Work ethics

If you’re travelling around Ireland, you may come across some odd pieces of 19th century architecture—walls, bridges, buildings and roads that serve no purpose. They date back to The Great Hunger of the 1840s. These “famine follies” were the result of a public works scheme.

The thinking went something like this: people are starving so we should feed them but we can’t just give people food for nothing so let’s make people do pointless work in exchange for feeding them (kind of like an early iteration of proof of work for cryptobollocks on blockchains …except with a blockchain, you don’t even get a wall or a road, just ridiculous amounts of wasted energy).

This kind of thinking seems reprehensible from today’s perspective. But I still see its echo in the work ethic espoused by otherwise smart people.

Here’s the thing: there’s good work and there’s working hard. What matters is doing good work. Often, to do good work you need to work hard. And so people naturally conflate the two, thinking that what matters is working hard. But whether you work hard or not isn’t actually what’s important. What’s important is that you do good work.

If you can do good work without working hard, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s great—you’ve managed to do good work and do it efficiently! But often this very efficiency is treated as laziness.

Sensible managers are rightly appalled by so-called productivity tracking because it measures exactly the wrong thing. Those instruments of workplace surveillance measure inputs, not outputs (and even measuring outputs is misguided when what really matters are outcomes).

They can attempt to measure how hard someone is working, but they don’t even attempt to measure whether someone is producing good work. If anything, they actively discourage good work; there’s plenty of evidence to show that more hours equates to less quality.

I used to think that must be some validity to the belief that hard work has intrinsic value. It was a position that was espoused so often by those around me that it seemed a truism.

But after a few decades of experience, I see no evidence for hard work as an intrinsically valuable activity, much less a useful measurement. If anything, I’ve seen the real harm that can be caused by tying your self-worth to how much you’re working. That way lies burnout.

We no longer make people build famine walls or famine roads. But I wonder how many of us are constructing little monuments in our inboxes and calendars, filling those spaces with work to be done in an attempt to chase the rewards we’ve been told will result from hard graft.

I’d rather spend my time pursuing the opposite: the least work for the most people.

Have you published a response to this? :


Old Man Vandehey

“There’s good work and there’s working hard. Often, to do good work you need to work hard. People naturally conflate the two, thinking what matters is working hard. But what’s actually important is you do good work.” I love this quote from @adactio

Jan Vissers

“… (kind of like an early iteration of proof of work for cryptobollocks on blockchains …except with a blockchain, you don’t even get a wall or a road, just ridiculous amounts of wasted energy).”

# Posted by Jan Vissers on Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 at 5:27am

Wouter Groeneveld

August 2022 is no more. August is typicallly an even slower month than July with most colleagues still on leave. Besides the yearly re-examinations, there’s ample time to catch up on the latest literature. Another major part of August—besides the traditional SIGSCE paper deadline—was reserved for editing and re-writing parts of my upcoming creativity book: it’s now officially greenlit for the Manning Early Access Program! I’m quite chuffed and eager to share more details. Very soon!

It’s been a few months since I’ve got my hands dirty with some serious code. It’s perhaps time to start thinking about bootstrapping another hobby project. In true “Scratch Your Own Itch” style, I’ve been reading more IndieWeb-related API implementations but they don’t do much for me anymore. The more I see people add to their personal website tech stack, the more I think I should start removing stuff.

Previous month in review: July 2022.

Books I’ve read

In last month’s review, I said:

I’m contemplating on quitting GoodReads.

This month, I wrote GoodReads is as good as gone. I enjoyed writing more in my journal lately because of it. I’ll try out using The Story Graph links here. The Open Library is very slow, ugly, and its database is messy. There’s also Oku but it doesn’t seem to support something basic as book browsing without logging in?

  • The Crown Conspiracy (The Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan. A fast-paced adventure where the roguish do-gooders are everything but heroes. 4/5—not a brain burner, great pace, great cast.

I also started reading Daniel J. Levitin’s Successful Aging, a thick codex on neuroscience and aging, but progress is slow.

Games I’ve played

After last month’s Dexter Stardust, Kristien was really eager to hunt down more point & click adventure games, both new ones on the Nintendo Switch as replay existing classics.

  • Agent A by Yack & Co. Crazy to think that this was originally “just” a mobile game. If you like escape rooms, you’ll love these puzzles.
  • Spy Fox in Dry Cereal by Humongous Entertainment. Despite the fact that the Switch port is horrendous, the jokes in there are designed to amuse both children and parents who happen to play along.
  • Day of the Tentacle by LucasArts. The 1993 classic that is still every bit as good as it was back in 1993. If you never played this, you’re not a gamer. This was our fourth playthrough—I think.

I bought Cursed to Golf at its release date, I’ve had my eye on it for a while. So far, to be honest, it’s disappointing. I’ll have a review out somewhere in September. After DoTT, in anticipation of the upcoming Monkey Island release, Kristien & I are replaying the first two editions as well.

I’m still on the fence about the the new Turtle’s Cowabunga Collection. I heard it’s really good but already have all Game Boy versions, and Shredder’s Revenge makes Turtles in Time kind of obsolete. I don’t care about online functionality.

Selected (blog) posts

Other random links

  • Gum, for writing “glamorous shell scripts”, leveraging Go’s Bubbles and Lip Gloss frameworks.
  •, an API-based chart generator that looks easier to use than my default go-to JS framework, amCharts.
  • And then there’s ChartJS, perhaps also worth a closer look.
  • Does what it says on the tin.
  • RingsDB, a deckbuilder for the Lord of the Rings living card game.
  • Bun, a very fast JavaScript runtime drop-in replacement for Node/Deno that just works.
  • VSCodium, open source binaries of VS Code that are telemetry-free.

tags icon metapost


# Liked by Tomáš Jakl on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022 at 5:17pm

# Liked by Dominik Schwind on Wednesday, August 24th, 2022 at 6:11am

# Liked by Marty McGuire on Wednesday, August 24th, 2022 at 2:36pm

Previously on this day

5 years ago I wrote Brian Aldiss

1925 - 2017

6 years ago I wrote Why do pull quotes exist on the web?

Won’t somebody think of the readers?

7 years ago I wrote Recently speculative

Some recent sci-fi books I’ve read and recommend.

9 years ago I wrote August in America, day twenty

San Francisco, California.

12 years ago I wrote Slight return

Back in blog.

15 years ago I wrote Location, location, location

Information wants to be geostamped.

20 years ago I wrote Sleep the dream!

In honour of National Slackerday 3 here in the UK, I will do no work today.