I think creativity is like a well, and when you do creative work its like drawing that water out. If you use too much water one day, the well runs dry. You have to wait for the goundwater to fill it up again.
Not only did I begin viewing creativity as a limited resource I create and have access to over time, but I noticed that some activities, like reading about science, listening to music, and walking around town actually increase the rate at which the well fills up.
So now I have made it a daily habit of doing things that inspire me, and I also daily draw from the well like the author said - but Im more careful not to creatively 'overdo it' and leave myself unable to be creative the next day.
Viewing it this way has helped a lot, for all the same benefits the author listed. Im in a rhythm where I dont feel I need a break on the weekend, I just still have energy.
+1, many times over.
Taking breaks and having fun are very important to maintaining high productivity and creativity when I am working. Unfortunately it's in stark contrast to the mantras I often hear suggesting "there's someone out there who is working harder than you on the same thing and they're going to win if you let up." That mentality is unhealthy and leads to depression/exhaustion.
I've heard Elon Musk say this a lot. It seems to work for him, at least.
Programming requires a lot of concentration that is hard to sustain for a long time (the author of the post is an iOS programmer).
(In the vid he's saying he used to sleep on a futon in the office as he couldn't afford a flat at the time)
What gets me is recovery. I would be unable to run hard for a week after that. Younger pros do like 5 or 6 really hard workouts a week. Older pros a bit less.
I totally would follow them but my body cannot recover between workouts. In my opinion what makes a world class marathoner is not his ability to work hard, it's a special gift to recover. I would work just as hard, but I physically can't as often as they do.
Saying anyone can be an elite marathoner by running like an elite marathoner? Bull. Any decent runner can do a workout or 2. Then you need a week to recover.
What does all this have to do with programming? Maybe nothing. Or maybe what makes the super productive guys so good is they mentally recovery faster? No idea on programming front, but I am confident on the running front it is all recovery.
I'm a programmer, and I don't know how it relates to what I do, but I've already set my mind on finding out.
Imho the core of this idea is that "recovery" applies to many things: how early can you get another 4-hour coding session? How much did the first one tire you out?
How well do you recover after a failure? Bug in my code? I jump on that immediately and don't think twice about it; an argument with my girlfriend / co-worker / boss / parents? Not so much.
I believe you can train both your body and mind to get better at this; get better sleep, see a therapist.
Even more, you can tweak life's settings to work in your favor: a stable relationship, better/quieter housing (or job), savings etc.
You can quit a job, but you can't quit a calling!
I would imagine we've all been on death marches at some point in our careers. And yes it can work to meet a deadline but the long term result is usually burnout and piles of technical debt which is always less fun to work on even if you're motivated.
I feel like great philosopher, Juicy J, "I'm still working while I'm on vacation, You can't tell me nothing 'bout my dedication"
Well Said Mr. J.
> So, many of the things that are dismissed as pseudo-science, may just be things that actually work or are true, but we just don't happen to know how they work or the physical laws that govern them, as of now.
I would say the opposite. Systems we use (like money, laws or politics) that we see as natural or inevitable are based on pseudo-science because we don't know their nature or rules.
We use the discoveries of our ancestors and think we are better than them. We are still in the matrix waiting for the red pill without knowing it.
Interesting, notice the word "rhythm" at the end of your upper comment, just now.
Mature creators fall into the morning producing group, while 'young geniuses' usually do their best work in the late-night hours.
Yet for the potentially even more complex range that is different people, it amazes me that so much of the advice is didactic - we all need 8 hours sleep, 8 glasses of water, and 8 hours of work with breaks is optimal.
The closest I get to advice is 'learn your body and what works for you'. Thanks to the OP for sharing what works for him.
When I work remotely and have freedom over my time, I can take a few hours off to go for a walk, sleep, go for a long lunch, meet friends, or even play games. Afterwards I feel recharged and can be 110% productive, and usually end up working more hours than I would in an office.
I did this for a lot of last year, as I needed to overlap with teams in India and PST, so I usually worked 10am - 10pm taking a few hours off in the afternoon. I was able to get so much more done because of that extended break.
