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By Jack Ganssle

40 Hour Weeks

Published 7/30/2007

According to http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/careers/bal-cho0730,0,4394284.column people waste 20% of their workdays, spending some 1.7 hours a day doing non-work activities like socializing and surfing the net for personal reasons.

I can't find the source data so can only speculate about the nature of the survey, but it's hard to believe that this "problem" is universal. Factory line workers, for instance, have a rigidly-controlled schedule that allows for little wasted time. Presumably the study pertains only to office workers who do retain some control of their time.

What about for engineers? Fred Brooks (The Mythical Man-Month) claims the average software developer is only 55% utilized on a project. The rest of the day is consumed with meetings about the new health-care program, supporting other projects, performance reviews, and all the annoying but necessary trivia of life in a corporation. Brooks makes no statements about how much time software folks waste, though.

One could make a pretty good argument that a certain amount of wasted time is healthy. Socializing is the grease of human interaction, and hardware/software development is indeed a very human activity requiring a sort of cooperation that can be more intimate than found a lot of other relationships. Take away the grease and the friction will cause teams to implode.

Developers do have a certain amount of forced wasted time - like waiting for builds (http://embedded.com/pollArchive/showPoll.jhtml?surveyno=234001002). A two minute compile is too little time to use productively, so we kill time checking email, Slashdot, googling moron celebrities and the like (http://embedded.com/pollArchive/showPoll.jhtml?surveyno=18200001).

More egregious time wasters might include the quintessential three martini two-hour lunch. I learned a long time ago that, for me, one drink at lunch and the afternoon is gone. Toast, as I fight off a nap. But it's been decades since those were common, and even back then they were the province of sales-types, not engineers.

My experience over the years has been that engineers are pretty focused on their work. Sure, there are distractions, legitimate and otherwise. But most of us object to any but the shortest off-topic interruptions.

What's your take? How many hours a week would you consider wasted? Are those going to personal time or to annoying corporate side issues?