232. Energized Work

Working longer hours does not result in greater or higher quality output. Rather, it is often how we spend our time outside of working hours that plays the biggest role in our performance from nine to five. These ideas are well captured in the principle of ‘energized work’ found in James Shore’s The Art of Agile. Today on the show we dive into the meaning of energized work and discuss our individual methods of attaining it. We are also lucky enough to have Raymond Lam, Principal Software Engineer at Ginkgo Bioworks, join us for the ride! We begin our conversation with the actual definition of energized work as it appears in The Art of Agile. The text also describes the concept in the form of a Haiku poem, and we make sure to include that in our discussion. We move on to speak about how workers laid the foundations for energized work before social distancing and how leaders can manage their teams in ways that encourage it in our current situation. Our conversation draws to a close with Dave, Michael, and Raymond’s personal rituals for winding down, with a highlight being that Dave’s dog does most of his scheduling for him!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • The principle of ‘energized work’ and a definition for how it is achieved.
  • Discussing a haiku poem that encapsulates the principles of energized work.
  • How the energized work principle is defined in XP Explained and The Art of Agile.
  • The idea that energized work might have been easier to achieve before social distancing.
  • How Dave and Micheal achieve energized work in a remote working environment.
  • What team leads can do to make sure their team members achieve energized work.
  • Methods for focusing on work such as pair programming and the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Jogging, avoiding TV, going outside: how Dave, Michael, and Raymond relax at day’s end.


Transcript for Episode 232. Energized Work


[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast, living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today -

[0:00:09.3] DA: Dave Anderson. 

[0:00:10.1] MN: And our guest today -

[0:00:11.3] RL: Raymond Lam.

[0:00:12.9] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about energized work.

[0:00:16.8] DA: Oh my god, I’m ready for it, at last.

[0:00:20.3] MN: You’re so energized.

[0:00:21.7] DA: Overflowing.

[0:00:23.8] MN: Dave has been energized for this energized work episode for some time.

[0:00:26.6] DA: There’s no Red Bull involved, it’s just pure enthusiasm.

[0:00:30.9] MN: Yeah, a lot of rest, woke up, energized work, let’s go. We’ll talk about energized work, what it is, what are some ways that we exercise energized work and what are some things you can do for your team to ensure that energized work is being exercised at your workplace?

[0:00:48.4] DA: Energized work is the principle that to quote, The Art of Agile, it’s an XP Principle seen in The Art of Agile by James Shore and in a form in XP Explained, the original book by Kent Beck as ‘a 40-hour week’. It says, “professionals do their best, most productive work when they’re energized and motivated. To achieve this, combine quality time away with focused attention while at work.” It’s a flight, a paring.

[0:01:18.6] MN: I do like that if you Google energized work in The Art of Agile, a lot of the articles, The Art of Agile version two is out. If you have a copy of version one, it’s like the cup with the tree in the room, version two, the tree has grown and it’s a lot more greener, I really like the way that the tree has been growing.

[0:01:36.0] DA: I think there’s a goldfish in there too.

[0:01:38.4] MN: Yeah, I think there’s a fish in there and everything, yeah. It’s got a whole ecosystem, it’s great. It also comes with a Haiku and I love to read the haiku. It says, “The cicadas sing, tired, sore, I’m ready for a perfect evening.” That’s so peaceful.

[0:01:56.3] DA: Yeah, there’s that bowl of water, the tree, the cicadas.

[0:02:01.0] MN: I don’t know, there’s something about haikus that makes it sound a lot – 

[0:02:04.1] DA: The fish is just falling asleep, it’s so tired, tough day but like around that poem, there’s kind of the idea, “Okay, how did you get tired and sore?” You gave it your all at work and you’re focused, you tilled the fields of TDD software and paired your heart out and at the end of the day, you’re ready to change gears and do something that will fill you up to start the next day.

[0:02:34.0] MN: Right, it’s very interesting as you mentioned before, right? XP just says, “Hey, the 40 hour workweek, that’s what you do and you’re in at the 40 hours, you’re out,” that’s it.

[0:02:43.0] DA: Right. If you do overtime, don’t do it all the time, do it like once every other week, don’t go nuts.

[0:02:50.0] MN: Art of Agile definitely went far in-depth as to what it is, how do you practice it and I thought that was pretty cool on that part.

