Why doing whatever you like is more difficult than you think

At Baseflow you can use 10% of your time to do whatever you like. Sounds easy enough, but is it really?

The contract of a Baseflow employee states: “You get 10% of your working time to do whatever you want. Work on Open Source projects, discover new technologies, be creative or even play a game of foosball.” Sounds easy enough, but is it really?

Baseflow’s founders started this company with a People First vision. Meaning that if employees enjoy their work, are trusted as experts, and get lots of freedom, it results in quality work and happy customers. In the last three years, this approach has proven itself. Our company is growing fast and, our partners feel that we work together with them as one team. Also, within the nearby universities, our story is getting well known. We are happy that interns find their way to us and deliberately choose Baseflow because ‘it’s a chill company’.

The freedom you get as an employee might be one of the reasons why we are considered a chill company. 10% of your working time, you can do whatever you want because we believe that mixing normal work and 10% time really strengthen each other. But having freedom is not the same as taking it. A quick poll in our Slack channel resulted in a score of 45% of people who currently use their 10% time. Let me share what I found out and what we can learn from that.

A couple of examples of things our colleagues are using their time for:

  • Michiel uses his gaming hobby as an inspiration to create a tool for the game Diablo 2 (Resurrected). It helps you to find out what ingredients you need to craft runewords. It's a webpage completely in Diablo 2 style (including a knight glove as mouse pointer 🤩). He sees the project as a fun way to learn. Check it out here or ask Michiel for a demo.
  • Laurens-Jan, has used his time to explore new development technologies. The latest one was Svelte.
  • Bodhi dreamed of visiting Japan, which was his inspiration to create a ‘flash card’ web app to help him learn Japanese. In his words: “all the other tools didn't do what I wanted”. Which developer has not said this and started a project. Take a look at his open sourced (GPL3) code on GitHub.
  • A group of Flutters developers decided to organize Flutter Fridays to discuss architecture, packages, and ways of working. Currently, they're working on documenting guidelines. This allows them to work more efficiently by generating and boilerplate code and helps get new employees up to speed quickly. Moreover, it will get easier for developers to switch between projects since every project should follow the same guidelines.
  • I started following a 3D modeling course to expand my design skills. It wasn't relevant to the work I did at the time, but it so happened to work the other way around. Because of these skills, we explored the possibility to use 3D images on our website, and lo and behold, you can see the results on baseflow.com.

As you can see, the projects are very diverse and the biggest motivation of everyone is self-development. On the other hand, some people don't use their free time. Why's that, and what could help to change that?

  • You’ve got no idea what to do. That is something a lot of people recognize. It’s like getting an assignment at school to write about anything you like. Sometimes the lack of rules makes things harder than having a set of rules. To get started you could try the following: 
  • Explore your passions. Several people are getting inspiration from the interests they have next to their job. What’s something you're passionate about and want to develop? Or open up that drawer, find your bucket list and see if something fits. 
  • Ask others to think along. The creativity of your colleagues will amaze you. A quick question at the coffee machine might kickstart your project.
  • Group up. Working on something together is a great way to keep it ongoing. Also, plan a repeating event in your agendas.

“Telling a client that you cannot get the work done because you’re learning how to play the violin is... difficult.”

Regular work is often taking up all my time. Just like any company, there are project deadlines. The loyalty towards our partners is great, and telling a client that you cannot get the work done because you’re learning to play the violin is difficult. Nevertheless:

  • Plan it. During sprint planning, you plan the amount of work that fits into the upcoming weeks. Take your 10% time into account.
  • Plan it early. That is a tip that Gerwin, one of the co-founders, pointed out once. If you plan your 10% time very early in the sprint (1st or 2nd day) there’s a great chance that unexpected things haven’t happened yet. You might feel more comfortable taking the time.

Half a day per week is too short to get going

  • One day per two weeks might work better. Again, plan it the way it suits you.

All in all, we’re still learning ‘doing whatever’. It has proven to be difficult at times, but it has been fruitful already as well. Mixing 'doing whatever you want' and your normal work gives new insights and more creativity.
But maybe the most important thing to realize is that those 40 hours a week tell a lot about you, but do not define you. Especially in these times, it’s important to let your creativity flow, do things you never did, get some fresh air, and keep that mental health at a good level. Maybe we should take that into 2022.