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Mark's 20 Percent Time Experiment - Introduction

What happens when a geek, full time wage slave, husband and father gets fed up with his life being wholly consumed by obligations to other people? I don't know, but I intend to document the procedure here as best I can.

If I were a full time wage slave for a little tech company in Mtn. View that you might have heard of called Google, I'd have 20% of my professional time to work on projects that interest me personally. In exchange for one day a week to effectively do what I want, Google would get first right of refusal on anything I create. Basically, if they like it, they get it and I get a fat check. If they don't like it, then I get to keep it. Some of Google's best projects have come out of this (confession: don't ask me to name any, but they claim this to be the case.)

Alas, I don't work for Google. I work for CreateSpace, a subsidiary of, who, like the vast majority of the rest of the industry, does not have a similar policy. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE the company I work for, and I'm _NOT_ just saying this because this is a public Blog. Seriously. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I can see myself working for the same company in 10 or 20 years, and I'm saying this after having worked for this company longer than I've ever worked for anyone before. As much as I love what I do, who I do it for, and most importantly who I do it WITH, my job still doesn't give me the opportunity to scratch that creative itch I've been feeling lately.

So, I decided to make my own "20% time" policy. I've shifted my work schedule from 5x8 hour days to 4x9 hour days, and plan to take half a PTO day a week. I'll leave the math as an exercise to the reader, but the outcome is that this is not quite sustainable, especially if I plan to, oh I don't know, take an _ACTUAL_ vacation, or heaven forbid I get sick. So I won't be doing this year round. But given the >100 hours of PTO I have built up now, I can do this for at least a few months at a time, which will give me several days of personal productivity, which is several more days than I've really had in the last few years.

I've discussed this with friends and coworkers, and people oscillate between extreme jealousy at my willingness to take such a risk, and thinking I'm completely nutters. Honestly, I'm not sure which camp I'm in. I guess we'll find out.

It is my intention to treat this time as a real job, with all the regimentation that goes along with that. I plan to keep a TODO list of projects with relative priorities and time sensitivities. I plan to write a daily status report (hence, this blog). Some of my projects are public, some the details of which will be kept private; I'll give status updates on both, just with varying levels of detail as appropriate.

This post sort-of establishes what I'm doing here and why. It's really intended to keep me honest more than anything. If no one else reads this blog, I'll still write it, though I would love to share my experience with others, and they theirs with me.

I'm available on Twitter, Gtalk and AIM as SmittyHalibut. I'm always interested (if not available) in talking with others who are considering trying something similar. Please feel free to poke me and chat.

And, with that, I'm going to go get to work. Today's tasks: Finish cleaning our spare bed room (we have a friend moving in with us later today) and finish building a chicken coop in the back yard so our four beautiful hens can move outside (and take their stinky poop out of my office). If I've got more time after doing all that, I'll probably start working on an Ethernet project I've been throwing around for a while.

Status report to come later tonight. Thanks for reading.


Comments (2)


Good for you, Smitty! I approve. Don't burn yourself out, but I think this is a creative way to solve the question of balancing work/family/personal time. I'm rooting for you!


Thanks, Owen. I'm really excited about this.

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