I did this off and on for about 6 months, pretty much by accident: When I worked from home, I wandered in and out of my responsibilities all day, so I couldn't get my work done until probably 9 or 9:30 at night. I was absolutely miserable, and I think the case would be the same if I tried it again, albeit more mindfully.
In theory, being able to take breaks helps me clear my head. In reality, though, I find my brain interprets "It's 10 pm and I just finished work" the same way whether I worked straight through from 9 am or took a 3-hour break in the afternoon. I hate it.
Therefore, even though I appreciate that this isn't a solution for everyone, I don't think it's fair to say that this boils down to just a personal experience with no external value.
8 hour of work is 24/3. That is a turn in a factory. It have nothing to do with 'optimal', at least that we are talking optimal for the factory.
Since then labour organizations in many countries have set goals for shorter work days, and many countries have seen the work days shortened further to various extent, but given how long the fight for the 8 hour day took, we can expect it to take a long time.
But as you say, it has absolutely nothing to do with 'optimal'.
What if it takes more than Y?
What if you weren't able to expect the true scope of the project?
What if the customer isn't cooperative and wastes your time?
What is considered a reasonable delivery? How many bugs do you continue to fix for free without charging more?
How many changes to you put in your design without charging more?
Working at an hourly rate saves a lot of legal and contractual headaches. Its also critical when you're working with an agile company that has constantly changing needs and expectations.
You can also win more work because some clients aren't comfortable with the undefined nature of hourly work, and prefer to pay a fixed price for a service so they can budget accordingly and not get any surprises at the end of the month...
(And sometimes, we really weren't sure, in which case we wouldn't do the job for a fixed fee.)
No problem there. Educate your clients. Tell them if it takes significantly longer than expected you will come back to them. Tell them it is not likely but you want to be straight from the beginning.
It's one thing if the project is delay because of you. Its another thing if the project is delayed because their backend guy hasn't fixed a few bugs and you're stuck creating ugly workarounds in the client code.
I see a lot of value in putting a price tag on deliverables. Do you mind if I reach out over email to ask for some advice on making the switch?
The problem I am running into now is what do I do with my spare time? All my hobbies are computer based (video games and Raspberry Pi projects) but I am trying to minimize my screen time in my off hours. This will get better in the spring and summer as the weather gets better but during winter on the Oregon Coast going outside is hit or miss.
And I hear you about not being able to go to bed until I solve a problem I am stuck on, that drives me crazy.
I've been climbing for years outside work and I feel like it's a great hobby for programmers. It gets you outside and you are essentially problem solving. I found my side projects (video games, rpi things, fun programming) are much more productive when I spend time climbing.
I also found it helps me not think about work. Before I started climbing, I would think about my next work day non-stop which was totally counter-productive. I would over think things and then get stuck in a rut for weeks at a time. I now care less about my work when I'm off and I think it's actually made me a better employee.
I used do indoor and outdoor rock climbing. I also used to free climb buildings, when I was younger and less risk-averse (I'm not suggesting anyone free climbs buildings; it's dangerous and illegal :P).
Right now I don't have the opportunities to do as much climbing as I'd like, and I started learning to play the violin. It has a similar effect because I have to really focus on what I'm doing, and there's no mental space for other issues. I'm also not really good enough for creating music to be a creative process. Mostly I just work on drills and scales. Doesn't really get you outside though.
Personally, if I really want to unwind my brain, I find a super pulpy book series and read it. The less intellectual the better.
Personally, I also ski, run, play frisbee, and jam on the mandolin. But agreed, doing things very different from programming are the most rejuvenating for me.
Music does that for me. If you're at all interested, check out justinguitar.com (no affiliation, just love what the guy does) and try it out. There's something about the meditative aspects of playing music that really works for me.
This article reminded me of my previous workplace (about 7 years ago) where my manager discouraged engineers from working for more than 6 hours a day. He recommended 4 hours of work per day and requested us not to exceed more than 6 hours of work per day. He believed working for less number of hours a day would lead to higher code quality, less mistakes and more robust software.
