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Less stress, more productivity: working fewer hours is good for you and your boss (codewithoutrules.com)
605 points by itamarst on Aug 19, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 296 comments

> Long hours: "It's 5 o'clock and I should be done with work, but I just need to finish this problem, just one more try," you tell yourself. But being tired it actually takes you another three hours to solve. The next day you go to work tired and unfocused.

> Shorter hours: "It's 5 o'clock and I wish I had this fixed, but I guess I'll try tomorrow morning." The next morning, refreshed, you solve the problem in 10 minutes.

I have too much experience with this. I remember when I was self-employed I humble-brag tweeted about my production deployment ~15 minutes after starting work. A friend of mine asked why I hadn't just deployed last night and the quote above was my first thought (in addition to the fact that you should never deploy to prod then go to bed). I was done with work, so I stopped. It avoids hitting that "grind it out" phase where you're lucky just not to do more harm than good.

This has happened way more times than I can count. Spending hours staring at a line of code, up all night. Wake up next morning, and it's a simple spelling mistake I've missed. Grinding out work has never been productive. Mistakes happen when you're tired. This applies to study cramming as well, and it's completely pointless. Study as much as you can, until your NORMAL bed time, then stop and get a full nights rest before the test.

Side note, it's no wonder these big games come riddled with bugs these days. Pushing developers to the extreme during crunch time, just to meet a deadline. There is NO WAY they are doing everything correctly.

I think it does sometimes work, which is why at last I fall back to it.

Grind out fix.. 90% success rate, average time to solve - 1 hour.

Sleep and fix in the morning.. 100% success rate, average time to solve - 15 minutes.

Clearly better to sleep but if something needs fixed NOW... then it's time to grind I guess...

In reality, though, how often does it need to be fixed NOW? Like, actually needs to be fixed now, or there will be serious consequences, and not just some manager thinks they want it now? I'd be willing to bet it's less than 10%.

Reality is basically never, unless it's a major system outage, or security issue. We don't even bother looking at issue priorities, because everyone raises them as critical.

Even then, is it really an emergency? What's the consequence of it being down? Death? People being fired?

IME, 90% of emergencies are "such-and-such a manager is going to look a little bad in a spreadsheet next Monday".

That doesn't mean it doesn't need fixing, but we should start being honest with ourselves. Defining P1, P2, etc. is useful.

Well in the case of Amazon, $66,000 per MINUTE. If you want to make a case for money only being money sure. But as far as business is concerned, that is an emergency.

Well to be fair, we're not talking about emergencies, obviously those get priority. And of course, as much as people would like you to believe, most things are not an emergency!

What about the 3rd option, getting two tasks done?

- Grind for 1 hour and assuming 90% success rate, finish the task 9 out of 10 times

- Sleep

- Finish another task in 15 min with, again based on your assumption, a success rate of 100%

In start-ups there is usually a near endless list of tasks to solve so this would be the most productive approach. Again, based on a lot of assumptions.

[edit: formatting]

Except that success rate was assuming that you did get the rest you needed, mainly from leaving at a reasonable time. Staying and grinding directly contradicts that, so you're not going to be rested and well in the morning, and you're not going to have the success rate of 100%.

Basically, you just advocated for crunch time and death marches. Things that are known to not work.

You haven't prepped and then slept on task 2 so I don't think you're finishing it in 15 minutes. And now you're sleep deprived.

There's a lot of science behind this phenomenon, this article does a good job of discussing the process https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/201209/...

But tl;dr your brain is adept at working on problems in the background after you've defocused on them. Your work is still getting done, even if you cut out of work and unwind, no guilt necessary ;-)

Spelling mistakes are the worst! You need less stringly-typed things in your life.

I had this problem until I realised, most of my work is being done while doing something else less brain challenging. I have awesome ideas on the shower, while walking, running, throwing out trash. Smoking really helps here as well (but I am not so proud of it). Just because I am not starring at the screen it doesn't mean I am not working on the problem. If my brain finds something interesting, it is working on it subconsciously.

I couldn't agree with you more. I can't even tell you how many times I've figured out something while on a run or walk -- far too often I've started writing code without thinking it through adequately. Getting away from the keyboard, away from google, away from every possible distraction and just letting your brain have some time to reflect on things is sadly lacking with today's constant barrage of information.

