Working 80+ Hours Isn't The Answer

Posted by Kirby Turner on February 21, 2015

A founder, or maybe the person is a manager type, asked on Quora, “How do you make programmers work 60-80 hours per week?” While the question is a pathetic one, the answers that follow, especially the first one, are worth a read. And you should certainly read the answers if you happen to be one of those sad founders/manager types who wants their of programmers to work long hours. In short, if you are trying to force your programmers to work 60, 80 or more hours per week, then you are doing it wrong.

Personal Experience

I have first hand experience working 80+ hours per week. Heck, there were times I worked more than 100 hours in a single week at one particular startup. There were times when I would go days without going home, choosing instead to sleep in the office for an hour here and an hour there. And if I needed a change of clothes for an important meeting, I would go to the Banana Republic that was below my office to buy a change of clothes instead of going home.

The difference with this experience, however, was that I was never forced to put in those insane hours. No one ever asked me to work 80+ hours. I did it because I truly believed in what we were building. But I also knew what it took to be productive, and that’s why I often times made sure my team did not follow my lead.

I encouraged my team to work no more than 40 hours, and if I noticed someone reaching 50 hours I usually asked that person to take a break, go home, and enjoy life a bit. The work can wait. Sometimes the team member would take my suggestion and leave, other times they would not. But the choice was theirs. I never asked for more than 40 hours per week and in the end we created some amazing things in a short amount of time.

Get To The Point

So what’s my point here? My point is that you can’t force a programmer to work long hours. That person has to want to do it. There has to be a love or passion for what they are doing, otherwise it’s just work. And people max out, especially creative types, after about 32 to 40 hours of work in a single week.

And Now

I worked at a few startups putting in 60 or more hours per week, but those days are behind me. Those were fun times with lots of good memories, but I now find it’s more important to break up work with other interest. Today I’m a proponent of what I like to call underworking, or as I more often times jokingly call “being a slacker.”1

Life’s too short to overwork yourself today in hopes you will have the time later in life for the fun things. Who knows what will happen in the future. You could be hit by a beer truck tomorrow and die. That’s why I believe you should make a point to spend more time doing what you love now. The work can wait.

The Long Trail And Me

A couple of years back I did a talk on the topic of underworking at the first 360intersect. In it I talk about my time hiking the Long Trail and the effect it has had on me and the amount of time I spend working each week. Here’s the video for those interested in watching it and learning more about the benefits of working less.2

  1. Funny how working only 32 to 40 hours a week is thought to be slacking. 

  2. Sorry the first couple of minutes of the talk are missing. Someone forgot to push the record button. 

Posted in business. Tagged in hiking, indie life, life, long-trail, videos.

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