Although, he never went around the floor ensuring that engineers do not exceed 6 hours of work a day, and some engineers did exceed 6 hours a day, however, in my opinion, his team was the most motivated team on the floor.
For some projects it's perfectly fine but some tasks can only be done if you focus for a large amount of time on it, work obsessively on it until you reach a milestone.
The greatest work I have ever done, was always done when I retreated like a monk for several weeks, cutting myself of the whole world and working almost non-stop on the task until I made a significant breakthrough.
Then I go back to the livings and share the fruits of my work, and of course, take a well deserved rest for several days.
The trap into most people fall is that they are confusing being active and working.
A few points are raised in the post:
1. If you only work 3 hours, you're less tempted to go on twitter/facebook/hacker news.
True - but that's really a question of discipline, work environment and how excited you are about what you're working on.
It's perfectly possible to perform for 10 hours straight without distractions, just make sure to take an occasional break for physical health.
2. Better prioritization.
Treating your time as a scarce resource helps focus on the core features. But your time is a scarce resource even if you work 12 hours a day.
Programmers are in shortage. They cost a lot. And the time you're spending on building your own apps could have been spent freelancing and working for someone else's apps.
Always stick a dollar figure on your working hours. Even if you're working on your own projects.
You should always prioritize your tasks, and always consider paying for something that might save you development time (Better computer. better IDE. SaaS solutions, etc).
3. Taking a long break can help you solve a problem you're stuck on.
Personally, I find that taking a short walk, rubber duck debugging or just changing to a different task for a while does the same.
If I'm stuck on something, I don't need to stop working on it until tomorrow. I just need an hour or two away from it.
It's common practice in classified environments, as a necessary security precaution.
But it's a true productivity killer imho.
Better to just install an extension that blocks twitter/facebook etc, than completely cripple your ability to search for technical information as you need it.
Also - good luck installing tools and plugins when you have to start copying things from the internet computer to the classified computer.
With godoc, man pages, info pages, a local copy of the Common Lisp Hyperspec and Usenet, what more does one need?
If you're worried about using code from stack-overflow, use it as inspiration only and write your own code. Or conduct a short search first to see if it WAS copied from another code repository.
But i agree that working less than 8h/day could be really more productive. I also liked the "less stuck for coding" topic as "...it is sometimes hard to go bed without solving some unknown issues, and you don’t want to stop coding in the middle of it..." so maybe forcing themselves to stop could be a solution.
Anyway, i would really like to work 4 or 5 hours a day but keeping holidays and weekends free from work and i think this can only be achieved if you can pay your living with products of your own such as your apps and not by freelancing (i am a freelance and i know it!).
But i enjoyed the idea behind the article and i will try to achieve it one day.
There's an easy solution to that problem: don't take on those projects. If they don't fit into your schedule don't do them.
Somewhat related: I found it is a lot easier (and natural) to estimate projects in terms of 'ideal' hours. And then just assume there are only 20 to 25 of those a week. That quite closely matches the 21 hours of the original post.
Lots of deadlines companies and thus their employees face are externally imposed (often from their customer(s)).
It's about criticizing something as invalid, BS, problematic etc. -- is not even about saying something X doesn't belong to an idealized category.
It's about shifting the discussion to "X doesn't belong to an idealized category" AFTER you were OK talking generally about it previously.
This means that when one talks morally/ideologically/etc. about what constitutes "a true scotchman" (e.g. not in the plain sense of citizen of Scotchman") it's not a fallacy to ascribe certain attributes to the notion (because "true" here essentially means "ideal", "most representative" etc, instead of merely "actually existing").
What works for me is having a baseline of 3 or 4 hours of daily work, and not imposing any hard limits when I want or need to do extra hours. This works out great, because I have no excuses not to do the boring routine work as it's just a few hours, but I also have the liberty of doing obsessive 10h sessions when I'm trying to solve a tough problem or when I'm working on something fun.
There is something to be said for always leaving yourself wanting to do a bit more. Never being satisfied means that you are always hungry for more.
I should note that "in the zone" time for me can last a few weeks. Most recently, a long one came after spending a lot of time at the gym doing cardio. When I hit "the zone", I stopped going to the gym and just worked. Now I'm in the "haze phase". The problem with the haze phase is it's hard to focus on anything, including going back to the gym, which should theoretically spur another "in the zone" phase.
