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The Two-Hour Rule
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June 2008

Introduction

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I had an epiphany when I realized that the nap times of my baby Ryan coincided exactly with the couple of hours actually worked in American offices. Ryan usually naps from around 10-11 AM, and then again from about 3-4PM. These are the two hours in which most actual office work happens in America.

 

The Two-Hour Rule

The Two-Hour Rule is a law of American business which states that "no salaried employee, employed by a business to work in an office, may exceed two hours of actual work in any business day."

The Two-Hour Rule does not apply to government workers (police, fire, military, libraries, public works, etc.), independent contractors, services billed hourly or apply outside the USA. I'll cover these at the end. The Two-Hour Rule applies to people working at government subcontractors because they are businesses.

The Two-Hour Rule was created to ensure that American business thrived on efficiency, not on dumb hard work, so that Americans could enjoy the lives they had earned.

Two hours per day of actual work was considered to be a fair and balanced number: not too much to wear people out, and not so little that nothing got accomplished.

To reward efficiency, the law reads "may not exceed." In the American office, the man who spends the least time actually working is the man who wins. As incentive today, the most efficient worker is the one who can stay as close to the edge of being fired, without actually getting fired.

 

How Do I Have the Time to Write so Much on This Website?

I'm not anyone's employee. I'm not subject to the Two-Hour Rule. I work on this website at least twelve hours a day.

Like everyone else who is on their own, we work like crazy. We get no vacations or sick days. We don't know what a "weekend" is.

If we can't work a day, it costs us. The life and mind set of people who work on their own is 180 degrees opposite from anyone who has a job.

When I had a job, a day of vacation was like finding a pot of gold. Today, a day off costs me a day's pay. Always.

The Two-Hour Rule drove me crazy back when I used to have a job, and is one of the reasons I quit so I could do my own thing. I share what I do below precisely because I'm a hard worker who is shocked at the slack which is accepted in offices.

 

What to Do with the Other Six Hours

 

Six Hours

The Two-Hour Rule is a maximum.

Play your cards right, and you have at least six hours of personal time to call your own while at work each day. In employment law, this is called a "reasonable amount of social time."

 

The Golden Rule

"Never do anything personal on your own time that you could do while at work."

That means never do any online shopping, long-distance and personal phone calls, socialize with your co-workers, chat online, arrange work on your car or home, or anything on you own time that you could do in your office during work hours. People who socialize with their co-workers after-hours need their heads examined: that's what you're supposed to be doing in your office for most of the day.

I'm sad that I haven't worked in an office since the commercialization of the Internet. If I had online access, I'd never get anything done for the boss. In fact, I've considered going back to an office job purely so that I could work on this website all day without the interruptions of family life working on my own. In an 8-hour day, you are entitled to at least 6 hours of personal time with which to do as you please.

If you work in outside sales, never run personal errands or shop on your own time. That's why you have an expense account and a company car: use them.

I don't know about you, but I rarely had time for my boss' work when I worked in an office. I always had far more important personal projects that demanded my attention.

I never wasted my own money on my own computer, software or support until I outgrew my employer's computers to work on this website.

Do all your personal email, Photoshop and letter-writing during your personal time at work. Don't waste your life as I do buying your own computer or spending time with it at home.

 

Salaried Employees

Being on salary means you get paid a fixed amount, regardless of how much you work. These are called "exempt" employees, meaning they forfeit their rights to many protections, like overtime pay, granted to hourly employees.

Almost all long-term office jobs are salaried.

Your boss will try to hit you up to work free overtime if you're on salary. Don't do it.

Being on salary also means you may work as few hours as you please, for the same pay. Use this to your advantage. Pop in an hour a day, complete as much real work as all the other laggards, and hit the beach the rest of the day.

 

Commission, Sole Proprietors and Self-Employed

If you work on commission or work for yourself, the Two-Hour Rule doesn't apply. If you slack, you're only hurting yourself, so feel free to work as long or as little as you see fit. You're getting paid to deliver, not just to show up. Remember, the Two-Hour Rule applies to people employed by businesses working in offices.

 

The G-Job

As an engineer, we had laboratories and machine shops at work which were perfect for completing personal projects.

When working at a business which contracts a lot of work to the government, we use the phrase "G-Job," or "Government Job" as internal code to refer to a personal project.

