Two Weeks’ Noticing

Time Tracking Vision

Keep track of time with the Doom clock.

Keep track of time with the Doom clock.

Two days after I posted my resignation, my company decided to institute a new policy. Well, to be completely accurate, it’s actually an update to a current policy — a little thing called Effort Reporting AKA Time Tracking. In case you’re not familiar with it, this is a mechanism wherein employees book hours against projects so that upper management knows where folks are spending their time.  I’ve been doing this in some form or another for 10 years.  Lucky me.

The old policy was:  Try to book 80% of your hours (32) to project work. For the remainder, just fill in a text field to explain the rest.  Usually you can just say “non-project meetings plus effort reporting” and you’re done.  (Note:  It is fun, in a circular kind of way, to list effort reporting as a time expenditure in your effort reporting doc.)

Anyway, the standards were fairly loose and as a result I didn’t care much about it.  Took 15 minutes a week to do.  Blam!

The new policy is:  You must book 100% of your hours to various buckets (specific projects, administration, documentation, paperwork, crosstraining, etc.)  My employer purchased a new bit of software to manage this process called <MyCompany>Works! (I can only guess that the insistence on appending an exclamation point is to indicate a sense of astonishment that the company is, in fact, functional, like: I dropped my mobile device on the pavement and thought it would be broken but much to my surprise, myiPhoneWorks!)

At any rate, the deal is that now everyone must log in daily to this application to record exactly where their time went, in 15-minute intervals.  If you have an extended session in the bathroom, you’re going to have to get creative when figuring out where, exactly, to book that time. There is no option for producing toilet art.

This past week, everyone on the team had official and mandatory training to get up to speed on exactly how we are supposed to perform this glorious task without errors.  Mine was scheduled for April 2nd.  I intentionally skipped it, of course, because: Not with the company anymore.

Then this happened.


Actual transcript other than identity-related changes.


So yeah — my manager got an email saying I wasn’t there and he called me out on it.  I told him:  What’s the big deal? I’m not going to be here anymore, so how can attending this training possibly be necessary?  He says:  This is bad for me.  That report went to the highest levels and now it looks like one of my team members is disengaged and uninterested.

The thing is, I am disengaged and uninterested.  I’m leaving, for Christ’s sake!  If there’s one single time during your professional life where it’s okay to grab some nuts and shrug, shouldn’t this be it?

But instead of seeing things in those simple terms — the conflict between myself and my soon-to-be-ex-manager — my improved quit-vision provides additional insight into what’s going on here.  The effort reporting is a control mechanism. An additional way to evaluate people using quarter-of-an-hour blocks of time. Another way to assert ownership of personnel, to put employees on edge. To get more out of them.

It’s spun as a method to hold employees accountable.   Don’t we all want to be held to the highest standards?  Shouldn’t we desire to be the best we can be?  This is clever, because when you phrase things this way, it’s difficult as a worker to say that this sounds pretty sucky.  It appeals to your moral core, your sense of ideals, and you end up saying:  I want to be held accountable.  I’m a conscientious worker, and I do a good job.  I have nothing to fear from this:  Sure, I’ll tell you where my hours are going.

But internally, the whole idea seems so utterly exhausting that I can’t help but feel very fortunate that my quit-date was just in advance of this suffocating process addition.  So after my manager finishes telling me how disappointed he is that I didn’t attend the training, I just point blank tell him what I actually think:  Well, I’m not disappointed at all.  In fact, I’m pretty glad that I didn’t attend, and also that I won’t be doing this horrible thing in the future.  So, so great.  Really, it is.

My honesty shocks him out of his management wonderland and he responds to me as a human being for once:  he laughs.  Then he adds that he wishes he didn’t have to do it either.  It’s the one lighthearted moment we shared while having this otherwise awkward discussion.

Taking a step back, my 20/2 vision tells me that these kinds of employee controls are the way of the future. My wife had a similar program instituted at her employer two years ago.  It’s pretty much the same deal — she accounts for 30 minute blocks of time, every single week.  If you work overtime, you book those units, too.  (But you don’t get paid for them, of course.  Just document what you were doing.  Leave a snail trail to show folks where you’ve been.)

Part of the way it was ‘sold’ to her was:  If we notice everybody is working more than normal, the company can more easily justify hiring additional personnel to handle the load.

But everyone on her team has been consistently working overtime during those two years. Additional heads?  Zero.  So why do they really want this data?

Again, I can only assume it comes down to putting more pressure on employees.  To hold them “accountable.”  Or possibly to see if people are consistently booking “under” 40 and are therefore maybe expendable.  Or to cross-compare employees to see if some are able to multitask better than others.  Or to have a more robust way to check if certain employees are taking more “doctor time” or “pick my kid up from school” early leaves than other people. Et cetera.


