It is dark when I go home

When I started my career, my typical work day started by 8 am and ended by 5. Lots of sunlight both during the morning and evening commute (My dad and his friends had such a lifestyle for 30 years). During my school and college days there were not even good TV programs beyond 10.30 pm. Globalization and outsourcing has forced many of us to work from different time zones for the same set of goals, which has made it mandatory that working hours between the two zones overlap even if it is 12 hours apart.

Biological evolution is too slow compared to the technological revolutions. Any thing happening in the technical world is not adapted by us, instead it gets retrofitted into our system. Scientists often point out the importance of circadian rhythm and critics try to prove other wise by staying awake for days together. People have stopped measuring sleep records because brain is so capable of putting sensory organs to sleep without the individual being aware of anything which means there was no way of proving wakefulness. Micro sleeps are a result of large sleep debt and it is the one which causes many road accidents and critical errors (Chernobyl accident happened when the staff worked on double shifts). Sleep also restores the body, processes memory (removes noise and indexes) and there tons of other things which are beneficial and still under research.

Circadian rhythm helps us to get a healthy sleep wake cycle which will reduce the dependency on stimulants and relaxants. The current lifestyle has become largely transactional and time spent on basic necessities like consuming food, sleep are considered to be a low yield activity. This makes us prioritize activities which outright give the illusion of bang for the buck. Since our body is still wired very much to the sunlight availability as it used to be just few hundred years ago, the body clock gets affected very badly because of erratic sleep wake cycle. Some long term health issues are considered (yet not proven) to be because of bad sleep hygiene.

One solution to fix easily would be to start work early and reach home before sunset. That therapy could be available free of cost as well and it helped me when I was following it. The traffic was light hence faster commute, within 2-3 hours of sunset I was sleeping which in my opinion was the soundest sleep I ever had. Early morning coffee and newspaper in the breezy balcony (Even in Chennai summer) was heavenly.  I have succumbed to the team’s requirements and now altered to my lifestyle of starting work almost near noon and ending late. Now it is dark when I go home.

A hunter watches a mountain goat grazing on the pastures on the side of a highway. A speeding truck loses control and starts veering towards the grazing goat, in split seconds it jumps off to a safe place. The hunter’s kid who was watching all this asked his dad, “Did the goat escape because it is agile?”. The hunter replied “It is just common sense to avoid a speeding truck”.

There was a question posted in programmers forum in stack exchange site asking Is agile the new micro management? I am not sure why such an impression about agile has been formed in that person’s mind. It could be due to some recommendations being wrongly interpreted. First of all the recommendations like “a quiet place to work” is a necessity for development teams anywhere following any methodology. Interpreting that as a no talking zone requirement is against improving communication between the team members. My perception about why these kind of wrong interpretations arise is due to wrong sense of accomplishment provided by having something tangible. If someone has to show any progress in adopting a new process or a method then it is natural for him/her to incline for a support in some form which could be seen or measured. This has led someone to believe that following some guidelines verbatim and measuring the level of adherence to it is equal being successful in adopting a new process or method.

I have not been aware that I was part of agile teams for a few years until I met someone who joined my team because it was an agile team. We were a team of 12 people doing weekly releases to production, wearing different hats of Dev, QA, BA and had everyday interaction with the customers. That is how I started my career and I never felt the value of it until I worked in a conservative setup. There was one golden rule of thumb we followed in the teams I worked, treat the team (client team included) as your own organization and do what makes sense to deliver the right value.

I asked one of the directors of a company that how come he never used the word agile though he was part of agile teams for quite long, he replied  “talking to your customers often; keeping the code well tested, integrated  and delivering the right value on time is all about common sense. There is nothing agile about it!”. He sure left me to figure out what agile meant.

Is there a prescription? Check the answers given out in that forum for that question.

Clayton M Christensen’s writing on ‘How will you measure your life?’ made me have a re-look at my priorities. In the year 2010 I had been doing so much that I had never been so busy, stressed and tired ,eventually fell too sick. Yet when I recollect that year, nothing good stands out barring a few high points and most of the time I had spent trying to squeeze in more and more. On the contrary when I identified some core areas to work & concentrate; and try not to pack myself, I see a remarkable improvement in efficiency and my sense of well being.

I inferred Clayton’s writing as below

  • Get the priorities right and use the resources wisely, we have only 12-14 hours in a day. We should learn to amplify the effectiveness in the tasks we will be involved in every day instead of trying to cram in more hours. Keep revisiting the priorities as they change very often and one plan is never good for long
  • Avoid succumbing the temptation of this one time. Some positive habits are hard to catch on and difficult to follow. Have something like a Seinfeld calendar and make sure not to break the chain.
  • Stay away from the power tools both at work and the family. The best way we can win the confidence of others is to create a level playing field and help each other. Collective intelligence is far more superior than the sum of individual intelligence put together, team work will take us to new height even in a learning mode.
  • Every person we meet has something to teach us, right or wrong is always a perception. By being humble we will be approachable and people will readily share experience and knowledge to help us out. Individuals who act overly assertive or arrogant can leave a wrong impression of being successful, we should be careful not to follow them because mostly their arrogant behavior is to mask their shortcomings. They need to put someone else down to feel good about themselves.
  • Have simple rules and values by which we would leave our place lot better than what we found.

Clayton M Christensen is a professor at Harvard Business School. His work on which this blog is based on is available at HBR