We're always making parts to repair our cameras, cars or stereo equipment at work. Having machine shops, I'd create dimensional drawings which we handed to the machinists who made parts for us. Handing it to them, they could recognize a G-Job when they saw one. In all aspects of life, one hand washes the other, so we engineers always had way to pay back the guys in the shops for making our stuff.

Several G-Jobs I recall were making several souped-up replacement bellcranks for the clutch linkages of my 1970 GTO convertible, and making a larger slip-over capstan spindle so that I could hop-up my 1977 Akai 4000 DS tape deck to 15 IPS. Later, I used my employer's lab facilities to test and characterize my audio equipment designs, used my employers' computer facilities to synthesize and simulate active crossovers and equalizers for my dual 18" JBL 2245H subwoofer systems, and used my employer's computer facilities to simulate the properties of optical systems with which I solved the ages-old problem of determining the optimum lens aperture when diffraction and depth-of-field were both factors.

I can't actually remember anything useful I created for my employers over all those years of working in offices. That's why I went out to work in the field instead. All those people sitting around chit-chatting about their weekends while I tried to build my own better recording and photography equipment drove me up the wall.

Of course while in the field, we would have numerous boring and irrelevant meetings which took us out of the field and had us sit fallow in an office. It was during one of those meetings, during which I had an internet connection to my laptop as I sat bored, that I first registered this domain name, KenRockwell.com.

It is my duty as an American to be productive. If your employer is wasting your time, it's your duty to make something of that time for yourself instead.

In Scotland, G-jobs are called "Homers."

Australians call them “Love Jobs,” or “Lovies” for short.

 

Efficiency

The more efficient you are, the less time you'll need to complete your work each day. The faster you complete your real work, the sooner you can get back to personal work.

In order to keep a job, you do need to accomplish something now and then.

Ever since at least the 1980s, I've always been astounded at the American economy. I wouldn't do any real work in my office, nor would anyone else at my company, yet somehow we created and shipped product, and we all got paid very well.

No one else I knew did any real work either, yet we all got paid and seemed to be able to buy more products and services than we every produced ourselves. This is the economic miracle we call America.

 

eMail

Reading email, especially work email, isn't work, unless your job is working in online customer support. Those jobs moved to India years ago anyway.

TIme spent reading and replying to work email feels like you're working, but it doesn't count towards your two hours. That's OK, because two hours is a maximum, but time spent reading email is still time wasted. That's why I only open mine a couple of times a month, just long enough to select large blocks of unread messages and delete them.

 

Ronald Rockwell, The King of Slack

My Dad, Ronald Rockwell, was an electronics engineer who knew the Power of Slack.

When I had my first semi-real job, a summer nepotism position at the government subcontractor at which he worked, my dad taught me the rules by which America works.

Instead of me having to spend years finding out the hard way how far you could go, dad just told me.

Dad was the first to explain the Two Hour Rule. He also explained that even though lunch officially was only 12:00 to 12:42, that no one would come looking for you after 11:30, and likewise, that no one was going to come looking for you again until 1:00 or 1:30PM. You were always safe to head out for at least an hour and a half for lunch and running errands, even though the weird 12:42PM end-of-lunch time was an odd relic of an old union negotiation in which the employees managed to get the 5PM quitting time moved up to 4:42PM.

42? What's with 42? Simple: at this contractor, we billed time in tenths of hours. 42 minutes is 0.7 hours.

An electronics engineer with a union? Odd as it is, the company for which my dad worked for 40 years was so bad in the earlier years, deliberately doing things like laying people off a week before their 40th anniversary date to eliminate the obligation to pay them pensions, that this company actually wound up getting stuck with a union.

 

Charge Numbers

Government subcontractors work on many projects, or contracts, at once. Engineers fill out time cards so that the company can bill the appropriate contracts. Each contract has a charge number.

Engineers fill out time cards each week with the number of hours spent on each charge number so that they add up to 40 hours.

The amount of money in these contracts never matched the amount of time people needed to work on them, so in order to fill out the time cards to add up to 40 hours, you'd use whatever charge numbers had money to keep it fair.

It was common that the customers would send auditors in to ask people on what charge numbers they were working. Auditors loved to go to the water fountain and ask people to what project they were charging while drinking. The smartest reply I heard was one person who replied, instead of giving an actual number as expected, said "the same charge number I use when going to the bathroom."

