Category Archives: switching costs

Just say no to (becoming) middle management.

New Rich friends don’t let New Rich desiring friends become middle managers 😉 It’s nice to see that the new workforce are recognizing the true costs as well:

Middle management is a vital aspect to most corporations existance, perhaps even as vital as food..which is less metaphorical than I’d like. Middle managers are the grist between the upper management + sales + marketing rock and the engineering + creative millstone. They are burdened with all the accountability, yet minimal control and knowledge. This is an unworkable situation as getting to the moon only armed with ducktape. The soul-crushing damage is easy to spot in startup companies as they grow, and in creative type agencies where projects lifecycles mimic corporations on fast forward. Looked at over time the company org chart looks like a stream, where the water near the edges is almost standing still, and the rapids churning out people in the middle. In some projects companies, I’ve seen them turnover through 3 project managers, and or completely burn out people in less than a year!  I realize that work environments can have predator/prey like aspects, but turning excited passionate people committed to making brilliant projects to stressed defensive working insane hours on salary is right up there with clubbing baby seals on my list of fun-time activities to watch or participate in.

To compound problems working is an addition easy to get hooked to, the unlimited hits of a full inbox saying “your important!”, they are so busy working they don’t have time to realize the true costs, until they stumble and gain perspective. Then pehaps they’d decide they’d rather bicycle across the world, and not come back.

The allure of better salary, importance and upgrades seem like glistening gold, but are all typically misleading. Salary at first blush seems a great deal, until they actually find out what the per hour rate is. $70K/70hrs a week is $20 pre-tax. Add in the hidden costs of premature aging, lack of sleep, phone calls, stress, lack of holidays, the true cost might be even in the negative 😉

Upgrade paths are also misleading, there are very few middle managers I’ve met who actually make it higher in the food chain (without jumping ship), or who are actually happier once they get there, this is especially true for engineers and creative types who love building things asked to build and create better people as a good manager should like doing first.

Commute Killer

Tim Ferris among others advocate batching tasks to improve efficiency, as a large amount of time is spent ‘shifting gears’. Sometimes literally, like the countless shifts between 1 and 2nd gear going back and forth to the office. People often fail to include the amount of time, wear and tear on the car and sanity into the allure of a high paying job, and how that high paying job once calculated hourly might not be better off than a fast food worker.

My Example (back in 2000):

  • 100K startup job in Sunnyvale, frequent meetings and late nightss
  • Lived in Pacifica because Sunnyvale was boring.
  • Girlfriend in Oakland only place she could afford a house.

Which if your familiar with Bay Area traffic forms a bermuda triangle of
life suckage. What would be 20 minutes on a good day could turn into 4 hours of red lights. The draining aspect is it’s unpredictability, you can never tell, which makes planning on getting to work on time difficult (should I get up at 4am or 6 am?)

Measuring the pain

I got out my trusty stopwatch (if you can’t measure you can’t manage) and averaged times
over a few weeks. I was spending 20hrs in commute (commuting is a shitty
part time job!) and 45-65 hrs at work, sometimes 6 days a week. Which when averaged into the ‘high’ income calculated hourly rate between UPS delivery boy and McDonald’s Chef, and I’m sure
the UPS guy was in better shape. Needless to say I was quite astounded finishing the calculation.

On Friday’s I would go visit my girlfriend and get so frazzled from the commute, that when faced with another commute into the city to go ‘out’, coupled with 20-45 minutes finding parking (sometimes coupled with stresses of showtimes), any enjoyment to be had was quickly offset by the road-rage and unknowns, this frequently took it’s toll on the relationship in the form of arguments.

Getting to a Zero Commute

So ever since then I’ve never lived more than 30 minutes away from work, either structuring where I live, or where/how I work, here’s the steps I followed.

  1. Negotiated (both work and girlfriend) for flex time, avoiding traffic.
    Savings of 5-7 hours a week.
  2. Second was switching to 4 day in office, 1 day telecommuting, showing
    productivity enhancements.
  3. 3rd was going to 3 day 10 hour days (keeping an eye out for how to go
    independent), networking and building credibility: started presenting at user meetings, conferences, tech edited books
  4. having enough in savings and enough contacts I could go without stress

Interestingly since going solo, my hourly rate in the last year has gone from 1.5 to 4 times
what I was making working for others. The projects (I develop in flash) are smoother as there are less people in the pipeline and less that can go wrong. My commute can be zero if I choose, yet I can travel way more. Right now my girlfriend and I are planning a full month trip to Chicago and Hawaii.

This is not to say that one has to work out of ones home,. Increasingly I’m entirely laptop based so I can work while visiting/travelling a higher percentage of the time, etc. While Cafe’s are obvious, there are lots of other avenues. Some highlights of my work:

  • in a quiet sunny grassy/tree park that connects to the cities free wireless,
  • a free concert at the city of Pasadena that I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to just watching.
  • at the Getty museum on the lawn.

It’s easy to make a goal of eating at one new place and seeing one new street. I was amazed at how little I knew the area around me. I might spend now 45 minutes a day commuting, but this is zero-stress walking and sightseeing, and at least in a decent city it’s amazing how much is accessible via foot and bus distance.

Addiction to Cars

The Killer Commute and addiction to cars, is also really sad, it reminds me of the invisible efficiency epidemic mentioned in the While confused initially, I now know why people put ‘home theaters’ (and refrigerators, beds, alarm clocks, garages for mopeds etc) in cars, people are increasingly living in them. The costs of financing a car aside, the amount of man hours that are spent sitting in a car not adding to anybodies quality of life is staggering (I know because I tended to start doing calculations when I’m stuck). Staggering as in the same number of hours
could have built the Panama canal...several times over, or sent somebody to the moon. The hidden causalities in relationships, jobs, due to the stress has never been measured, but I'm sure it's high. It's hard to be present for the nice dinner/evening in front of you when your already stressed out about the morning commute and the important meeting. Make sure your car commutes you to your goals I have a super cheap econo car, that's paid for, I don't spend time on it, if it get's totaled it's easy to replace. I don't wash it very often, as gets as my goal in life is to drive as little as possible. I don't associate my identity with it. I structure my life that I can get most of what I need by walking. To confound things, I live in LA and my girlfriend lives in SD, so here I batch our time together so we always spend a few days together of high quality time, and given my flexibilty I can visit for a few days if so desired. I have friends with $600/monthly leases that Love their car, like people Love their abusive jobs/relationships, while I respect their decision, it saddens me when the car +house payment are the anchors keeping them from pursuing their passions. Despite being a geek with a love of high tech, hybrids and new cars fail to be cost effective. I have friends with 2 year old vehicles that spend more time in the shop on scheduled maintenance, than my car is worth. It was really simple for me, which would I rather have $300-$500 a month for a car or the same towards developing muses? Which will I get more enjoyment and mileage out of in 2 years from now? Zero Commute..yet Travel 500% more The amount I save not paying interest or insurance can be used for other things. That said I love flying when I travel, and $400 I'm not spending on a car is easily a flights a month (perhaps more if your using the Platinum AMEX card). Renting car and a hostel together can be $50/day in the US. Another example: A few years ago, a good friend and I wanted to drive from Vegas to Marin, up the beautiful California coastal highway for a friends wedding, so we rented a convertable Mustang for a 7 days and came back through Yosemite. It was a blast! Cost $240 + $140 in gas, split 2 ways All the experiences, none of the maintenance or interest. The car we rented had a dragging brake caliper, which I'm sure cost at least what we spent that week to fix.