Most people consider free time and productivity opposites. I would argue that they are not, but are in fact, closely related.
As a culture, I think that we have seriously underestimated the value of our free time. We are always on the go at home, and at work we are often behind schedule. There is never any time to help someone else or to work through new ideas that will pay out in the future. Please allow me the opportunity to illustrate, from first-hand experience, why I believe so strongly that our free time, productivity, and our sanity are so closely related.
Free time allows us to reflect upon our immediate design problems. It does not matter whether you are riding your bike or holding down your lawn chair, your subconscious is still working on all those problems. Many of the answers to my most difficult design bugs have come to me in this way. This is also true concerning my most successful circuit architectures.
Free time grants the opportunity to help others with their problems. Imagine how much more productive you would be if someone who knew how to solve your most difficult design problem (perhaps he/she had run into the issue before), had the time to stop by to help? I'm not suggesting that you need to run back to the company maven every time your circuits are misbehaving. Keep in mind that you will also be helping your peers just as they are helping you with your problems, and most of the time you will be working out difficult problems together as a team.
Consider as well how much more fun and enriching your work experience would be if this behavior were the norm rather than the exception. I have never felt better about myself or as confident in my own abilities as I have after helping someone else solve their design problem. There seems to be some kind of "productivity multiplier" going on when everyone helps one another with their hardest problems.
We also need free time to work on new inventive circuits. Conservatism usually prevails when the question is always "so when is it going to be done?" Sometimes reusing old circuit topologies can end up taking more time in layout or testing than designing a new circuit specifically to get around old, well-known problems. We learn from our mistakes and should have the opportunity to correct shortcomings of our older designs.
I don't know about you, but if I didn't have my unstructured free time, I think I would go crazy. You are much more likely to have a positive attitude if you are given the opportunity to think, be creative, and to help others.
Here would be my wish, my recipe for success. At work, we each should have somewhere between 10 percent to 20 percent of our time totally free. Twenty percent is a day of every week free to help others, or work on new ideas. At home, the number should be even higher, say 50 percent. These numbers would include time for all of the points above, summarized below.
In addition, if this were possible, I would use some of the above free time to sit down and talk with other technically educated people outside of my immediate work group. This can happen at local seminars, by attending trade shows, or any place where ideas can be shared. How else might we find out what kinds of products a university researcher or a chemist may need in the future?
Here is the wrap-up:
- Free time so we can talk to others (and help them using our experience);
- Free time so others can help us (as above but in reverse);
- Free time just to talk to one another without working on any specific problem;
- Free time to work on new inventive circuits that have nothing to do with a project/budget;
- Free time to subconsciously work on all of our problems;
- Free time to help save our sanity!
Still don't buy it? Let's take a moment and learn a lesson from history. Long ago, humans spent all their time working just to stay alive… hunting, gathering, farming... always busy. The day's work did not end until darkness came. Exhaustion was the norm by this time.
At some point in history, technology or a cultural change enabled some people to have more unstructured free time to think and invent. This moment marked the very beginning of the technological revolution. More efficient farming techniques came next followed by more free time for more people, etc. Free time = productivity!
If it were not for your free time, you would not be reading any of these blogs. My conspicuous blogging absence is a direct result of being too busy myself. It is difficult to follow these rules but believe me, it will pay off.