In the past, I would put on my stoic-hat and say “Well, if management wants me to spend my time filling out paperwork, so be it.  They’re paying me enough to perform this task, after all.  I’ll just do what they want, who cares?”

I’d focus on the positives and that would help me sail through.  If I wasn’t smiling exactly, at least I was lining my pockets.

But now that I’m quitting forever, I find that I don’t want to be stoic about work anymore. I don’t want to suppress.  Instead, I’m uncomfortably aware of the relentless industry trend to increasingly automate the micromanagement and monitoring of employee time.

And I’m also aware of how powerless and afraid my manager is to have his own thoughts on the subject.  He can’t admit for one second that he doesn’t agree with any of this (even though his awkward laugh indicated that he doesn’t like it any more than I do), or his job is at risk. The fact that I didn’t attend this absurd training ultimately makes him anxious and fearful; Someone above him in the chain might yell at him.

Honest question:  If he’s yelled at for fifteen minutes, how is he going to book that time? Crosstraining?  Not accurate — he already knows what he’s supposed to be doing. Administration?  Also not accurate — he’s not working on documentation or attending official meetings.

In the end I decided they needed a new bucket in the effort reporting system labeled Utter_Bullshit.  It will occupy about 15% of the average employee’s workweek.

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49 Responses to Two Weeks’ Noticing

  1. Erin says:

    Am envious and delighted for you! This post reminds me of an article I saw yesterday: All about faking your personality at work. (But the article doesn’t talk about the permanent fix: save up enough $$ to be able to give up work and reclaim yourself…) Have a surreal few days!

  2. bmar11513 says:

    Love the iphone analogy

  3. brooklynguy says:

    Wow – in my field, we have to record our time in six-minute increments, but at least there’s an inherently logical rationale for that (at least for as long as the billable hour persists in the legal industry).

    Thanks for another great psychological perspective, but I would note that your employment-bullshit-piercing perceptive abilities (at least as expressed through this blog) seemed to be laser-sharp even during your working career. Maybe having an outlet like this blog helps to sharpen those senses?

    • Prob8 says:

      Yeah, the six-minute increment time tracking sucks ass. To be fair, most other aspects of the practice of law suck balloon knot too – at least for me.

    • livafi says:

      Tenth-of-an-hour blocks are not granular enough: you should recommend an industry move to 3-minute blocks (1/20th of an hour increments.) The bar is always rising. (There’s a joke somewhere in there re: bar, methinks)

  4. Fuzzy Buttons says:

    I’m not your senior friend, but I pretty much could be. The only difference is I’ve already found MMM and have started on the path to FI. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the email. Though, fair warning, the first time I found MMM I was a bit turned off. Too “hipppy dippy”, I thought. It took another year and working my way through more normal retirement and personal finance blogs before I approached him again and got where he was coming from. I’m hardly a blind follower – the life I live and will live is very different than his. But the basic principal of applying logic to increase your happiness is sound.

    As always, love reading the posts. I currently have to track my time in three separate systems. one for HR, one for client support, and one for engineering. *sigh* Still, it’s part of the job and, in the wide scheme of things, I’m lucky to have the kind of work I do. Doesn’t mean I want to do it forever.

    It’s funny what the last straw can be for people. For your coworker it was the time management. I remember years ago an older worker at my company declared he’d had enough when they instituted a rule that he couldn’t wear his hat at work. I still remember him heading out the door that day – calm, happy, and wearing his hat like boss. 🙂

    • livafi says:

      I had similar thoughts about MMM when I started reading him but his positive, no-bullshit attitude and underlying practicality won me over very quickly. But to your point, I’ll issue a warning to my soon-to-be-ex work friend to focus on content first — to read posts as a potential solution to a potential life problem — rather than lasering in on tone.

      Thanks for the hat story. It’s terrific.

  5. bilgepump100 says:

    Fake projects. Fake deadlines. Mirages of people who fade in and out of our office experience. The digital movement has many of us lusting for something more tangible. A real garden to grow. A real bathroom to renovate. A table to craft. We don’t mind sweat and hard work. But we long for something we can touch and feel. We’re turning into automatons. Mechanical Turks. All of our projects will be assigned a strict time frame. Stop be human. Failing to adhere unleashes a shame chain. Even bathroom breaks will be timed. We’re compliant and also competitive. We can stay motivated to beat each others’ time. It’s a game. We like games. They’re addictive. But soon we will be frisked after breaks like Amazon warehouse workers. Well we would, if there was anything worth stealing at the office. But there isn’t. Because now we are being asked to supply our of own phones, computers, lamps, etc. Everything is ours except for our time. We must be available to beat the fake deadlines 24/7. Have to be. Your team (family) depends on it. Digital tethers mean we can check out but we can never leave. The constant dropping of projects on us like Galaga ships keep us zapping away. The zap sound feels good for awhile. You can achieve a high score and get digital cash transferred into your digital bank account. But the projects keep coming. And you realize even the zap sound is contrived. Get out. Touch the earth. Our time is short.

