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Monday, January 23, 2012

Waking Up at 5am to Code: A Response

I recently read a post by Matt Greer titled Waking Up at 5am to code. I’ve been doing something similar for about a year now so I figured I’d post my 2 cents on the matter.

A little background

Quite some time ago I realized that the amount of time I spent working on personal projects had been greatly diminished. I wanted to spend time working on those projects, but during core waking hours my time was tied up with work and family commitments. I needed to spend time at work during the day on week days, I wanted to spend time during the evening and weekends with my family.

Since pretty much all of my waking hours were accounted for I thought I’d try getting up earlier. At first I started getting up at 6:00am. That gave me about an hour or so to get some work done. And it worked well for a while, but life changes and so does the family schedule. As a result I started having to get up even earlier: 5:30am.

Getting up at 5:30am is were I’m at these days. In theory, that gives me a solid 1 1/2 hours to get stuff done in the morning. Reality on the other hand isn’t as optimistic. It usually takes a good 10 minutes for the morning fog to clear. I also have a few small morning chores that need to be done no later than 6:00am. Since I don’t want to interrupt my flow I need to get those done early too; those take an additional 10 minutes. Lastly, in order to make sure everyone is able to get themselves ready and out of the house on time I need to be completely dressed and out of the bathroom (we only have one) by about 7:00am. Figure 15-20 minutes there for the morning routine.

By the time these taxes are paid my gross working time has gone from 1 1/2 hours down to 50-55 minutes. It can be really demotivating to realize that I don’t even have a full hour to get things done. But on the flip side it can also light a fire to make sure everything that needs to get done gets done.

I’ve had some success with my morning routine over the past year. It’s been a rocky road, but for the most part I think I’ve done alright. I haven’t produced much, as my desire to work on side projects comes and goes. Having the time set aside does really help though. I know that I’ll have guaranteed time to work on things that I’d like to. But typically that time is spent reading or relaxing; everyone needs down time, and I find that without that morning time I don’t get enough of it.

For those of you doing this or wanting to do this

Ultimately rearranging your schedule can be a fairly disruptive change in your life. The disruptions for myself have been quite minimal, but you need to make sure that those closest to you understand what you’re doing, why you want to do it, and are on board with it. If they aren’t you might start running into some problems. For those considering this kind of change, here are a few pointers:

  1. If you’re up early, people start assuming that you won’t mind doing things for them. This encroaches massively on personal time and can be a real problem. Saying “No” is vitally important to protecting your few precious hours. That being said you can’t always say no. There will always be times when you have to carve off a piece of those hours as needed; just keep those to a minimum.

  2. Don’t be militant about getting up early every day. Sometimes you need a break. I find myself sleeping in about 1 day a week. It’s a nice treat, just don’t get used to it.

  3. Getting up early also means going to bed earlier. This can be a social problem if you have friends and family that are night owls. Staying up late on their account will only serve to sap your energy for the next morning. Don’t stay up late unless you’re ok with sleeping in the next morning.

  4. Always have a plan for what to do the next morning. If you don’t wake up and know exactly what you need to work on or get accomplished you’ll either not want to get out of bed or get up and zone out. Neither of these is desireable; so make sure you have a plan for the next morning.

  5. Make sure your work area is comfortable. I’m sure this goes without saying, but having a comfortable, and in the winter warm, work place really helps to motivate you to get out of bed. If the bed is warm and comfortable, why would you want to sit in a cold office in an uncomfortable chair?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mute Switch Bike Sheds

A few days ago there was a big kerfuffle about the ring/silence switch on the iPhone. People have been coming out of the woodwork with their thoughts and opinions on the matter. Don’t worry. I’m not going to post my thoughts on the issue here. Yes, I have an opinion, but really what I want to highlight is the debate itself. More importantly, I want to discuss why this is such a polarizing issue.

But first, a little background

If you’re reading this post anywhere near the posting date you can safely skip this section.

During a performance of the New York Philharmonic a very distinctly iPhone ring started to play. It continued making noise for quite some time. Finally the conductor had had enough and stopped the performance to confront whomever had their phone ringing. Unbeknownst to the owner, his phone had an alarm that was set to go off during the performance. He didn’t know about the alarm as he was given the phone just prior to the performance and thought he had set the phone to mute.

Due to the design of the iPhone, alarms will sound even if the mute1 switch is turned to off. Pundits and non-pundits alike have been arguing the finer points of the switch and the design over the past few days.

Should the mute switch prevent the device from making any noise, or should it make noise for some select or important events? That’s what everyone seems to be focused on. What I’m interested in is: why does everyone have an opinion on this issue?

Why does everyone and their dog have an opinion?

The mute switch is a bike shed. No, it’s not literally a bike shed, but as a solution to a problem it is. What is a bike shed problem exactly? A bike shed is a problem that’s reasonably well understood by the common person. Since the problem is well understood everyone feels that they are entitled to an opinion on it. In fact, it’s been said that the amount of noise in the decision making process is inversely proportional to the complexity of the problem.

From the definition of a bike shed:

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. Richard P. Feynmann gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point, examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.

A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is here.

Since everyone has a stake in how the mute switch on the iPhone should work, and the complexity of the problem is low, everyone has an opinion. Those following the debate will point out that the complexity of this problem is anything but low.

It’s a difficult problem with no 100% correct solution. Regardless of the choice made by the designers there would be some class of user that the solution was wrong for. However, that won’t stop people from arguing over what colour this bike shed should be.

  1. I say mute switch because that’s the common term for it. In actuality it’s call the Ring/Silence switch. The difference between the terms is splitting hairs as far as customers are concerned.