Cognitive Daily

Jason Kottke points to an interesting article about why so many people seem to be hanging out in cafes, coffee shops, and parks in the middle of the day while “normal” people are working. Everyone seems to have a different reason:

“Jeffrey” (some names changed at owner’s request), writing a poem in a notebook on Church Street, had quit his California Pizza Kitchen job that morning; he was down to a barista gig now. The poem was about knots. With extreme reluctance he conceded to hailing from Fresno. There was “no love” at his pizza job.

“I get Wednesdays off,” said Kim Anderson, 29, an administrative assistant at an architectural firm. She spends them at physical therapy or catching up on errands or doing what she was doing here: sitting and watching the dogs at Duboce Park.

“Alan” sat 20 yards away, but his nose was in a short-story manuscript. Once he was a writer in the multimedia industry, but then he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. That was 14 years ago and he’s been on disability ever since. There are days when typing is exhausting and walking across the room impossible. Today, however, he was out in the sun.

The article offers some statistics about the portion of San Franciscans who are unemployed, students, and so on, but I thought we might be able to quantify the portion of people who aren’t always working during the 8 to 5 work week in a different way, with a poll below:

If we get enough responses, we should have a good sense of how many people are free to sit in the park, grab a cup of coffee, or catch a movie while everyone else is working in a cubicle:

If you’re a student, estimate the portion of the 8-5 workweek you’re not in class, studying, working, or doing extracurriculars.

Do you have other nonstandard quirks about your work schedule? Let us know in the comments.


  1. #1 Alejandro
    May 23, 2007

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the poll. How does “about one day” equal to “1-2 hours”?

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    May 23, 2007

    I think I fixed it now — it should be 1-2 hours per day! I’m having major problems with polling software just now, so sorry for the problems.

  3. #3 Jeremy
    May 23, 2007

    Hey, now, not all of us working stiffs are cubicle dwellers.

  4. #4 Janne
    May 23, 2007

    Selected (2 days a week – assume it means work three days, free two) but the vote doesn’t seem to count. That option is at zero still.

  5. #5 Greg
    May 23, 2007

    How “normal” is 8-5 nowadays, esp. in a large city? Does this have anything to do with cognitive issues? Seems like rather dull Bureau of Labor Statistics-type information….

  6. #6 Janne
    May 23, 2007

    Oh, the reason being my current research gig is only part time, so I spend the rest of the time – well, working, mostly, though not at the lab, and I don’t get paid.

  7. #7 Dave Munger
    May 23, 2007

    True — some of us have offices 😉

    That actually might be an interesting Casual Friday sometime — the different work settings of CogDaily readers. Unfortunately it will have to wait until after the summer — this week’s Casual Friday will be the last until the fall.

  8. #8 Kurt
    May 23, 2007

    If we are homemakers, should we just count that amount of time not spent actively doing ‘homemaking’ activities? Or is the final poll category meant to cover this? I mean, if students get to count their study time as work, then I think doing the laundry ought to count too!

  9. #9 Dave Munger
    May 23, 2007

    Yes, homemaking activities are definitely “work.” The question is really about people who by all appearances should be working but aren’t — and why they aren’t.

  10. #10 Dave Munger
    May 23, 2007

    Wow, lots of comments…

    Janne–I think votes just take a while to register. My tried-and-true polling site was down so I’m trying a new one.

    Greg, I think that’s the real question: how standard is the “standard” 8-5 workweek.

  11. #11 hypatia cade
    May 23, 2007

    Your poll makes sense to me. It’s not that I don’t work at least a 40 hour week (and often more). It’s that I frequently work an evening or weekend…And trade that for a half day (or two) off between 8 and 5 on a weekday to run errands and do household chores. So I might look idle & lazy if you only count work as occuring during traditional times, but I’m not.

  12. #12 Jenny
    May 23, 2007

    I’m a Fed in DC, so we have the option of a compressed work schedule – 9 hours a day during the week, but I get an extra day off once every 2 weeks (usually Monday). The idea is to reduce traffic, I think.