    • Jared says:

      My nomination for poet laureate of this the FIRE movement: the commenter above.

    • Marco says:

      Very beautifully put, thank you.

    • JohnGoes says:

      I am meeting with the HR rep today because he heard from my manager that I’m retiring in September. After 33 years staring at monitors sticking invisible to the naked eyes bits together, I get to go off and build beautiful, functional things with my hands and I get to do so on my own terms because real estate investment returns will exceed my expenses by July of next year. I get to work for fun!

      The chip design projects I deal with now are real to someone, and the schedule is real to someone, but that someone on high that deals these mandates down to us has absolutely no connection to reality. (At least if you value keeping promises and delivering quality product.) My goal after the September exit is to carefully consider every project tossed my way and only accept those that I can commit to and deliver with quality. That’s not to say I won’t accept a challenge, but it will be a challenge I can solve and grow from.

  6. David says:

    Wonderful post. So many things to say. I’d also +1 emailing your friend. It’s the Cave analogy – sometimes the option to escape isn’t perceivable until someone points it out. Not saying it will work, but it’s necessary to at least try.

    The last straw for me was when my boss starting riding me for writing during downtime. No. I had to stand on the sales floor with shit all to do, because at least 1/3 of the time there was either no, or not enough customers to be actively selling. I still wrote and pushed back (and won, even before I quit) but the mere FACT that he gave me a problem about it was enough.

    The time management and disconnection from work stuff is really scary to me on a philosophical, concerned about humanity’s direction, level. (Which, if you don’t know me, is actually a very intense emotional and intellectual place.) That’s why I’ve become so attracted to the new wave of back-to-the-land. It’s frankly ridiculous, to me, that the most fundamental craftsmen in our society (farmers, tradesman, teachers) are often the lowest paid and least appreciated.

    The perverse modern economics around food production, when the life-energy in food is the foundation of any civilization, is a book-length rant in itself (for which I’d recommend someone like Joel Salatin), but I’ll stop there…. Whew.

    Sorry to rant on your now rant-free blog… 😉

    • Jared says:

      But doesn’t it make sense that work with real, tangible results would be more rewarding/sought after, increasing competition for such jobs and driving down wages?

      I have a theory that, ignoring education or certification requirements, the more tangible and meaningful a career is, the less it pays (due to the situation noted above).

    • livafi says:

      Don’t apologize for leaving an awesome comment, and I agree with much of what you wrote.
      BTW, this blog will never be rant free. But I do pledge to move on from work-focused posts once this phase is over. Which is very, very soon.

  7. Just lovely Doom. I had a similar temporary hours reporting thing close to the end. I got yelled at for being totally honest, because fuckit-just-fire-me-already. Like noting bathroom trips and the number of [assets] produced, “having my time wasted by a clueless internal auditor”, “Fixing PC-load/letter error on multifunction printer”, “rebooting computer three times to install oh so important ‘mandatory’ software upgrade”, etc. Part of that super hero vision is knowing they can’t intimidate you with yelling or ‘notes in your file’ or some such. I reckon my report was the only one that was sufficiently accurate to provide actionable intelligence.

    • livingafi says:

      Some more: 1) Super talkative coworker caught me in the hallway and burned 20 minutes of my time talking about things irrelevant to any currently assigned projects as I watched a bead of white spittle develop on the corner of his mouth 2) network outage locked me out 3) RSA token broke and could not work on internal systems that day.

  8. g-dog says:

    I think you notice everything, because like all endings, this is “the last time I will ever do/see X”. it is like senior year in high school – this is a major transition! You are happy and excited (YAY – new wonderful future!), but also sad and a little scared (I will miss Doom, I enjoyed talking to him; am I really ready/worthy for my new wonderful future?).

  9. itamarst says:

    Could you please please get rid of the numbered pages thing? I missed parts 2-6 first time even though I already saw previous article that had that structure.

    • livafi says:

      I’ll add a note to the first page stating it’s a multi-page post. Definitely don’t want to make it difficult for people to read. But trust me, most people don’t want to consume a 4000-word single page blog post. Browsers weren’t really meant for that much content on a single page.

