Saturday, 28 September 2019

Timesheets make me angry

I have a strong hatred of timesheets. I had to fill them in early in my career and every time the organisation increased the importance of these things, I found myself getting more miserable and also working fewer hours. While I chase others off home at a sensible time, I am for myself a "get it done" person at work. However when it was in black and white, I wasn't going to stick around.

For me, timesheets are an invisible eye watching all the time. They are a piece of bureaucracy that adds nothing other than a sense of unease. No place I've worked has been short changed by my hours and counting them places value in the wrong part of the job. I like to think the work I deliver is why I'm paid, not the time spent sitting at a desk? Timesheets also emphasise the power dynamics of "minion" and "management" when the manager either doesn't timesheet or effectively signs their own one.

Looking back, this has impacted my mental health over the years without me realising it - and this is without ever working in an environment which actually cares about them. I don't recall ever having a conversation with my line managers about the contents of my timesheets. I can only imagine what it would have been like if they were reviewed "properly" as they certainly are in some places.

So at one point, many years ago, I just stopped. I could have written a script to keep filling the things in, of course, but I prefer to tackle this kind of thing head-on so I informed my manager I wasn't going to do it any more. I expected at least a discussion and maybe an argument. He just shrugged. I was surprised at the sense of release I felt getting rid of the creeping anxiety and cognitive load associated with The Organisation looking over my shoulder - so surprised, I'm still thinking about it a decade later.

So why am I writing about these things now? This was one of the events I keep reflecting on in my current role. There are significant human (and specifically dehumanising) costs to process and as managers we owe it to those we look after to keep those processes as light and relevant as possible. There are things we have to do, but let's keep it minimal and that includes stopping unnecessary processes.

I was also thinking about this in the context of the increasing push against productivity culture. There is a trend in the modern world to make every second count, to optimise your life patterns and be the best you. This has the same effect - the constant sense of being watched and judged - and is not healthy. I want to be able to enjoy my spare time without worrying that spending the afternoon playing videogames means I haven't learnt a new programming language, or read that paper about emergent techniques in machine learning. My friend Iris has written a rather good post about how productivity culture brings misery, which I recommend reading.

Reading this back, I think I've finally understood why I so dislike timesheets. They are a control over people, not projects - a way to directly turn a human into a pile of money. They are also a way to stoke paranoia through being watched (there is a reason the right to privacy is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - and yes, I know that it doesn't technically apply here) and strongly suggest one isn't trusted. Even when I'm not actually being watched, they push me towards feeling I should be "on". However you look at it, monitoring time hour by hour just isn't healthy and has significant impacts beyond simply filling in a box on a spreadsheet.