Skip to main content

Mr. Manager, if you think tea-breaks are a waste of time, you don't understand Productivity

A low intensity siren wails every afternoon at 2.30 PM at a factory near where I live.  I didn't know why, until, out of curiosity,  I asked the watchman of the factory one day.  It was supposed to be a break time of 10 minutes.  The workers could have quick tea, snacks, smokes or just relax for 10 minutes.  Not a long enough time in my opinion.  Further, I learnt that the factory was a scrap steel plant and all work was manual.  The laborers toiled hard for 9 hours a day, with a twenty minute lunch break and a 10 minute tea break.

This made me feel grateful of how lucky I am.  I can have a break at any time, and mostly quite a long one; this is in addition to an hour long lunch break.  Perhaps, this is a privilege of knowledge workers.  Although, along with gratitude, I also feel remorse for some of the IT companies and even some of the teams in my place of employment, where breaks were monitored, and sometimes even frowned upon.  I almost cringe at such attitude.  A company for which I have promised myself I will never work with, tracks employees based on how long they are logged in to their machines!  This is not a call center, you fools!

Now that I am over the burst of emotion, I can try and analyze the situation objectively.  What are managers actually scared of?  That his/her subordinates are slacking off? 
Software engineering is an extremely creative and brain intensive task.  Working 12 hours a day programming will only result in poor code and lots of defects later.  This is like studying, because everything we, the programmers do, is something no one has ever done before; it's a whole new thing we are creating.

Productivity science says that in case of tasks requiring the use of intelligence, a longer than bearable period of focus is actually harmful, both to the task at hand and the person doing it.  A break gives the nerves some time to stretch, relax and consolidate ideas and information.  It happens asynchronously.  I have seen many of the tough problems I face being solved during tea breaks or in the solitude of toilet.  It actually happens!  But our managers, whose sole duty is to calculate productivity in terms of person hours, don't understand this.  They pull up employees in meetings for taking breaks.  I have seen this in my humble work experience.  "You are not here to take breaks, but to work", yelled a manager once.  "This is not a labor job.  So my productivity is not a function of time", I responded.  He was irked because he didn't get it.

So Mr. Manager, this is not a FoxConn factory floor where if I put 14 straight hours I will produce more iPhones than others.  This is a place where I create things from my mind, and my mind is not a factory belt.  The person hours in excel sheet includes the term 'person'.  So please go read some productivity lessons and treat intellectual tasks accordingly.

Mr. Manager, if you think tea-breaks are a waste of time, you don't understand Productivity.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

General AI, Singularity and Elon Musk's fears surrounding it

Elon Musk has been raising concerns around the exponential advent of AI in the past decade, and  boy has it been exponential!  Many companies now have a CAiO (Chief AI Officer) to bridge the gap between the front runners in AI (Google, Microsoft, OpenAI etc.) and themselves.  Many academics don't share Elon's concerns, and even ridicule him for his alarmist views.  The argument the academics provide is that the current stage of AI is a nascent one, and the best General AI is still dumber than a toddler.  They also claim that AI has been useful only in a specialized domains, like Self-Driving cars, playing chess and Go, analyzing heaps of unstructured data and getting insights etc.  So although AI is super useful in a narrow range, something that can drive a car 100 times better than humans is unlikely to produce a piece of Art.  This is correct, looking at the existing AI landscape.  But the academics are missing the far term view, on a range of 200+ years into future.
With A…

International Anthem

Humanity is way better off right now than any other point in history.  Human suffering is at its lowest, economic growth is at all time best, technology is growing at the fastest rate ever, medical tech has more than doubled the average human lifespan in under 150 years; so on and so forth.

Of course not everything is merry, the Earth as a planet is suffering from our activities, moreover there are still wars, famines, dictators and genocides.  There's still a looming threat of nuclear annihilation and the guardians of The Bombs are crazy egomaniacs.

Interestingly, the concept of 'Country' seems to keep people from killing those within it en masse.  The criteria for me loving another person as a fellow 'Countryman' is quite quaint as well; he or she just has to be born in the same enclosed geographical area as me!  I automatically will be somehow related to that person under the flag of my country.  This sometimes results in Nationalism, which has worked quite wel…

Ola and Uber - An Experience

I have been using either Ola or Uber for my daily commute to work for the past few months.  I had a conversation with Drivers quite regularly, ranging from Politics to Movies.  I became interested in how their experience with Ola or Uber was like and how they felt about their customers.  They shared some funny and some scary incidents.

Some points that were repeated way often:

1.  Ola's business model does not help drivers, almost to the point of being predatory.
2.  Ola passengers (yep, us) are quite rude and demanding.  Uber's passengers are relatively more accommodating and polite.
3.  Ola's app is unstable, clunky and crash prone.
4.  Uber's initial plans for drivers were awesome, not anymore.  Less payout nowadays, but still better than Ola's (Uber suffered $780 million Losses this FY)
5.  Uber's app is super accurate and robust.
6.  Passengers don't understand the concept of Uber Pool/Ola share.  They just look at the low price, but don't grasp…