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A while ago my company started a blog. Only a few articles have been released until now, all working hours being focused on lucrative stuff. And that's fine, as a start-up company it's no mystery that the primary goal would be to make money. Yet, I'm convinced that spending more time on stuff like Open Source projects and so on would help my company earn some recognition.

I already have some arguments on my mind, but I would love to hear what people have to say. What can you tell your boss for him to give you somes hours each week making deadline-free projects?

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Be so fast/efficient that he can't keep enough other work in front of you. –  Amy Blankenship Feb 13 '13 at 23:36
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Hi dotwriter, you might consider editing your post to explain how the 20% time question, linked above, doesn't answer your question. If none of those answer your question, clarifying why will help prevent other answerers from just telling you what you already know. Good luck! :) –  jmort253 Feb 14 '13 at 2:43
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This question would make more sense if it was more along the lines "[...] spend time on tasks that won't generate any immediate revenue, but will pay off in the future". You can't really make any valid argument for a company spending time and effort on something that won't give any return. Such a company will, and should, fail. –  pap Feb 14 '13 at 13:28

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here's how I've done it and it's very simple:

  • Step 1: be absolutely awesome at your job and accomplish your work effectively. Learn to communicate with your boss so they understand you are doing this.
  • Step 2: never stop learning or exploring new technology for your current job. Make it a priority to do this (if it takes 15% longer but gives you a huge amount of learning, and you have accomplished Step 1)
  • Step 3: if you want to justify something totally unrelated directly make sure you have a, "here's how this could be useful" explanation

Realistically though, if you are doing Step 1 (key is communication!!!! your boss must know you are accomplishing everything they are requiring of you) you easily can do whatever you want in the flex or spare time you have, and even moreso Step 2 above.

And a note which is probably applicable here: my overall motivation for work is greatly enhanced when I am allowed to explore new stuff or learn. I am sure I am overall more productive as a result, even if I "waste" 20% of my time learning things which might not be directly applicable to my current work.

A lot of the reason I can do the work required for Step 1 in such a manner is I consistently approach every task and learn from it, automate something, etc, which makes me super efficient, which lets me learn more, and do more compelling work to allow the cycle to repeat.

This takes a high level of performance competence. Aim for it.

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While I don't know your particular company, in many startups there is far more work that needs doing than there is time to do it in. Startups are often in a race - if not a direct one against a hard and fast deadline, then one against a potentially unknown competitor who might be developing a similar product and might get it to market first. They also tend to be very short of cash, and therefore there has to be a really strong reason to spend any of it on anything. And you spending time on something means spending cash - at least assuming you are being paid.

While you can easily argue that doing things like Open Source projects, or blogging, or background reading, or investigating potentially useful technologies might pay off in the future, that isn't really the question. It isn't even about whether the benefits it brings would be worth more than the time and money spent doing it. Even if you were certain that the thing you spent $1000 doing would bring in $2000 sometime in the future, that won't help you if doing it causes you to miss an important deadline now, or run out of money before a project is completed. For a startup the question is whether doing these things are worth more than the other things you might be doing with the time and money.

So feel free to ask your boss about these things. But be prepared for him to say no. And if he does say no, be grateful - because it means your company has important work that needs to be done, and that you are playing an important part in doing it.

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Businesses have three reasons to do things: increase revenue, cut costs, and reduce risks. (I've seen this various places, Bob Lewis comes to mind.) To make a business case for doing something, you need to show how your proposal will impact at least one of these three.

The wording of the question eliminates increasing revenue. That said some of what you said indicates that your ideas might produce revenue, but it's not likely to happen immediately. For example, if you create a useful Drupal module, this could create exposure for your company which could bring in new business.

Without using the increased revenue option, your best bet is probably to "sell" your idea as a cost cutter. Is it something that can eliminate labor? Will it speed up a slow process? Can it be re-used?

Showing that your idea would reduce risk can be problematic. It is often difficult to show what risks are present, what the probability is that something bad will actually happen, and what the costs would be if something bad does happen. However, if you can make the case that the losses would be crippling, the probability high, or the costs low, you may be able to convince management that the work is worthwhile.

Of course, if you can make a legitimate case that two or all three of these factors would be positively affected by your proposal, you increase your chances of approval.

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Show how the company will benefit in excess of expenditures

I don't think you have much of an argument. It sounds like you are busy with activities that drive revenue. If any of this activity involves the application of commonly used technology, then you will be learning about those technologies, and you will have many useful discoveries to share with the readers.

Work on the OS (or anything else) when you find that out of the box it is insufficient to your business needs. Great software is driven by users (even if the author is the only user), not by an unfocused desire to "do cool things".

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I may need to rephrase my question, after rereading, it seems not as understandable as I thought... I intended to use the OS acronym as "Open Source" and not "Operating System" (if that's what you understood). The real meaning of my question is that if I work on "projects" (a drupal module, a blog post) that could be useful to my company, I'd like to be allowed to do it (sometimes) in working hours. Sorry, English not being my native language I kind of struggled to express my thought. Thanks for your answer anyway! –  thedotwriter Feb 14 '13 at 0:36

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