 

Violations

My dad taught me the rules, but it took my own experience to learn the intricacies of how these rules are applied.

Believe it or not, I've always been a very hard worker. Working for government subcontractors drove me crazy, because no one did anything, but billed for it anyway.

I would get a job from my boss, I'd complete in in about an hour and a half, and ask him for something else. He'd tell me he'd have something soon, and please to just stand by. I'd go work on something personal and go back and ask him the next day, but usually was told to stand-by more often than I'd get any real work.

My colleagues started to notice this, and they educated me as "Not that we want to dull your enthusiasm Rockwell, but just to let you know, we usually take about three weeks to do what you just completed in 90 minutes. There are only so many projects and charge numbers to go around."

I got tired of that, and found work at a real company with real customers instead of the government. The charge numbers were gone, but to my surprise, the concept of completing very little real work remained.

 

Late Workers

If there is a Two-Hour Rule, why do some people on salaries (no overtime) insist on working late? These people think they are impressing the boss with their dedication, but in fact, we refer to them as "losers."

These folks are losers because they are ineffective. People who leave late don't work as hard during the day, since they know they'll be around to complete things later.

These laggards are simply trying to milk their employer for an extra hour of working on personal projects while at work, or more often, simply losers. If you don't own the business, there isn't much to gain by putting yourself out as hard as if it were your own.

My dad never fell for this. He completed all his real and personal work on time, and always left around 4:30 PM as everyone else did (while charging until 4:42PM) so he was always home for us at about 5PM every night. We had a real dad, not someone who considered The Man more important than his kids.

 

Why You'll Never Get Rich Working for Someone Else

While the Two-Hour Rule helps keep working Americans from going too crazy at work, working no more than two hours a day limits how much any worker can produce.

The only way to get ahead is to get fired and start your own business. When you work for yourself, there is no Two-Hour Rule and you can work as long and hard as you like.

 

Your Boss

Your boss will try to come up with lame excuses as to why the Two-Hour Rule doesn't apply to you. He'll try to shame you into working longer.

Don't!

Your boss is also subject to the Two-Hour Rule, and I'll bet you he works a lot less than you do. Remember, thinking about work, planning for work, organizing work and handing out work isn't work. It doesn't produce anything.

 

Working from Home

A Dilbert cartoon once had Dilbert asking himself if the Two-Hour Rule applied when he worked from home for his employer.

Nope: working from home, the rule is only one hour.

The one gotcha to this is that most "work from home" transitions are merely your employer testing how well your job can be transitioned to someone working from home in India or China, where an 8 hour work day is 12 hours of actual work.

I kid you not: when I worked in TV with NBC, their parent GE had already moved their accounts payable department to India back in about 2000.

When working from home for an employer, your time is best spent looking for your next job.

 

Playing Solitaire

Using your employer's computer to play Solitaire during the work day is fine if that's all you can think of, but it's a horrible waste of American ingenuity. Do what I did, and make the best of your personal time at work, as well as use as many of your employer's expensive resources as you can.

 

My 25-Hour Work Day

Back when I worked at a radio station, we did a marathon one weekend. As the Chief Engineer, I needed to be there in case something blew up.

I was there all day and all night, and slept on a cot.

I put down 25 hours on my timecard for one of those days, and got paid for it, including sleeping.

How? Easy: we did this marathon over the same weekend during which we set our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time. That Sunday really did contain 25 hours!

 

Looking Busy

The Two-Hour Rule, just like other laws of God and nature, isn't part of any written criminal, labor or civil code. It's an integral part of office life in America, and just like laws that say you don't pick fights with guys twice your size, no one needs to write it down.

Because of this, you need to play it cool. It's always good idea to look busy. Whenever I was working on important personal projects at work, I always had a back story prepared about how that work was critical to my real job in case I got busted. I never did; bosses rarely get out and walk around.

One of these days I'll add a "boss button" to this website. A boss button is a link on a video game or website that immediately takes you to a screen which looks like work.

I had my employer send me to school to learn Dreamweaver, and even to pay for my software which only ran on my Mac, not their windows computers, all in the course of being related to work. Of course these tools and knowledge are what I turned into this website. The best employees are able to get the company to send them, at company expense, to complete their own personal projects. I pointed out that this education would help me learn about the Internet, which was becoming a larger part of our business back when I had a real job.

ryan sleeping

Sleeping with your eyes open at work: Baby Ryan taking after his grandpa.