    And then, there’s all the Federal holidays.

  13. #13 Mark
    May 23, 2007

    I work as an independent contractor for a small company. My work schedule is flexible, so i usually stay home one day a week (I live a long way from work). I usually try to make up for that by working longer hours when I do go in. And, as a contractor, I can adjust my work schedule as the work load increases or decreases.

  14. #14 Greg
    May 23, 2007

    Greg, I think that’s the real question: how standard is the “standard” 8-5 workweek.

    Now THAT is a good question. I’d be very interested in the answers. My suspicion is that many working arrangements exist, what with the rise of freelance & consulting, telecommuting & other work-at-home arrangements, etc. Will watch with interest!

  15. #15 robotic
    May 23, 2007

    why is it that so many writers feel the need to write in public? nobody cares that you write and it is more distracting for you than writing in private… does anyone else feel me on this?

  16. #16 Andy
    May 23, 2007

    Some writers (the more visible ones) write better with distraction and bustle around them – they glean inspiration from whatever is happening nearby. Though I’m sure, as robotic implied, that some of them just want to be seen writing.

  17. #17 Dave Munger
    May 23, 2007

    Funny you ask that, Robotic. I wrote a post on that subject over on Word Munger a while back. Key excerpts:

    For me a change of scenery can help me focus. I also do better when I can get away from distractions, and the biggest distraction of all is the internet. I go to coffee shops that don’t have broadband, or that charge for broadband by the hour (I never buy).

    That said, I do have one problem with my writing habits: they’re wasteful. Do I really need to drive my car 5 miles to the nearest coffee shop that doesn’t offer free broadband (remember, avoiding the distraction of the internet is the most important reason for me to work in coffee shops!) in order to write? Must I waste all that fuel, just to get away from the World Wide Web?

    Of course not — I can just turn off my DSL modem. So that’s what I’m going to do from here on out. I’ll only work in a coffee shop if I need to go out for another errand anyway. Otherwise, I’ll just write at home, with the internet turned off. I’ve been trying it for the past week or so, and it’s worked just fine. But I still say there’s nothing wrong with writing in a coffee shop.

    I should add that I’ve now greatly reduced my coffee shop writing time using this method

  18. #18 Will E.
    May 23, 2007

    When I was a college student I wrote many, many papers in coffeehouses. The caffeine, the conversations other people were having, the constant buzz of activity was definitely a spur for my imagination and reading comprehension. Really. Although yes, the poseurs were many. I also worked nights in restaurants after college, drank until 3 am, then nursed my hangover at the coffee shop until it was time to do it all over again. Those days are gone, alas.

  19. #19 Andi
    May 23, 2007

    I work 4 days a week, but on the 5th I study, as I’m doing a psychology degree by distance learning. Since I pioneered this in my office, a half dozen or so people have started working a 4 day week, some cramming 37 hours into 4 days, others doing a 30 hour week, as I do. My day off is a Monday, which sounds cool, as it means a three day weekend and everyone hates Mondays, but I’m still up and starting studying by 9am…

  20. #20 Melinda
    May 23, 2007

    My friend claims he works (writing and editing) in coffee shops because the piles on his desk make it difficult for him to work in his office. He also has fewer interruptions from phone calls, emails and people stopping in. I’m tied to a desktop computer, so I’m at the same desk every day. I’d love to be able to transport my work to a new setting, (especially outdoors) but I don’t know if I could cope with the visual distractions after working for 28 years in offices without windows! Thanks for this article. Every time I get out during the day I’m wondering, “Who are all these non-working people?”

  21. #21 Davis
    May 23, 2007

    I wrote most of my PhD thesis in local coffee shops. I had my headphones on to keep the noise down when I was plugging away, but it was nice to have people-watching (and the occasional friend showing up) to distract me when I needed to take a break. Plus, there’s just something comforting about having people around — it takes away from the isolation of writing a bit.

