Agile, GTD

The eight hour burn

Chad Fowler’s book “My job went to India” is a must read. One of the chapters that I enjoy is the eight-hour burn.

It all started when Extreme Programming introduced the concept that team members should work no more than 40 hour per week. Probably tagged as one of the most controversial practices of XP.

Of course! The idea does not go well with Management. How can management accept that programmers are going to leave at 5pm? We have deadlines here! And on the programmer side, going above and beyond and being proud of burning the midnight oil is something that we love to brag about.

Robert Martin (a.k.a Uncle Bob) cleverly renamed the 40 hour week practice to the eight-hour burn. Changing the name adds a little nuance, the idea is that you work so intensively for 8 hours that you cannot work anymore. Your brain is fried. You are physically tired. And it’s easy to make stupid design and coding errors that way. It’s better to step away from the keyboard and go home.

The experience is great: it’s 5pm, you check your code in and go home. You get that smile on your face, the feeling of accomplishment. Today was great. I am satisfied. I got some good work done.

Lately, for the last few months, I have been experiencing this feeling. I wish it could be everyday, but I would be lying. Not everyday is a perfect programmer day.

What helps me getting my burn is public transportation. Since I choose not to drive to work anymore, I have a strict schedule for my day. I get in the building at 8:15am and my last opportunity to catch the bus to the train station is at 5:30pm. Each trip is 1:15 minutes long.

I can’t stay late anymore. That means that I can’t procrastinate: have long lunches, browse the internet for news, check my personal email, talk about random stuff in the hallways. I enter the building at 8:15am and think I only have 8 hours, go, go, GO!!! I want to leave at 5 and feel good about it.

As a result, I check my corporate email twice a day, skip meetings where I think I don’t need to be, never check personal email, only browse the internet if I need to solve a work related problem and block twitter. On the top of this, pair programming helps create the intensity necessary to get things done.

Once you experience the 8 hour burn, it leaves a mark on you. You get the urge of getting it again and again.

Today, a friend mentioned how he misses the good old days of a project where we worked together a year ago. He moved to management and now misses the good old burn. Me, I will try to get it again tomorrow.