[0:03:00.5] DA: Yeah, it seems like a very relevant topic too. I feel like a lot of people have been feeling with the switch to remote work, it can be harder to feel like engaged and energized. My commute, it was a bit tiring but there was also things that kind of changed the stage like it allowed me to shift my perception, like how I’m thinking about things and there’s the rush of running into the subway at the last possible moment.

[0:03:32.9] MN: Yes. I made it.

[0:03:36.4] DA: Yes, I did it. Yeah and then you chill out with the podcast for 20 minutes or whatever and then work.

[0:03:40.6] MN: I would think that that transition from your house and the commute was the loading screen for you to end up at work, there is a different scene change if you will and it just took the commute time to do that if that makes sense.

It’s just like, it was easy for us to do that. It was easy for us to be able to say, “Okay, well I am at work now, I am here and I’m here to do my all right now and then the time ends and I will be departing from here and I will be loading back into family Bobby,” if you will, “where I’m just at home and chilling and stuff like that.”

[0:04:20.5] RL: I want to ask you, Dave, do you set your own buffers when you’re on the dot and you want to get out on the dot, or do you set like 30 minutes to an hour? When do you set your day? How do you set your days up?

[0:04:35.5] DA: I think at the front end, I try to be pretty consistent. The reason why this topic is resonating with me more is because I’ve been thinking about this a bit more recently. We switched our podcast recordings to be at 9 AM and that on the even if’s of starting, sometimes I stand up at 10:15, sometimes I visit nine. I’m just going to start at nine and try to be looking at work things which is like, email or whatever. 

Doing that scene change earlier and then I think the tail end part of energized work for me is listening to my body and seeing when I’m no longer able to climb the mountain anymore or really work on a hard problem and then I’ll shift gears and try to wind down at the tail end of the day when it feels right. There’s kind of some idea of a time but it kind of does wiggle one way or the other for me at least.

[0:05:46.2] RL: Is that the same with you Bobby or is it different?

[0:05:49.8] MN: I think for me, there’s – with the variable of a two-year-old, it definitely changes in the household, right? It would be easier for me if I had a set schedule that I will step out the door, be able to do work and then say, “I need to go home because my son doesn’t feel well” and I have to help out in the household or if he was in daycare that I would have to go and pick him up.

That is different but in the household, when your coworking space is with a two-year-old, things are – it can be a little different. There are things that I try to practice to kind of, to have that separation. I think Dave mentioned before, some people use a commute. Me personally, I’ve been trying to use hats as a way to kind of separate the two kind of realms.

Where I have a white Stride hat that I normally wear, that signifies, I am at work, right? Usually, you’ll see me in meetings on my Stride hat or my Stride sweater, it’s like my uniform that I wear and then when I’m not at work, I take the hat off and all my hats are Yankee caps and they’re dark. I use that to be my relaxing, my playful, I’m ready to handle things in the house hat. 

[0:07:02.8] DA: If you’re wearing your Stride hat and you're interacting with your son, it’s a business meeting, there’s going to be – I

[0:07:08.2] MN: Yes, you have to bill him.

[0:07:09.0] DA: There is going to be billing time, this means like minutes of meeting. You’re going to be rubber ducking some problem with him. 

[0:07:15.3] MN: He’s a great rubber duck for sure but I have to bill him. I’m like, “Hey, that’s going to be a $150 just so you know” so I just have him take it out of your college fund, that’s what I end up doing. 

[0:07:24.6] DA: Oh my god, yeah. I think for my mornings, I do feel like I’m also helped by having a dog and the dog having a very strong opinion about what the schedule should be where it’s like we’re going to go for a walk right now so I still have kind of that, you know, stretch my legs kind of thing in the morning. 

[0:07:46.6] MN: Right, I guess a note to the tech leads or like the team leads on the team, definitely one must work with their team to figure out what’s the best schedule for individuals to do their energized work, right? If you know for example Dave, your dog likes to be walked at a certain time, that can probably be arranged with the entire team to say, “Hey, can we not have or stand up at this time or do you all mind if I do standup while walking my dog because my dog needs to do things that dogs do outside during this time?” 

[0:08:23.7] DA: I will change the use opinion about that like I will not. That will feel a little weird like she has opinions between seven and eight. 

[0:08:34.1] MN: Yeah. 

[0:08:34.8] DA: She’s got me out there. 

[0:08:35.9] MN: But the idea of working with your team to make sure that these other and other things that could affect the schedule could be worked in. 

