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Technically Speaking

David Cartwright

Can you bill for walkies?

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You know when you have one of those flashes of inspiration that's nothing like a work of genius but which makes something you're doing an order of magnitude easier, or which solves a problem you've been fighting with for ages?

Like most readers, I've had my share of these lightbulb moments over the years. The thing is, they've mostly taken place whilst walking the dogs. Clearly my brain works more fluently when I take time out to stop concentrating on stuff. The same applies, of course, to loads of other people: if you hit a mental block, the best thing to do is take your mind off the subject for a while and give the grey cells a break. Or perhaps even ask someone else - a fresh pair of eyes and a mind that's not been immersed in the problem in hand can bring clarity and revelation.

Nothing new, then. What's made me write about it in this blog entry, though, is being reminded how easy is is to forget how helpful the time-out approach can be. It only came to the front of my mind because I was in Harrogate the other day, talking to the vendor of a large commercial application. Their development department is industrious and full of bright people thinking hard and typing intensely; and next door is a big room with comfy chairs, table football, a table tennis table, and a whole pile of other relaxation toys. So if you're stuck, or you need a quick breather, you just have to amble next door and whack a ball about. They've gone out of their way to address and exploit the fact that a bit of turn-your-brain-off-and-play time is a benefit, not a cost - and well done them for doing so.

All too often, though, I see sterile environments with staff members (they could be developers, call centre staff, ... anyone, really) gazing into their monitors with glazed expressions and achieving zero productivity. If you run a team of people whose brains have to work hard, take a step back and ask yourself whether a bit of ad-hoc brain-off time might help productivity and morale. (Hint: the answer is "Yes, it will").

In the meantime I need to figure out the code to put on my timesheet for "in the park with the dogs". It's by far the best value time my clients get out of me, but I can't seem to find where to put it on the form ...


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