My dad, the King of Slack, bragged that his ability to sleep with his eyes open was paramount to his ability to advance through the ranks in engineering. Dad made Research Section Head, a management position.

Another tactic is, presuming your work has more than one precise location where you might be working, is to make it look as if you're at the other place working. For instance, those of us who design and build Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), have a desk in an office, as well as laboratories, machine shops and test ranges. If I'm not sitting at my desk, people then look for me down in the lab. If you make each location look as if you're in that day, but probably at the other location, you can go home for a few hours at a time. For instance, if you leave a half-full drink and your jacket at your desk, people will presume you're down in the lab.

 

Other Countries

The Two-Hour Rule is what defines a developed country. In a developed country, we don't have to do much work.

Less developed countries don't have, or don't enforce, the Two-Hour Rule. These countries therefore can produce a lot more for a lot less. That's why, especially with the Internet, American jobs are moving elsewhere.

 

Factory Work

I've never worked in assembly, so I'm unfamiliar with the laws of factory work.

I suspect the Two-Hour Rule applies in manufacturing, which is probably why American manufacturing is being transitioned to countries where the Two-Hour Rule doesn't apply.

Back in the 1950s we didn't have the Internet, cheap long-distance communications and overseas transportation, so we could have a Two-Hour Rule and not have competition from abroad. Today that's history.

 

Hourly Billing

If you bill a customer hourly, as do lawyers and handymen, the Two-Hour-Rule doesn't apply. Slacking is fraudulent if you bill an end customer by the hour.

The Two-Hour-Rule applies only to salaried employees. The reason charge-number shenanigans are subject to the Two-Hour-Rule is because it is the employer's obligation to bill the end customers who are providing the charge numbers properly. Employees charge 8 business hours, not 8 working hours, to a charge number per day. The law prohibits more than two work hours over any 8 business hours. Any fraud is committed by the employer if it attempts to bill the project provider as "actual hours" or "work hours" instead of as "business hours."

 

Government: Police, Fire, Military and others

Sorry folks, but as you know all too well, the Two-Hour Rule doesn't apply to the sacrifices you make to be in public service. Public servants are often there for us 25/8/366.

Businesses can do whatever they want, since people are free to buy from them, or not. If a business employs slacking workers, great, but no one has to buy anything from them either. Because people are free to buy from a business, or not, no business has any duty to do much of anything.

When you're in public service, we the people aren't given the choice not to pay taxes for police protection, or not to use the public water utility, or not use the public library, or not be protected by the FAA or FCC or Social Security Administration or whatever.

Because government operates under the mandatory public trust, you know you people work 100% and more. Any time a public servant is slacking, he's stealing from all of us.

Thank God our police and fire and everyone work as hard as they do. We aren't surprised when we call for windows computer support and are on hold for an hour to talk to India, but would anyone accept calling the fire department and talking to a dispatch desk in China? My wife once had a nightmare where that happened!

 

Slack Percentage

If you work for a place funded in part by taxes and in part by business, like some non-profits or "public broadcasting," then you'll have to do your own algebra to figure the funding percentages. Once you know them, you're only allowed to spend a maximum of two hours of real work per day with 100% private funding, and as you become funded 100% by taxes, you are duty-bound to work every minute for which you're paid.

 

Volunteer Firemen

These guys work like crazy and risk their lives like the other guys, but they do it for free.

I can't think of any occupation more noble than any VFD. They can slack all they want; they're not getting paid.

It dawned on me one day that Heaven isn't that big, and there's the distinct possibility that when we all die that my pals who have been in VFDs may look around Heaven, and have the last laugh when they finally realize the reason everyone looks so familiar is that everyone else in Heaven are people with whom they had served as volunteer firemen!

This reminds me of a friend who volunteers as an historian for one of our local police departments. One day he's sitting someplace visible to the public, and a cranky lady comes to the desk looking for help. She sees my pal ignoring her (she may have been old, but still not related to the department's history), and she scolds him for being on the public payroll and slacking. As soon as he explained that he works there for free trying to solve old crimes, she apologized profusely.

 

Further Information: Office Space is a classic film which examines the American office work ethic, as does NBC's current show, The Office. If you pay attention in either of these, you'll never see any real work happening at all.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Ken

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