  22. #22 Ponder Stibbons
    May 23, 2007

    I’m another person who does schoolwork better in coffee shops. The library has an unpleasantly sterile feel and complete silence makes me sleepy. Plus it’s nice to have constant access to caffeine, instead of having to decamp every few hours to find coffee.

    The evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton wrote that as a grad student alienated by his department, he used to work in London’s Waterloo train station till late at night, because he felt lonely working alone in his room, and being around hobos and indifferent commuters was still better than being around nobody.

  23. #23 PennyBright
    May 23, 2007

    I find writing at home harder then writing in public because at home I have the endless distractions of all the vaguely important things I could be doing instead of writing – a load of laundry, fixing the leaky sink, cleaning the stove etc etc.

    Nice to see a poll on this topic — as a homemaker and homeschooler whose husband works an evening shift, our whole family is frequently out and about during “normal work hours”, and getting funny looks over it.

  24. #24 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    Robotic –

    Personaly, I like to write in coffeshops and parks for two reasons. First, I have a five year old son at home, who just doesn’t think I should do anything but pay attention to him (mostly, because his mom and I are hyper focused on teaching him things, through play, reading and talking). Secondly, I tend to be very introverted – to the point of it being unhealthy sometimes. Being somewhere that is small, realtively quiet and usually not too crowded (I go between midmorning and early afternoon), yet forces me to have some social interaction, is extremely important. If I just stay home, or go to church (as worship leader, I have a shared office space with an associate pastor who is never there) I can easily slip into nearly no social interaction.

  25. #25 cdale
    May 23, 2007

    Like a previous poster, I selected the 1 day a week option, although my situation is more fluid than that. I “work from home” one day a week which entails items appropriate to someone working from home that does academic research, but also getting family appointments and errands taken care of, and relaxing with a cup of coffee someplace (yet always with my electronic leash for that ever-present conference call). I know I don’t put in 8 hours on that day.

    However, I have a long commute for the other 4 days that makes up a 12 hour day roundtrip from my front door — during which I also work while on the train and work through lunch. I also take care of things during weekends, but only as emergencies or “unforeseen” deadlines occur. However, I typically won’t schedule weekends away from my kids as a rule, since I don’t see much of them during 4 of the weekdays.

    Bottom line: I don’t punch a clock, so I really have no idea how much actual work is getting done over the course of a week, but I do like to allow myself the freedom of a mostly-unscheduled day to be creative, write, and think up new experiments or ways to approach an analysis problem (and do the laundry and make doctor appointments and …).

  26. #26 Josh
    May 24, 2007

    I’m an entrepreneur. I can be waiting in a Starbucks at 3:00 to meet with a potential client or vendor. Any answer I give to the poll would be counterproductive.

  27. #27 Kathy
    May 24, 2007

    I selected 2 days in the poll–I work in a hospital, and work 4 9-hour days, Sunday through Wednesday. (My department’s services are offered to patients 7 days a week, from 9 AM til 7 PM.)

    Only one person in my immediate work group works M – F, 8 – 4. The rest of us have some “non-traditional” combination of days/hours, including a few people who work only 4 shifts a month.

    It works well for us–I don’t think any of us wants to work a full 40 hours/week–for family, other work or personal/health reasons.

  28. #28 Jennifer Grucza
    May 25, 2007

    I work a full 5 days per week, but I would quit any job that I had to come in to work as early as 8 or 9am. I am just not a morning person. But usually I’m asleep and getting ready for work during those “normal” work hours that I’m not working, not being out and about. So I answered 2 days just because of the number of hours a day that don’t fit into 8-5.

  29. #29 Keith Nolan
    June 12, 2007

    This conundrum is similar to the one about the guy who goes into a bar and says to a friend “see your man over there, he must be an alcoholic – every time I come in, he’s always here.”

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