20 Percent Time

An edtech colleague, Lisa Thumann, wrote a post recently about how some teachers are using the concept of  20% time. It’s a work concept that came about in 2006 when one of Google’s engineers wrote about how the company allowed them  to spend one day a week (20%) of their time “working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions.”

They weren’t playing games or updating their Facebook page. They were supposed to be developing something new, or fixing something that’s broken.  Google claimed that in 2009 half of all Google’s products originated in 20% time.

When I heard about this back in 2006, I wondered why more employers didn’t introduce the concept. Of course, I knew the answer(s). Money is part of it. Why pay people a chunk of salary to work on other things?  And it’s also because some employees would be updating their Facebook pages during that time. But still, couldn’t it (with some parameters) produce some important things for the employer?

Lisa was writing about educators and I’m not sure how teachers (especially in K-12) could ever find a block of 20% time to do anything. Do you send the kids home one day a week? Give teachers a free period? That’s already done and most teachers use it to keep up on lessons and grading papers and would probably do the same if given another free period.

I work in the education world but higher education where scheduling time is different. Many professors get a prep day which would be 20% of the work week. But again, most use it to prep and grade – or just take the day off for their non-academic life.

I wonder what the biggest obstacle to implementing this concept would be. How would it work in your industry? Would the problem be: Where to get the time? How to monitor work? How to stay on task? (And that includes using the time to fool around and using the time to just do your regular job.)

If I told you take Wednesday as your outside project time, would I also take away 20% of your workload or would you just have to do that 100% in 80% of the time?

Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have said that the concept came from their childhood Montessori School experiences.

Creative play is underrated. So is having the time to be creative.


Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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