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Today is Goof Off at Work Day


James Whittaker, former Google employee, has a very different take on the value of 20% time. His post is here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jw_on_tech/archive/2012/05/25/google-20-time-vs-the-microsoft-garage.aspx


Commonly heard joke:

Most companies have the equivalent of Google’s 20% day, they call it “Saturday”.


Definitely one of the elements to account for is the human element.

Big companies like Google and HP can have 20% time be good for the company in the long run because they seek to hire top-quality developers.

If instead your company consists of mostly developers who are just there for a paycheck, 20% time just means 20% less work.


@Rob Paulson If you have a personal idea that you think could start your own company, you are free to keep it to yourself and use the 20% time for some other idea that maybe isn’t so grand.


Dilbert’s view on 20% at Google: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-12-19/


I feel like more companies should do this 20% time policy, it gives developers a feeling of satisfaction when they get to build an app that they can brainstorm up and develop from the ground up rather than working on client projects all the time. Sometimes we all need a break from the normal grind to work on hobby projects.


I wonder what Jeff thinks about Valve’s Way (or “100% time” policy)…

Posted todat at Valve’s Blog:



That’s nothing - those people who work for government (city, state, federal) work 50% of the time every day


Tom DeMarco has a great book on this subject: Slack (NADA.) It’s thin – 200 pages-ish – and I typically keep a few copies around to give to people who “need” them. I’d offer you one, but you strike me as the kind of guy who might do the same thing.

Still, ping me if you want me to send you one. :slight_smile:


@Shawn H Corey - I’ve never heard the 1st and 3rd things at 3M. AFAIK, 15% time is not required. As for the 2nd, we do have 3 software groups our manager is a software guy, but the director is a chemical engineer.



HP stopped that long time ago.
This died when Carly Fiorina was CEO and never came back.
And I can’t imagine it will ever come back, the HP Labs have funds reduced and HP is not too much into innovation anymore.



@cbp - I agree with you that it takes a motivated person or team. As far as I know, I’m the only one out of my team that has the desire and motivation to take on ‘skunkworks projects’ … two of which have now turned into major initiatives for our department or company and we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware for them.

But I’ve got a personal history of running skunkworks projects that turn into big deals; I did it at every job I’ve had except the one where I worked at a major university in an overemployed-by-regulation department. There I slept in my chair most of the afternoon…

It’s not an official company policy at my current company to allow this kind of project/work. I simply take the time; in the context of the “120%” concept from Google. Since good things come out of it and I keep getting awarded for it the second I show progress on something useful, I suppose I’ll keep doing it.

I do take exception with those that say that this time is only for coming up with ideas. I think it’s also for scratching itches that management won’t allow you to scratch on official time. For instance, we’ve got (at last count) 6,882 Nagios checks across less than 150 servers. We collect performance data with a different platform, collect logfiles with another completely different platform and parse a very small amount of them in any usable way, and we don’t have anything in place for tracking actual application performance except ‘gut feel’ and some basic statistics. Nagios works in the sense that it alerts us when stuff breaks; it’s just crude and scratchy and ill-fitting. That last problem has been identified by management and someone’s working on it part time, but I stole some hardware resources and am now working with that person on finding one solution that will do all four things we need.


I’m a peon at a university, and I would say the rule is reversed there for most people. Everyone has things they have to do, but getting them done takes no more than 20% of the time. The rest of the time you are supposed to be doing your own thing: your research, your grant writing, etc. For faculty, that’s the whole point. For some of the staff, like me and I guess the guy in the previous comment, there’s this twilight zone where you are not sure if you’re supposed to be doing something on your own initiative or just standing by for when you are needed. Of course, some of the staff are expected to always be busy with not-their-own-thing. If there is “overemployed-by-regulation” it’s because of an essential trust that people working there are already motivated to pursue their own interests which are also the interests of the university. Sure, there are slackers, but it’s better to have a creative culture that allows that than to stifle both the slack and the creativity.


For your documentation …David Packard wrote about about how he & Bill structured the company – “The HP Way”.

Staring on page 137, in the “Trust In People” chapter, a Section titled “Flexible Hours” describes the setup.

Here on amazon (search on “Flexible Hours”)…

Or a direct link from google …


I think many of us are in companies that are still very much led in the classic command-and-control style. Top heavy management layers, program management, project management, task management, a multitude of roles and processes.

All of this is created on the assumption that employees are dumb, lazy slackers that need to be told precisely what to do when, in a standardized way. Some say such organizations attract people with limited innovative capabilities, you could also argue that such organizations create people that way.

Some organizations even dare to constrain “innovation” in such rigid processes. Sure, feel free to come up with awesome ideas from the bottom. All you have to do is swim upstream, find sponsors, submit a business case analysis, etc. It’s discouraging, more a process for anti-innovation.

The 20% time, when done properly, lets go of that rigid structure, and all the successes it has delivered are great proof that people want to make great contributions when given the freedom and trust. Sure, a minority will misuse the time just like a minority misuses working from home, but the general improvement for society is more important.

I have implemented my own 20% time, unfortunately self-funded as my company does not have it. Still, it sky rocketed my personal development, balanced my work and private life, and allowed me to build a cool website that is the marriage of two of my hobbies. I won’t abuse this blog by plugging it. I will even take things further to opt for all of society to aim for a 4 day work week.


Great, after reading that Valve handbook I might not be happy at any other place I work… might have to move and apply :stuck_out_tongue:


Creative types will almost always be able to find the’20%’ time, regardless of policy. Having such a policy, official or otherwise simply allows slackers to slack even more, and the creators will continue to do what they have been doing all along.

While there’s a certain amount of trust/responsibility required from Da Management, this is where good immediate-supervisors (aka. middle management) actually have jobs: protect your underlings from the boring drudgery of policy and give them the tools to get things done, which may mean turning a blind eye when they are working on a project which doesn’t seem to have a direct bearing on the current schedule of tasks.


Great stuff! I stumbled upon this article while writing the evaluation of my software sabbatical - http://www.erisc.se/software/2012/08/14/software_sabbatical_evaluation/

I think one approach worth looking into is to spend this “goofing off” on longer periods of time instead of just chunks here and there, just to get some distance from the drudgery mentality of bug fixes, deadlines and release schedules. I’ve experimented with this a bit, and even if I haven’t found anything revolutionary I definitely feel there’s something to it.


I think one thing that is needed to make such a thing work at any given company is a culture where new ideas are accepted and welcomed.


List of Programming activities

  1. Problem statement: To develop a program that calculates a customer’s charges and total bill at the gasoline pump. It involves collection of information needed for the program like the current prices of gasoline, labor availability and charges.

  2. Program specification: This program will request for the customer to state what type of gasoline they want. For instance, Regular or Premium, and state or enter the amount of gasoline they require. The program will then automatically calculate the price of the gas and calculate the federal tax. It will then prompt the user to state what kind of sale they want and calculate the service charge and state sales taxes according to the service provided. The program will then give the total bill he/she is supposed to pay