I'm sure most of you have worked at a service job at one point in your life. That includes restaurants such as McDonald's or Burger King. I'm sure you knew exactly how many hours you were expected to work. A schedule was made, and you knew your scheduled hours each day.

Fast forward to today. You're now working at a job where the customer is not longer looking for immediate help. If you have a career in software development like myself, you probably have days, weeks, or months to finish a project. If it weren't for the other employees that you need to collaborate with, you could conceivably be hiding in a cave in Klackiastan.

If you need to estimate the amount of time your project will complete, you need to know the amount of work that you can effectively expect to finish in a given week. As a point of reference, it's probably a good idea to use 40 hours as a baseline. Keep in mind that you'll later have to figure in vacation and sick time.

So now you've calculated on your release date based on 40 hours, everyone agrees, and you start your magic. Some tasks take longer than expected, a couple take slightly less time, but overall, you did a good job predicting. You optimize your time as much as you possibly can. You skip the unimportant meetings, you keep the necessary meetings short. Everyone stays focused and in the zone. Your expected release date comes around, and because of your dedication and excellent use of your time, and by some miracle, it releases on time! No small feat in the world of software. In the company that I used to work for, I never heard of a project actually being completed by it's due date. In fact, some companies refuse to give release dates, because they know it could be a big let down for customers.

On the day of your release, you order pizza to celebrate. Everyone is on top the world. You turned an idea into reality, which is no small feat. Anyone who has been through this will certainly understand what I'm talking about.

If you work for a software company, you'll probably have a boss that can gauge your dedication and skills. The truly great managers can and will ignore the hours you worked. Your boss might see Bob working 20 hours, and Sam working 50 hours. A good manager will know if Bob is getting 3 times as much done, and recognize that Bob is the more valuable employee, regardless of his hours.

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But what if you don't work at a software company? Or more specifically, your boss has no idea how good of a job you're actually doing? Your boss is going to start looking for a metric to put a number on your performance.

  • Lines of code? Yuck! Everyone should know by now this is a horrible metric, and probably opposite of reality.
  • Least number of bugs entered? This doesn't make sense, this will end up being proportional to the amount of actual productivity.
  • Number of hours worked?

Do you think the last one could really happen? Well it did to me. Someone in the company ran a report, and a red flag was raised because I didn't work the arbitrary number of hours that was secretly expected of me. I averaged 41.6 hours in the office, but was expected to work 43. The average expected workweek for an industrialized nation, is 32-40 hours. When France standardized on the 35 hour work week, studies showed that their productivity stayed the same I've read countless articles saying that employees that worked more, usually got less done. I was putting in overtime! However, after all my hard work, my world came crashing down. For the first time in my professional life, I was viewed as a dispassionate, lazy employee.

The solution my boss came up with? Put in more time. I had prided myself on my time management skills, and this was the result?

It turns out I was being compared to employees that had completely different jobs than me. Of course I look bad. Joe the janitor works 60 hours per week! He's much more valuable! That fact that I managed to build a complete e-commerce site in 4 months no longer means anything. He even explained that they didn't know how else to gauge performance.

So do you think if I worked an extra hour and a half per week, things would be all fine and dandy? Maybe in the short term, but I think it's indicative of a larger problem. Visibility.

I'm my next article, I'm going to talk about what you need to do to make sure that your work get's recognized.