Hack Work. Detach from Work. Just be Careful.

Josh Klein

That work can be frustrating or annoying goes without saying. That we can do something about it often seems like a forlorn hope.

Great advice on how to maintain your sanity comes from Josh Klein (@joshuaklein) and Bill Jensen (@simpletonbill) in Hacking Work — Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results.

“Just two guys who have dedicated [their] professional lives to finding work-arounds to corporate bullshit,” Klein and Jensen argue that rules imposed by employers are for the organization’s benefit — even if that means the employee has a harder time doing his or her job.

“Business’s love of lingering bureaucracy, legacy technologies, and deeply embedded procedures is killing us,” they say. Their recommendation is to “hack work,” or forbidden innovation.

Of particular interest to me were some of their comments around corporate IT. This site features plenty of musings from experts like Susan Cramm (@scramm) and Joe Peppard on what ails IT, but Klein & Jensen deal in the practicalities of working around the department. Between firewalls, procedures, security policies and corporate standards, “IT is more of a barrier to you than an enabler,” they say.

Stuck with clunky or outdated IT-supplied tools? Download open source ones. Can’t share project plans easily? Use Google Docs. Essentially Jensen & Klein advise circumvention of stupid rules for noble intent.

While reading, I started to wonder about IT security. One of their many anecdotes featured a bank employee who figured out a way to improve reporting for senior execs. All he needed to do was connected Microsoft Access to a central database. He did this by calling the software vendor and getting the password.

My guess, based on personal experience, is that was probably the default password and it had not been changed. No harm, until IT security auditors show up and insist all default passwords get changed. Unaware of the hack, IT will inadvertently break our hero’s reporting mechanism.

Bill Jensen

Nevertheless, they have a point, and the costs imposed by just such a set of corporate rules (IT security) far outweigh the benefits, according to Cormac Herley of Microsoft.

His paper, So Long, And No Thanks for the Externalities: The Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users (PDF), puts aggregate costs to the damage done by computer hacking and, on the other hand, the cost to users. Herley’s basic premise is that security rules make “an enormous miscalculation: it treats as free a resource that is actually worth $2.6 billion an hour.” His figures were arrived by multiplying the number of online adults in the U.S. times twice the minimum wage.

Now I am someone with IT security in my resumé, a Security+ certification and a responsibility still for IT security. In fact, I wrote a security policy not too long ago designed to thwart some of Jensen & Klein’s suggestions. So, it would be easy to start quibbling. However, all three writers have a point: Many corporate rules would be most cost effective if jettisoned.

My only concern is that uninitiated hackers would jump in too soon and make a bigger mess than the one they hoped to fix. Acknowledging there is a “dark side,” Klein & Jensen do caution against that by becoming familiar with the systems you are trying to hack.

Meanwhile, Harvard Business Review (HBR) blogger, Gill Corkindale, offers some personal advice on dealing with work-related pressures. Although an executive coach, we’ll call her a “work-life-balance hacker” for now. Corkindale suggests detaching yourself from work from time to time for the mental well being of yourself and those around you. Her tips:

1. Be honest about how much time you spend at work and why. Are long hours at the office due to workload? Or are you trying to impress someone? Or are you just poor at time management?

2. Manage your energy, not your time. Based on the classic HBR article of the same name, this advice does what it says on the tin.

3. Identify and banish time-stealers. Cut out demanding people, unnecessary meetings and bad habits. “This should help you feel more in charge of your agenda,” Corkindale says.

4. Find a buddy or mentor at work. Don’t burden your partner at home with work problems. “One friend of mine meets a colleague weekly and they are each allowed a half an hour to rant and rave,” Corkindale says.

5. Treat time outside work as sacrosanct and refresh yourself. For the sake of your sanity and health, you need to replenish outside of work.

6. Remind yourself that you are much more than your job. Don’t identify too closely with work and “think about your definition of personal success,” Corkindale advises.

As for the hacking, make sure it is important to remember that it is both for your and the company’s benefit. If you can’t back up your hacks with real value, then all you are doing is using others for your own gain, Klein & Jensen say. “In hacker’s lingo, that’s ‘being a dick.’ Don’t be a dick.”

Sound advice, indeed.

More about Hacking Work can be found on this site here.

Photo of Josh Klein (top) courtesy of Mola on Flickr.com. Image of Bill Jensen from the Hacking Work website.

2 thoughts on “Hack Work. Detach from Work. Just be Careful.

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