If you have a contractor who is billing you for more than 45 hours a week and pretends that they have a life, any life, be nervous, very nervous.

I'm having a hard time billing for things that aren't obviously work (so I'm not). Some I worry about are no-brainers: eating, exercising, travel. Some aren't: Hardware troubleshooting, quick web surfing to take a break before diving back in, blogging about something you learned while working, or working on your own related-but-open source and public projects.

I certainly spent a lot of time troubleshooting hardware in other jobs, but that was hardware that was provided by the company. If they didn't feel like paying for better stuff and backup hardware for me to use while mine was being fixed, well, there's only so much I can do. (That said, I can and have done some stuff, like taking small, modular bits of work and setting them up on personal boxes while I was waiting if I had to.)

Also note when you're working alone, you have fewer built-in breaks. We might hate inefficient meetings, but one thing's for sure, you're ready to work when they're done. Or maybe you have a coworker who is bugging you with a question, and you're forced to get out of the zone. Or even just 20 seconds here and there for a few jokes. When you're a remote contractor, these interruptions that, strangely, also recharge you in many ways, simply don't happen.

Do you charge for the time you use to recharge that you were getting paid for (because they were culturally required) before? (To be clear, generally no, but I can see the argument for a reasonable amount it.)

Some things are closer to kosher, though, I think. I like to write reuseable libraries when there's not a great one for a project's specific use case, and experience tells me I'm going to spend more time shoehorning existing libraries to fit our need than it'd cost me to write something that zaps our needs with an ever-proverbial laser focus. But what do you do with that time? How much time do you have to spend on your own creating it before you can start charging to apply it to your current work? Isn't there some portion of the implementation that's billable?

And what about writing StackOverflow answers or blog posts about technical lessons you've learned while working? I've certainly benefited at jobs taking a second look at something I'd done months or years before, and I'm sure as heck benefiting from others taking the time, some of it work time, to answer SO questions "for" me. Isn't some portion of recording your on-the-job knowledge building billable?

Which is to say that I'd like to know what my contractor is billing me for, exactly, if s/he is billing for more than 45 hours and also seems to have a life. I know I have a good work ethic, if only because I've seen just enough folks at a number of workplaces to know, well, I'm no worse than average (I'm trying to stay modest here. You see how well that's working.)

If you figure 16 hours a day awake, 3/4 and hour for your morning routine (15.25), 1.5 more [total] for lunch and dinner (13.75), one driving (12.75), plus whatever "life" is -- two for evening wind-down and kids (10.75), half an hour writing a stupid blog entry (10.25), an hour or so with your SO (9.25-9.5)... we're already at just over nine left for errands, hobbies (like more programming, natch!), volunteering, and, oh yeah, billable work.

Nine times five is 45. If  someone billing 45 isn't putting in weekend work and seems to have a life -- any life, like they're a member of a WoW guild, or talk more than once about going out with friends, or watch a weekday sport, or listen to podcasts -- be suspicious. Be very suspicious. ;^)

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