I’ve developed a new habit of starting lecture presentations with an audience self-assessment. Basically I tell the audience what I will present, and, if they already know it, invite them to leave.
Why? The gift of an unexpected hour is perhaps, the most valuable thing I can give, certainly more valuable than an hour of slightly-entertaining smiling and nodding along to things you already know.
It doesn’t matter if you are Bill Gates or a Hobo, your time in one day is limited to 24 hours. Short of air to a drowning man, food or shelter to someone starving or exposed, it is our most precious resource. This is why, when I see cartoons like this one, from FreelanceSwitch.com, I chuckle, appreciate and share:
My workload includes existing testing clients, writing assignments, running an online test competition in April for NRGGlobal, trying to organize a peer conference in August in Wisconsin (TestRetreat! More to come!), getting ready for STPCon in April, a New York City trip in May, and Rotterdam in June. All that is before I do any volunteer work for the Association for Software Testing or for the Agile Conference, where I am co-chair of the Test and Quality Track, yes, it can feel a lot like that comic, and sometimes this one.
Now I would like to pursue new business opportunities. I even have a short list of people I need to talk to. The problem is that existing body of ongoing work — I don’t have time to step back and work on that next book, or partnership, or big project, because of the existing big project.
If only I had more time. What a gift that would be!
About the Sequester
The talk of DC politics for most of this year has been about sequestration, the magical point (it’s today, right?) at which the department of defense needs to cut $85Billion from its budget. Or something. Getting facts about sequestration is awkward; it makes my tester spidey sense go off. From what I can tell, the “10% cuts” number is a cut from the projected 2013 budget, which grows automatically, so the actual cuts are smaller, but they are starting later in the fiscal year, making them bigger, because to active an 8% cut starting in March for the year you need to …
Never mind. I give up.
The only thing the analysts seem to agree on is that the budget of Federal Agencies will end up smaller than projected. To stave off layoffs, the agencies have taken to something called a furlough. A furlough might look something like this: If a team with five people on it gives Monday “off” to person A, Tuesday “off” to person B, and so on. This allows the agency to deduct 20% from salaries without actually laying anyone off.
Those workers will have less money in their pockets, making them less likely to eat out at local restaurants. The restaurants will sell less food. The wait staff will have less tips, making them likely to get hair cuts less often and tip smaller, hurting the barber shops and salons, and on it goes. I am sure a thousand bloggers will unite and write “vicious cycle” articles in the next month or so.
But there is an upside: All those workers have suddenly been given a gift of time.
Not a little time either. Eight hours a week. Nine with lunch, ten with commute, that makes five hundred hours a year.
Do you have any idea what I could do with an extra five hundred hours a year?
The Virtuous Cycle
Let’s imagine the worst happens. Every one of those eight hundred thousand workers gets furloughed (they won’t, but that is the worst case.) All of them still have full benefits, full pension, and now, a lot more time per week.
Imagine that each person takes that time to do something productive. Some start a cleaning agency, others a placement firm. Others start doing PR from home, others technical work – writing, graphic design, programming. The handy ones can start a handyman shop, the ones with specific skills could lend themselves out for electric work, remodeling, carpentry. Or housepainting, which is, in many cases, less about skill and more about willing to deal with discomfort and being careful. (Want more time with your kids? That’s great. But you could start a day care center or “Mom’s Night Out” program. Just sayin’.)
The great thing about having time, by the way, is that if you don’t have the skill, you can develop the skills.
Some of these folks will write a novel. Others might found a publishing house – “Send me your word doc and I will make it a book and put it up on Amazon, for 20% of gross sales.”
One more time: the sequester could mean people have an opportunity to start their own business. If the business fails, well, that’s okay, they have benefits and salary and pension to come.
But if it succeeds …
The furlough is one fifth of a person. If one in five people furloughed go and create their own full-time job, the furlough roughly will be revenue-neutral to the US Government. If one-fifth of those businesses are successful enough to create a a half-time employee, we’ll actually gain ground.
The final blow will not be what happens to the Federal Budget, but what we do about it.
I hear the news, I hear how bad it is supposed to be, but I still haven’t given up on the resiliency of the American Spirit.
So please, let me ask, who would you rather have be right, me or the TV News guys?
UPDATE: I didn’t explore it here, but it is always possible that the people furloughed do something else with their time. They might rebuild relationships, volunteer in the community, or change to live a simpler style of life. In macroeconomic terms, the quality of life might go down, because they buy a new car or computer less often, eat steak a little less, and hamburger a little more. Perhaps that might be worse, economically.
It’s just that, well … it might just be a good thing anyway.