I have a lot of trouble achieving balance.
I think the lesson to learn from this is that we should work harder to not only remove the stigma of unusual work schedules, but encourage them so people can discover their maximum productivity schedule for themselves.
Yes, I can see how that would be possible, this is not a problem for me because of the work that I do but in other lines of work it could really kill your momentum.
Sadly, it isn't always possible.
I hate about the corporate workplace that it doesn't accept any kind of rhythm but treats you like a machine that performs exactly the same at all times. Nature is built around seasons and so are humans. They are not machines.
I would much prefer to have a time sheet where I can do my 40 hours whenever I feel like it.
I usually work 7 days a week, but invariably a couple days a week I only work an hour, checking email and replying to people.
The work I do is of better quality, I'm happier, and I easily could work at this pace until the day I die.
I actually had similar routine while at school, but it was 6 hours a day total. 3 hours in the evening, usually just before I went to sleep, might be 19-22, or 21-24 and 3 hours in the morning when I woke up and continued for ~3 hours and then left for lectures.
I started doing this because I realized that I am no longer capable of pulling all-nighters. And it worked surprisingly well :-)
I would guess that, if the OP had a competitor, then the OP would be easily forced out of the market if that competitor worked 4 hours a day :)
Edit: I usually do three blocks of three hours each and one two hour block each week. I find three hours perfect to tackle a problem, and a good chunk to be able to reflect upon afterwards.
'everyday' is an adjective
My apologies to Xg15 for down voting him or her. It was accidental, my finger slipped and there's no "undo" button that I know of.
From pissed on you're probably going to get a hangover.
EDIT: I got downvoted. Come up with whatever standard of productivity you want (ANY standard that you want) and adduce a single human who in 16 years times 90 minutes per day accomplished more than I can find a counter-example of someone doing in the same field in 1 year. 1 year of 24 hours a day strictly dominates 16 years of 90 minutes per day, and you cannot find a single counterexample in any field from any era of humanity. Go ahead and try.
oh and by the way, in 1905 Einstein published 1 paper on the Photoelectric effect, for which he won his only nobel prize, 1 paper on Brownian motion which convinced the only leading anti-atomic theorist of the existence of atoms, 1 paper on a little subject that "reconciles Maxwell's equations for electricity and magnetism with the laws of mechanics by introducing major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light. This later became known as Einstein's special theory of relativity" and 1 paper on Mass–energy equivalence, which might have remained obscure if he hadn't worked it into a catchy little ditty referring to an "mc". You might have heard of it? E = mc^2? Well a hundred and ten years later all the physicistis are still laying their beats on top.
Your turn. Point to someone who did as much in 16 years by working just 90 minutes per day.
Closer to our own field, Instagram was sold for $1 billion about a year after its founding date, to Facebook. Point out anyone who built $1 billion in value over 16 years working just 90 minutes per day.
I feel the opposite is true. Working longer hours actually reduces my level of productivity because at some point I start making mistakes that take time to undo. For me that's only about 6 hours of coding; if I work 12 hours then half of my time is spent undoing mistakes or finding better solutions, so I'm less productive than if I'd only written code for 6 hours in the first place. I definitely don't find that I'm more productive if I just put in more time ad infinitum.
If you find that you're effective for every hour you work regardless how long you work for then you're very fortunate and exceptionally unusual.
I'm saying if you want to accomplish something great and groundbreaking, it's better to work 24 hours a day at it than three hours a day, and, yes, you can stop after a year or two. You literally have as much life left, but you can accomplish a huge amount more, by concentrating the work rather than spreading it out. I don't know why this is, it just is.
But you know what's even easier than working three hours a day? Working zero hours and signing up for unemployment benefits. You certainly won't suffer from exhaustion or burnout.
You can choose smallness, but just be aware that you are doing so. That's what choosing to work three hours a day means. I don't think I'm saying something even a tiny bit controversial and I am utterly perplexed at the votes I received on it.
