17 October 2006

Work Density

A long time ago, my friend, Gretchen, and I came up with a genius of an idea, something we titled "Work Density." Though we planned on someday publishing the results in a highly-regarded technical journal, I'll brief you on the idea. Basically, the idea hit us when we were discussing how busy or non-busy we were at our then-jobs. We wanted to a succinct way to represent this "busy-ness" quantitatively. Thus the "work density" was born. It's a simple calculation really. Calculate the number of hours you spend at work; this number becomes your denominator. Then, calculate the hours that you spent at work "actually working." That is, don't count hours spent checking your bank statements online, playing sudoku, or chatting with co-workers about non-work topics. Only the hours doing stuff required for your job count. This number becomes your numerator. Then simply do the division and express as a percent. That's it.

We found this an incredible way to convey to one another how much work we were actually doing. This past August, I'd say my work density was pretty low, probably hovering around 10%. This is not because I was a bad employee; rather, I honestly had zero work to do. By contrast, my mom's work density is usually around 97%.

Limitations of this work density: The measurement is bounded between 0 and 100%. If someone has had an unbelievably busy day, there is no way to express that other than to say their density was at 100%. We have discussed adding an "intensity" factor to supplement the density. Also, work density is an estimate. Unless one actually tabulates how they spent every minute of every work day, there is no way to know what one's "true" density really is. We would like to conduct studies that can give us distributions for density in order to get at the idea of this "true" density.

Given that I've already spent 18 minutes writing this post, I'm sure it's pretty obvious I'm going to have another low-density day.

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