[0:08:41.9] DA: Yeah, totally and you want to try and arrange like design your day for focus. If you have something that happened to our team recently was that we had a couple of people who took on more different kinds of responsibilities like team lead and management and so we found that they were like, “Oh, this little time in games that we’re coming during our days” and it became very hard to be a team together and collaborate so we made it a point to take a look at our meetings and just slash through them and get large blocks of time where we could actually freely collaborate and I think that was pretty helpful.

In the book, they talk about product managers and team leads kind of playing that role of defense, where it’s like asking the hard questions like, “Is this meeting actually going to be helpful? Do we need to have all the people there?” just being very mindful about how you’re pulling people’s attention around. 

[0:09:43.6] MN: Could that meeting be an email, right? That’s one that people ask all the time. 

[0:09:49.0] DA: Exactly and yeah, it is not just about having your workspace and being distraction-free, it helps to take regular base views. We talk about Pomodoro, that’s a really simple rule of thumb where it’s like, “Okay, I should try to step away from my computer, breathe a little bit and come back” and often, you’ll find that when you take that step away, the problem will resolve itself inside your head. 

[0:10:21.4] MN: Yeah, the best ideas happen when I’m taking my break for sure. I wanted to ask because we have ways to focus on work. I think [Pepper Oak 0:10:32.1] definitely helps individuals focus on work and give your full attention, right? You’re not going to check your phone or your Twitter feed when you’re pairing with someone next to you because you’re less likely to waste someone else’s time than your own but I want to ask you all, off the clock, right? 

You know, your 5 PM hits and you’re stepping away from the computer for the day, what are some things that you’re doing to relaxing and regaining energy and I’ll start with Raymond. 

[0:10:59.7] RL: Yeah, so the first thing I do is get away from that seat and in front of my computer.

[0:11:06.0] MN: Yeah, I mean good start. 

[0:11:08.3] RL: Living with Sciatica, I know it’s just painful sitting all day, so the first thing I do is some yoga stretches, go out for a walk. If I can run, go for a run and then come back feeling refreshed and then focus on the family, focus on something else. I just want to get away from work, let my brain rest. 

[0:11:30.7] MN: Awesome.

[0:11:32.1] DA: Totally. For me, something that I started thinking more about recently is how I’m sleeping and I think I was in a loop where I think I enjoy watching TV, it’s fun. It’s a good way to get a laugh or be entertained but I feel like with streaming content, it’s so easy just to keep playing one more and not really question like when I’m going to stop, so I set a hard cut-off time where I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to have an hour to wind down” at the end day where I’m not going to be watching another episode of Ted Lasso. 

[0:12:08.7] MN: Yeah. 

[0:12:09.6] DA: Start reading, start taking a shower in the evening and I’m like, “I do feel the energy.” You know, it does change the quality of sleep and that’s been working pretty good for me. 

[0:12:21.0] MN: For me, it’s hanging out with Gio and the fam. A lot of the times, I try to end the day right on the dot because Gio really likes to be outside and they’ll let you know by throwing his shoes at you and screaming the word outside, so it’s like sometimes you just got to go outside so I try to finish work and wrap up really quick and we go outside and go for a walk. That forces me to go for a walk too, which is really great. 

I think Raymond also mentioned that walks is good and the idea that I get a change to be able to take that break away from the computer and we walk around for about an hour and I come back and then I’m able to continue to hang out with him and stuff like that. Definitely is energizing work but it’s also very tiring too, so then I like – when it’s nighttime like Dave, the first thing I want to do is just go to sleep and that’s what ends up completely washing all the energy I have away and then I’m ready to do the thing in the morning for the next day. 

[0:13:16.5] DA: Awesome. Speaking of energized work, I feel like it’s time to jump into it, like we got to go. 

[0:13:24.3] MN: Yeah, we got to go. 

[0:13:26.1] DA: We got to go, I’m feeling hyped. 

[0:13:29.2] MN: If you’re listening to this in the morning – 

[0:13:29.5] DA: Do a stretch. 

[0:13:30.7] RL: Yeah, do a stretch, make a stretch and start the day. This is your winding down to us, really appreciate it, go to sleep and that’s fine and start your energized work the next day and with that, love to hear what other energized work exercises and things that people do and I am looking forward to hearing more about that from you all. 


[0:13:51.5] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


Links and Resources:

The Art of Agile

XP Explained

Raymond Lam on LinkedIn

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter


Michael Nunez on LinkedIn

Michael Nunez on Twitter

David Anderson on LinkedIn

David Anderson on Twitter

William Jeffries on LinkedIn

William Jeffries on Twitter