How to Get Ahead

    After spending a week with a temperature higher than Ozzy Osbourne, this installment of you most beloved web-column Behind the Veil is a little bit delayed. Inspired by my illness, and keeping with the recent theme of “overall concepts,” I’m going to spend this column talking about something we all do: slacking off.

    Well, sort of. The problem is as follows: After a significant amount of work, you realize that you’re ahead of schedule. You’re looking at your Monday morning and thinking to yourself “this wasn’t supposed to be done until Friday, and I only have a few hours of work left. I have four days for free!”

    And you’re absolutely right to think that, as well. When you have five days to do five hours of work, it’s not going to take you all five days to get it done… unless you perceive time differently than the rest of us, which just might be the case if you’re a programmer like I am.

    So you have one day of work, and five days to get it done. What do you do? If you’re like 99% of the people on this planet, you relax for four days, comfortable in your knowledge that you will still have time on Friday to finish your work. And you’d be right, if you actually had only one day of work left.

    You see, the problem is that “one day of work” is a very subjective phrase. Here’s what Friday probably looks like:
    [*]9:00am—Get to the office and relax for a bit, because you still have plenty of time. Go get a coffee.
    [*]9:30—Check your email, catch up on your webcomics, read this week’s installment of Behind the Veil.
    [*]10:00—Pee break, linger in the bathroom chatting it up with your friends, planning the weekend.
    [*]10:30—Do some work.
    [*]11:45—You still have plenty of time, so you break early for lunch.
    [*]1:00—Check email again, catch up on Red Vs. Blue.
    [*]2:00—Look at your watch, and realize you now have three hours in which to do four hours of work. A trip to the bathroom after your soil yourself in terror.
    [*]2:15—Hit the work. Hard. Things get rushed in an effort to get everything done.
    [*]5:00—Still working hard, because you’ve had to go back to correct errors caused by rushing. You now have two hours of work left to do, and you’re not getting paid for your overtime.
    [*]6:00—Your options are dinner, or passing out on your desk. You choose dinner; something healthy from McDonald’s.
    [*]6:30—Back to the good fight.
    [*]8:00—The work is finished, but you forgot you were going to need to test it to make sure everything’s correct. Too bad you were rushing; you’re going to be here a while.
    [*]10:00pm—You’re finally finished testing your work, and can go home. Your five hours of work ended up taking you eight and a half hours, not counting goofing around time.

    Now, you’re probably thinking “come on, that doesn’t really happen.” Unfortunately, it happens every single day. The problem is that we’re all inherently over-confident. We naturally assume that if it’s this much work, it will only take that much effort, because we won’t get anything wrong.

    Besides, what if you encounter a problem that’s out of your hands? If word passes up to your boss that you’ve gotten ahead in your work, your boss might think “hmm, that person is already done their last assignment, because he was only a day away on Monday… I’ll send them to New York for the conference.” Suddenly you are forced to not finish your work, because you no longer have the same resources you once did, being in New York.

    What if you wake up on Tuesday with a fever of 102° and can’t work any more? If you’d spent Monday finishing your work, you’d be able to submit it on time anyway by jumping on your computer. Now it won’t get done until you’re healthy again, unless you sacrifice your health for the following week by fighting through it (102° is nothing to take lightly).

    So what’s the lesson here? If you have the chance to get ahead, get there. If you can finish on Monday what’s not due until Friday, then finish it on Monday and be done with it. It’s always better to submit your work early than it is to risk submitting it late. In the previous scenario, you had to work five hours of unpaid overtime to get your project in on time. What happens if you bust your guts to get it finished on Monday?
    [*]9:00am—Start working.
    [*]12:00pm—Eat lunch.
    [*]1:00pm—Back to work.
    [*]3:00pm—The work is done, now it’s time to verify it.
    [*]3:30pm—The work is good, you get to kick back and relax for the rest of the day.
    [*]5:00pm—Look at that, the day’s over. Submit your work and to home.
    So what happens with the rest of the week? Well, since your project is finished, you might be able to swing four days of paid vacation for being so cool. No matter what happens, you’re going to get to relax for the next four days, ending your week with no stress. Conversely, the other method leaves you rushing just to get home before midnight. Which would you prefer?

    There’s another less obvious benefit to getting ahead, which rears its ugly head in a weekly or bi-weekly installment setup, such as this column. Let me elaborate:

    I wrote the first five or six installments of this column before the first one ever went out, meaning I was able to sit back and twiddle my thumbs for 3 months. Then, when work picked up, I started writing my columns the week they were set to be released. When I was struck with a fever of 102?; last Monday, I wasn’t able to think in a straight line, let alone write an entire column. Installment 18 was pushed back a week, because I wasn’t writing ahead any more.

    Now, had I continued with my original plan, nobody would have ever known I was sick. This installment would have come out last week as planned, and nobody would have suspected anything was wrong. This is the real benefit of getting ahead: nobody will ever know if you’re unable to work, because it’s already finished! If the work comes in on time, nobody’s going to care how long you’ve been sitting on its completion.

    So what does this mean in the game design world? Suppose your Concept team have five database tables to fill out with weapon parts, spell components, whatever else your game might need. It’s a two week job, and the team’s deadline isn’t for another month.

    If they sit back and relax for two weeks, confident in their ability to deliver under the wire, they’re going to discover they no longer remember where they were before they took time off. They spend a day or two refreshing their memories and getting back in the swing of things, and suddenly have 12 days to do 2 weeks of work. Being a team, the cross-member static will make it take even longer than that, and suddenly they don’t finish until they’re a week and a half over-due.

    Now, Coding has been waiting for a week and a half on what Concept was supposed to already have finished, and have spent company time twiddling their thumbs. If your employees all make $50,000 a year, and you have ten coders waiting on this information, and ten members of Concept, then you just lost $30,000 to twenty people twiddling their thumbs for a week and a half each, and Coding is going to miss every single one of their deliverables. Aren’t you glad your Concept team took two weeks off before finishing up the database tables?

    So I guess this is one of those rare columns that has a life message inside it. If you can work hard and get ahead in your job, do it, and relax later. If you have three hours left in the day and one hour of work left, get the work done early so you can kick back. Remember how your parents kept telling you to do your homework before turning on the television?

    And there you have it, another long installment that actually tells you how to run your life.

    Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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