      • David says:

        It’s mainly that the theme doesn’t make the page indicators very clear. I almost missed it as well. Not sure how easy it is to modify WP themes, but putting it above the “share this” buttons would make it MUCH more obvious.

      • livafi says:

        Easy back when I ran my own WP site. Difficult now — I have to pay money to in order to update .css directly.
        Instead I just removed all the social media stuff so the links pop out right under the end of the text. Hopefully this helps.

  10. FirePaddle says:

    This post was especially beautiful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Reepekg says:

    Ohhhh… the hours tracking. My wife and I constantly joke with one another on gchat “What’s the time code for ‘not doing shit’?”

    The thing I dislike about this system of control most is that it has turned me into a professional liar. Oftentimes, the most critical tasks are not directly billable, so I would get yelled at by management for charging time to things that really need to get done but have no customer. Instead, I’m forced to manipulate my hours so it looks like I’m working on the “right” projects. With that kind of accuracy, a waste of everyone’s time all around!

  12. Tyler says:

    The sense of detachment where everything feels like a facade was especially strong when I recently retired. You’ll really enjoy the first few weeks afterwards when you think about everyone still chugging along in the same routine and it all feels so unnecessary. If you happen to talk to them later, you’ll sense the claws marks in their back and the anxiety you lived with for years and it will all feel very strange. Detoxing is an important part of the process.

    • livafi says:

      >> Detoxing is an important part of the process.
      Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I’m looking forward to this phase. I’m about 30 hours away from the starting point, as I type this.

  13. Clare says:

    Loved this, as I’ve loved everything you’ve written in the past year. Your thoughts about suppression really resonated; suppressing doubts has been essential for me to “pass.” Doing this is almost automatic now and I wonder what I’ve lost of myself in the process. In my work (a very different field and one that I often love and think is important in society), the need to suppress one’s analytical inclinations feels particularly ironic. Reading about your workplace, and about the workplaces of some of the commenters, is like reading a blended nonfictional 1984/The Circle (Eggers).
    p.s. Good luck w/the move. Please do a post at some point about selling the house/buying another/moving. Seems like it happened quickly.

    • livafi says:

      >>is like reading a blended nonfictional 1984/The Circle (Eggers).
      I read The Circle right when it was published, not knowing anything about it other than the fact that Eggers wrote it and he’s a gifted writer. The first half of the book resonated particularly strongly; Mae’s story is the story of a new generation of workers. Poor, need job, will put up with anything to assimilate, and very soon “put up with” morphs into something very different — you end up needing the links to your employer, the constant affirmation and connection, even the demands, just as much as they seemingly need you. And it’s never, ever okay to indicate that you are anything less than 100% into your company — that anything else defines you. Mae ends up suppressing like a madmanwoman. (Like you, I viewed the second half as sort of an updated version of 1984… some of it is sure to be prophetic.) I didn’t intentionally create this post to reference that material but now that you mention it, I see the clear overlap. Eggers must have interviewed people like me prior to writing the book.
      Re: move. Yes, it was quick. We’re working on the endpoint now, but our house is under agreement.

  14. Cherry Lane says:

    Happy last day! Are you really going to make us wait an extra week to read all about it? Bummer.

  15. OnlyKetchup says:

    It’s D day! Very excited for you, hope it is going well.

  16. Reepekg says:

    Happy Last Day.

  17. G-dog says:

    You are officially FREE! Happy for you!

  18. MJH says:

    It’s weird, I’ve never met you are commented before, but as a random internet stranger I’m still excited for you! Congrats on the last day!

    Living Vicariously I guess 😉

  19. Frankies Girl says:

    Just wanted to pop in and say CONGRATULATIONS on your last day, and I do hope your packing/moving/transition isn’t too stressful! So very happy for you!! 😀

  20. Anon says:

    Hooray! Freedom at last! Congrats on your first day of freedom from work.

  21. SpreadsheetMan says:


    Another one got away….

  22. livingafi says:

    Thanks for all the well-wishing! I’m still in shock that it’s finally over after all of this time. It’s the first time in my life that it’s sunday night and I don’t have to go to work tomorrow — and tomorrow is not a vacation day, or a holiday, or a sickie, but instead my new life. So strange.

    And so good. 🙂

  23. Shaz says:

    Hi LAF,
    Congratulations! Also a big thank you for sharing your experiences and continuing your blog. Best of luck with your move. I look forward to reading more from you soon.

  24. Congratulations, LAF. A Sunday night and you’re untethered. As I write this, you’re having your third. Relief. Oh how I envy you.

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