Why test only 20% of your day???

[ NOTE: By “test” in the title I aim at the broader meaning of testing that includes all the activities around learning, planning, exploring, reporting, and obviously checking the application in order to understand if it works properly and/or find bugs on it. In this sense you could easily replace TEST with WORK and it would still mean the same.]

Last week someone sent me a link to a video by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37Signals, called “why you can’t work at work. I’ve followed Jason’s writings for a while and most of the time I agree with his comments and ideas, but this specific short video really hit the nail for me.

What do you do with your time in the office?

So I did a short back-of-the-envelop calculation of a “typical tester workday” and I came up with the following time distribution (that I am guessing you can relate to it too):

TOTAL TIME IN THE OFFICE   ~   10 hours a day

– Morning setup (small-talk with peers, coffee & cereal)   ~   15 min
– Morning emails, news & blogs   ~   45 min
– Meetings (avg of 3 meetings  a day)   ~   3 hours
– Lunch   ~   1 hour
– Time helping others in their tasks   ~   1 hour
– Working distractions (mails, calls, “can you come for a sec…“)   ~   1 hour
– Other distractions during the day (calls, coffee, bathroom breaks)   ~   1 hour
Total Non-Working Time During The Day   ~   8 hours

ACTUAL WORKING (TESTING) TIME   ~   2 hours a day

What can you do about it?

As with most problems in life, I think the first step towards your solution is to realize you have a problem…  Then the second step is to start treating your time as something with value (to you if not to all the Organization).

What does this mean in practice?  Look for the things wasting your time and try to eliminate them or at least reduce them from your workday.

Let’s take meetings as an example:
– Don’t accept every meeting you are invited to, make sure there is a reason for you to attend (sometimes you can be more effective by simply reading the meeting summary or reviewing a document off-line)
– Demand that meetings be kept short! Who said a meeting should be 1 hour long? Why not 30 min?? Why not 20 min???
– If you feel you are not adding or getting any benefit from the meeting be polite but assertive and excuse yourself from the session.

And there are plenty of things you can do around meetings and many other time-wasters once you understand that time is your most valuable asset.

Set time aside to Do Work!

If your main problem is that you don’t find time to work, then schedule specific time-boxes in your agenda where you set aside time to work.  Try to do this when you are most productive; for me this is during the morning until around 11:00 and then from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, but this is usually different for everyone.

You need to make sure to communicate to the rest of the world that you don’t want to be bothered or interrupted during your work-time.  A good way of doing this is by posting a sign like this one in your door or desk:
If you work on an open-space or in a room with many people get a good set of head-phones (sometimes your employer may even agree to pay for them!) and find the music that let’s you concentrate on your tasks and work.

Let people know when you can be interrupted

This is a tricky one but if you want people to leave you alone to work, you also need to make sure to leave time aside to be interrupted or consulted.

For example, if you take breaks every hour (like I do) try to make them “on-the-hour” and let people know that they have 5 minutes at the beginning of each hour when they can come to ask questions.

You also need to work with non-interrupt communication mechanisms.  We use email for things that are not urgent, or IM for more urgent stuff.  I make sure that whenever I take my on-the-hour-break I check all the IM messages I had up to now, and at least 4 to 5 time a day I scan (not review!) my mailbox to see if there is something I need to attend to.

BTW, there are many people out-there who think you should go over your email once or maximum two times a day, I find this a little hard to do…

Work with the correct methodology and the tools that will help you be efficient

Email is a good example of this, when you ask co-workers to send you non-urgent requests via email instead of coming to bother you “live”.  But when you are talking directly about testing this becomes more a specific tool & method question.

Make sure your bugs are correctly written so that developers won’t come asking unnecessary questions.  All the information should be in the bug report itself!

Work with a system where your developers can automatically see the test and the steps you ran to find and reproduce the bug (I can think of at least one QA Management tool for this 🙂 )

Execute your tests and give visibility to your manager so that she has all the information accessible to her all the time, don’t make her come to you seeking answers every time someone asks  a question about the test cycle or status of the product.  In short, make sure the people who depend on your work to do theirs can get all their information from the supporting testing tools and don’t require you to provide them information or even worst to interpret the information you already gave.


Many places don’t allow you to work off-site, but if you can get your manager to accept try to telecommute once every 2 to 4 weeks.  The amount of uninterrupted work you can do from work or from a  public library is amazing.  I also think that changing the work-atmosphere once in a while can trigger great work results.

In short…

Treat your time and your work as a valuable asset.  Once you respect it yourself it will be easier to ask others to do the same.


10 Responses to Why test only 20% of your day???

  1. Yaniv July 4, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    great post! This is true not only for Testers, but also for developers and probably for every high-tech employee that has meetings.

    People that smoke, usually need to take 3-10 cigarette breaks a working day, each of them requires them to leave the building, so it's at least 10 minutes each. For those guys, maybe they have 1 hour to work a day.

    Taking into account that between interruptions you have to get to the 'zone of work' as Jason Fried said, it means that there are people (us !??), who don't get to work in specific days, even though we may be in the office for more than 10 hours!

  2. Eric July 5, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    Great post !
    In my opinion:
    1) cause#1: useless meetings
    2) cause#2: reading emails you're just in cc (do not read them anymore !)
    3) cause#3: using no or bad tools: using good tools is essential. I would mention very good free ones:

    Bug-tracking databases:

    Test Management Systems:

    Using the right tools can save A LOT of time.

  3. Bill Echlin July 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    One of the worst things ever for productivity is those little pop up 'a new email has arrived' notifications that you get in outlook. So one of the biggest productivity improvement solutions I use, along with a good test management application, is to close my email client. It does wonders for focused concentration when you are not being constantly distracted by emails coming in. Having said that it's almost like an addiction keeping your email client open, and closing it down for 80% of your day can take some doing initially.

  4. joelmonte July 7, 2010 at 5:29 am #

    I agree on cause 1 and 3.

    With regards to 2 it is a tricky one since I also agree that 80% of the mails I am cc-ed are not worth reading, but the other 20% are usually things I don't want to miss and in other cases even stuff I want to comment on, so on this point I have not yet reached the point where I can “Create a Mail Rule” to delete them all (sometimes I wish I could…)

  5. joelmonte July 7, 2010 at 5:31 am #

    Totally agree with taking out the mail notification.

    I work with an Inbox-0 policy, so when I need to review my mail it doesn't take ages to sort between the old important stuff and the new one…

  6. Eric July 7, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Well… same for me. Initially, I was answering to the 20% of the maills I was on cc and people kept on putting me on cc. But 20% is a lot, so one day I decided to “create the mail rule”! after a few weeks, I noticed I perfectly survived and did not miss anything really important.

    A few later, I tried once to read all the mails directly sent in the “cc folder” and noticed that I would have answered/commented on only 10% of them. More interstingly, now this percentage reduced again to reach a small 5%.

    Conclusion: I think senders progressively “educated” themselves and started to put me in to: when they were really expecting something from me and stopped putting me on cc: when I was not supposed to answer/comment on…

    great deal! saved a lot of time

  7. Yaniv July 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    once I actually tried to reply to all the email senders who CC'd me something like: “please don't CC me on any item unless you need anything from me”. But I guess your “education” method works well enough, and less rude than my reply emails.

  8. Sarcojp July 29, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    Excellent Post!

    You can try using tools like rescuetime (http://www.rescuetime.com) to identify the time where you don't be productive and then try to reduce them to zero.

    Best regards!



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