? Experts are still hammering out the parameters that will help the rest of us identify and quantify this new class of employee. Author Erica Driver offers a definition of a mobile worker as anyone who spends at least 10 hours per week away from his or her main workplace. And the IDC categorizes these workers into three identifiable subgroups:

1. Office-based mobile worker: Someone who spends most of his or her time in a company-provided office, but who also sometimes works at home or in a third place.

2. Non-office-based mobile worker: This worker is in the field, such as a salesperson, or working between buildings on a corporate campus, such as an IT professional. They are more often at someone else’s office than their own.

3. Home-based mobile worker: The former “telecommuter,” this employee spends most of the work week in a home office, but comes into the corporate workplace for meetings or collaborative work sessions.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

What are my natural cycles for sleep and work?

Now that you have the background, here are the results of my two-week experiment. Although my napping and sleeping periods varied widely, sometimes without a nap at all, I found that my “natural” resting cycles segmented about 1.0 to 1.5 hours for mid-afternoon napping and 5.5 to 6.0 hours for late-night sleeping. Interestingly, I averaged about 6.5 to 7.0 hours of total resting per day. Not bad.

Similarly, my work period varied widely, sometimes with an early-morning meeting that required an afternoon nap. In this case, I found that my “natural” working cycle also seemed to be segmented. From about 9am to 3pm, I experienced a “rotating” phase of working then doing something else then working again about every hour. But from about 3pm to 9pm, I felt a more “focussed” phase.

When I think about it, this “segmented work” makes sense. While the first phase tends to be devoted to navigating and dodging through emails, teleconferences, instant messages, and other disruptive waters, the second phase tends to be calmer and smoother for more-peaceful and more-productive sailing. I wonder if this explains my natural tendency to experience evening brainstorms.

Finally, my play periods acted as the glue or filled the gaps as needed between my “segmented work” and “segmented sleep” phases. Again, this makes sense. For instance, if I can’t immediately solve a technical issue, I might take a break to tweet or walk and return with a refreshed outlook. Since playing or exercising is naturally segmented, this daily factor hasn’t changed much, if at all.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

What are my final thoughts?

Speaking of tweets, my social-media activity on Twitter, WordPress, and LinkedIn playfully blurs the boundaries between work and play because it crosses so many of my technological interests within IBM and outside IBM. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s safe to say that each perspective provides tremendous insights about the other. Of course, sharing my insights is an added bonus.

For example, in a previous post, I realized that “my persistent fondness for MadCap Flare is fueling my passion for topic-based authoring outside of IBM”. But guess what? Unexpectedly, this passion is also refueling my enjoyment of Syncro Soft Oxygen XML Author topic-based authoring within IBM. If you haven’t already noticed, these blurred work-play boundaries are recurring themes in my blog.

Although I mentioned earlier that I might occasionally play Assassin’s Creed IV until 3am in the morning, many of you might also be wondering if the video game represents any deeper meaning in my discussion. Yes, it does. Not only does it represent the integration of my play-time imagination and work-time technological interests, but the story itself fuses pre-industrial and high-tech fiction.

If 18th-century seafaring “mobile” merchants didn’t bother with 40-hour work weeks, why should I? :)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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