If you want to do something big, then concentrate your work on it, don't spread it out over a longer time period. You literally are not able to achieve as much in the exact same number of hours, if the hours are spread out over a longer time period.
I can't believe anyone finds this even the slightest bit controversial or finds any objection to what I've written.
Because you're saying that doing more work is always more effective than doing less work, all the way up to the maximum possible amount of work. That's the definition of infinite scaleability.
I'm saying if you want to accomplish something great and groundbreaking, it's better to work 24 hours a day at it than three hours a day
And that's what I'm saying isn't true, although I'm using the lower value of 6 hours rather than 3. Typical people can't work 24 hours a day for months on end without having a catastrophic crash in the end. Similarly, typical people can't put in more than about 8 hours solid work without becoming less effective, to the point of negative effectiveness. Personally, if I work for 14 hours a day I make lots of mistakes and have to spend time fixing them, which means I'm not really doing 14 hours work - I'm doing 14 hours minus the time it takes to fix things. I might as well just do the 6 or 8 or 10 hours that I can do without things going wrong.
Saying that you can work for any number of hours a day ad infinitum without ever getting burnt out is controversial because anyone who's been a developer for more than a few years knows it isn't true.
"Einstein immigrated to the United States in 1933, where he held a professorship at Princeton University until his retirement in 1945. His routine there was simple. Between 9:00 and 10:00 A.M. he ate breakfast and perused the daily papers. At about 10:30 he left for his Princeton office, walking when the weather was nice; otherwise, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. He worked until 1:00, then returned home for a 1:30 lunch, a nap, and a cup of tea. The rest of the afternoon was spent at home, continuing his work, seeing visitors, and dealing with the correspondence that his secretary had sorted earlier in the day. Supper was at 6:30, followed by more work and more letters."
(Source: Mason Currey – Daily Rituals: How Artists Work; found on http://jrbenjamin.com/2013/08/08/the-old-elephants-tricks/)
Clearly, this quote doesn't cover the time of the 1900s and 1910s but I doubt Einstein significantly changed his work habits (that had enabled him to be so successful in the first place) after emigrating to the States. In any case, he certainly did not work on theoretical physics for 8 hours per day, let alone 24 hours.
Besides, being a theoretical physicist myself, I can tell you from personal experience that thinking about theoretical problems is hard work and depletes you of energy rather quickly. I don't think success in theoretical physics depends on how much time you spend (beyond a handful of hours a day) but rather on your perseverence, on what problems you choose and on your ability to come up with new ways in which to rephrase the problem.
If that still doesn't satisfy you, you can also google for biographies of successful mathematicians to see that a lot of them considered rest to be important and didn't work more than a couple hours per day. See, for instance, http://mathoverflow.net/questions/9799/how-much-work-does-it... .
Your quote does cover 3 hours of work very clearly:
"At about 10:30 he left for his Princeton office, walking when the weather was nice; otherwise, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. He worked until 1:00". That is almost exactly 3 hours. Your quote clearly describes about three hours of work per day, from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM. The only problem? Your quote continues "then returned home for a 1:30 lunch, a nap, and a cup of tea. The rest of the afternoon was spent at home, continuing his work, seeing visitors, and dealing with the correspondence that his secretary had sorted earlier in the day. Supper was at 6:30, followed by more work and more letters."
Literally "the rest of the afternoon was spent at home continuing his work...dealing with correspondnece..." and after a 6:30 pm supper "more work and more letters."
I will thank you for not cutting your quote off at the word "he worked until 1:00", which is the kind of example I was asking for (describing a 3-hour workday). The only issue is that an additional 5-10 hours of work follow. It's no example at all. In fact, taken as a whole it's pretty much the lifestyle I was describing, working from morning until late into the night.
If you do know of any scientist who worked for 3 hours a day I'd love to hear it.
I can't remember who it was concerning but I recall an anecdote about a scientist who would appear to be asleep - they would then suddenly "wake" and write something down or try a calculation; are you working if you're lying in bed and your brain is subconsciously processing a conceptualisation of a hypothesis?
