August 26, 2014

Want to be better at your job? Get A Hobby!

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Last week, Netflix hosted another successful Hack Day, an event when employees work together in small groups for 24 consecutive hours on their own software development projects and ideas. This tradition, as Netflix defines on their Tech Blog, “is a great way to get away from everyday work and to provide a fun, experimental, collaborative and creative outlet for our product development and technical teams.”

After these products are literally created overnight, employees then have the opportunity to present their concept creations to their peers. Although the online coverage of Hack Day garners some attention by technology enthusiasts and Netflix subscribers, it is never promised to employees or customers that any of this hard work will see the light of day in Netflix’s internal infrastructure. This annual event, also referred to as a “hackathon,” is commonplace in the industry and is practiced by a long list of tech giants including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay and Microsoft.

Many point to an Australian software company named Atlassian as the originator of the hackathon concept. Atlassian first launched these programming marathons as an alternative to the 20% rule. Popularized by Google, many tech industry companies choose to allow their employees to work on any project that interests or fascinates them for 20% of their time, in hopes of boosting performance and creativity during the other 80%. This may not sound like a lot, but 20% translates to an entire day of an employee’s work week spent occupied with something other than the responsibilities on their job description.

Ryan Tate, author of “The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business,” explains that the 20% rule is rooted in the belief that knowledgeable employees are most valuable when given protected time to be creative and innovative. Tate also explains that almost half of Google’s new product launches have grown from this permitted free time, so the prospect of developing an actual product certainly motivates the engineers to keep thinking out of the box.

Realistically, however, not all companies are in the position to dismiss their employees of their standard duties a fifth of the time. So what can you do to remain inspired and motivated throughout the day? In a post on, Hiut Denim Co suggests taking on a hobby or side project in which you are not financially dependent or have a set timeline. A casual and low-pressure project, like painting a still life or learning a song on the piano, might be exactly the creative outlet you need afterhours to keep your brain invigorated and prepared for its best performance at work in the morning.