The Third Shift

In the days of industrial labor, many factories ran three shifts per day. Three eight-hour shifts per day keeps a factory fully utilized and some business major’s spreadsheets happy. Luckily, for many of us, knowledge/thinking oriented businesses don’t usually follow this paradigm. We’re not (often) pressured to pick up a double shift, possibly freeing time to do useful things that we don’t get paid for.

For the ambitious (possible euphemism), this opens up an interesting opportunity: allocating the second shift to one’s own projects. Writing that great book you’ve got inside you, penciling a comic, running your Etsy business on the side, or bootstrapping that web app you’re dreaming about all make a great fit for a second shift. Find time before or after your day job, and then aim for the sky.

I found it easy to take this logic to the next level and think, well if two shifts works and I can make progress on two things, three shifts might work and then I can do three things! Wake up early, do something awesome. Work the nine to five, do awesome things. Take a couple hours in the evening, do even more awesome things. Seems good, right?

Unfortunately, the third shift is a bandaid over too many projects and lead me to do lower quality work across the board.

I need more physical rest and mental space than working on three things affords. Turning down an extra hour of sleep or the bleeping of an alarm clock is a hard bargain. One side project, as it turns out, is plenty.

That said, the third shift is useful as a “turbo button” that I only press when I really mean it and used only for short-term projects that are important to whatever awesome thing I’m trying to do. A couple weeks waking up early to bang out a presentation or longer-form article are good. Sustaining that for a series of projects doesn’t work for me.

In short: ambition is great, but striking a balance with mental and physical rest is better.

Adam Keys @therealadam