But is that accurate? If we look at the article I linked on that miracle year, it says: "He worked as an examiner at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, and he later said of a co-worker there, Michele Besso, that he 'could not have found a better sounding board for his ideas in all of Europe'."
I'm not trying to "rebut" you, let's understand what really happened. Did Einstein really do irrelevant clerical work that was time he simply lost from his day? Or did he really not only slack off during his job, and spend some time doing physics on company time, but even have his coworkers' input into it? i.e. get extra resources from his day job?
I am genuinely curious, but I think that it is probably the latter! What I mean is that suppose you take away his job at the patent office and his connection with his colleagues there. Instead you rewind history and just I don't know make him win some kind of lottery or give him the same money that he made but from some other source, or you make him a mailman or something, but at any rate you take away any positive direct contribution from his position.
What is your personal opinion about whether the four papers would still have resulted? Given everything I know about working on private projects on company time, or the history of Bill Gates at Harvard or a number of other similar stories... and given the direct quote... I think it quite likely that his 8 hour "office clerk" job in fact contributed to his physics research.
It would have been a purer example if he were a chauffeur or something. But given the quote, I think perhaps we should consider even those 8 hours as contributing to his physics research.
It is a real shame that we can't ask "what would have happened if he hadn't been working as a patent clerk."
On balance I think it supports my theory that it takes 24 hours to do something. You raise a good point however and I'd be interested in a historian's perspective. This is an extremely interesting venue to ask about. I wonder if anyone wrote about his work habits during those couple of years?
There are two issues that I know of when I worked for long hours: tunnel-vision, communication and burning out.
If one works long hours, one has to evaluate an idea all the way, to check if is correct or not. For me, his hampers evaluating competing ideas effectively. This might not be the case for everyone.
Working as a team requires feedback from other team members. If you get stuck or need feedback/communication with someone else, you can enter a feedback loop such that the additional time that you spent on it does not bring additional value. These type of loops are possible even if working less hours per day, so it can be a good idea for additional research.
And burning-out: there is only so many hours in a day. A worker can have interest outside the technical question at hand: if they have priorities outside of work, would you require that they forego their priorities for work?
I don't see how the Einstein example is relevant, feel free to elaborate.
On instagram... you're introduction valuation, not nominal productivity.
i.e., imagine I can either produce 1 smartphone after a year working 100 hours per week, or produce 100 smartphones after 10 years, working 10 hours per week.
Well, nominally, the latter example is way more productive. You produce 10x as many phones per year while working 1/10th the time. There's absolutely no way you can say that the former is more productive.
But, building today's smartphone in 10 years is obviously going to leave you with little value. In 10 years, your 10-year old tech will be valued very little.
Your instagram example is like that. The engineers working on it may have been much more productive if given 10 years to work on their project, but its valuation would be shit because it's last to market instead of first to market. So, not a great example.
If you're trying to say that working hard in short periods, allowing you to get to market before anyone else, is better than taking your time, then obviously that's true, but that's more a function of competition than it is of productivity!
Further, it's a poor example. Show me data that's meaningful for a large group of people, not extreme outliers. How many people do you know that created a $1b company or came up with g relativity theory? It's like saying 'dropping out of school is a great idea, look at Gates and Zuckerberg'. When in reality the data overwhelmingly supports the notion that finishing school has positive outcomes in your life. You can prove anything by looking at selective (outlier) examples, but show me examples that commonly occur.
Meanwhile overwhelmingly studies show that productivity drops sharply after some amount of hours. You get more work done per unit of time when working 8 hours per day, than 16 hours, period. That's what productivity measures.
There is obviously some lower bound, if you work in 3 minute intervals you're spending a lot of your time 'starting up' your workspace and getting your brain tuned in your work, and so productivity (work per unit of time) drops. I wouldn't be surprised if 4 times 90 minutes was less productive than working for 6 hours, that makes a lot of sense. But there's also an upper bound, where you lose concentration and motivation and are better off resting and getting back to it the next day, such that working two days of 6 hours is more productive than a single 12 hour session. Feel free to look at the many, many studies that confirm this. The above applies to virtually anyone, any organisation, any individual, productivity has diminishing returns as you scale way down or way up.