I've started doing something in the past year - when I go for a run, I pick one "small thing" to think about. It might be trouble I'm having with code (javascript Promises, anyone?), or something as unrelated as "why do we drive on the right side of the road in the U.S." I don't always intend to try to find an answer, I just want to get in the habit of just thinking without distraction.

+10. Blogged this a while ago:

Tech Video: Rich Hickey: Hammock-Driven Development:


Some people don't understand this, and it was one of the reasons I was so happy to get to work from home. It's really hard to work this way in an office, but at home people really only see the end result and assume you got there using whatever methods they think are best. Nobody knows or cares I took a couple laps around the block mid-morning, they just know I fixed the issue.

Most managers, especially in Europe don't get it. They need to see you that:

- you are working at least 9-3 (or pretending it)

- you are talking to your colleague in the kitchen (in manager terminology: knowledge sharing, my favorite one)

- you are present at unproductive meetings

- you are hitting you keyboard

- you have opened excel sheet, sharepoint, and other required tools major of working time.

I spent almost 6 years in corporate open office plans. Last year was working from home. Now, I am not able to go back to the standard 8 hours open office.

And yet I got downvoted in another thread about Marissa Meyer's quote on startup working weekends, when I suggested they were likely misusing their time, rather than getting ahead.

Short bursts are ok, but everyone needs time to recharge.

reading "The Power of Habit", "Mindset" and "How we Learn", it is ringing more true to me each day that we all have a fixed budget of willpower, creative thought, and focused learning -- and all three are extremely taxed working as a software engineer.

I also am a firm believer in the power of falling asleep while thinking about a problem, and waking up with a fresh approach on how to solve the problem. Thomas Edison was famous for taking naps with a steel bearing on a plate. Salvador Dali had a similar technique he called "slumber with a key"

I wasn't sure what you were trying to saying there so I looked it up:

To further assure that he would not lapse into sleep, he would hold a steel ball bearing in each hand. On the floor, placed directly below his closed hand would be a metal saucer. If he should fall completely asleep, his hands would relax and each ball bearing would fall to the floor, striking the metal saucer, making a noise loud enough to wake Edison.

1. https://fireballimagery.com/2011/09/01/the-naps-of-thomas-ed...

Just to clarify, as you make it sound like that fixed budget is something inherent in yourself; however there is evidence that you can influence what that budget is http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000014

Full paper PDF: https://psychology.stanford.edu/sites/all/files/Implicit%20T...

I've only read the abstract. Does the paper address the possibility that people with more willpower might believe it's unlimited? Or that having more willpower in total allows some of tbat willpower to be allocated to the meta-allocation of willpower?

What is the direction of causation?

Now that you mention it, I should have left out "fixed" in "fixed budget" (Also goes contrary to the second book I listed, ironically

I am lucky. I finally have an office with a lockable door. At lunch time I take a power nap of 12 to 20 minutes. Afternoons flow better and if I am coding it goes much faster with better problem solving.

I deeply envy you.

LOL. Don't worry. The current state of Yahoo and their CEO clearly proves you're right. But remember, many people here make a living by pushing others to unhealthy extremes. This is their entire job. So of course they will downvote you for suggesting the time they and their exhausted programmers "worked" on weekends was wasted. Doesn't change the fact that it was.

Some ideas are doomed no matter how clever, motivated, or well-considered the working environments.

We champion Newton for his work in gravity, optics, and mechanics.

Not so much in alchemy.

If the field you're plowing isn't fertile, no amount of good agronomy will help you.

Yahoo may not have been abolutely intractable, but it was in a bad position and getting worse. I had no interest in working for the company or using its products, and I'm no particular fan of Meyers (I think she's accomplished a few useful things, may be felt by her absence at Google, and has also done and said some tremendously stupid things as well). But hanging Yahoo on her neck alone is false narrative.

In general I agree with you but I am pretty sure there are people who can work at high performance much longer than other people can do. Some people also need only 3 hours of sleep where others need 8 or more. I think it's genetic in the same way some people can run 100 m in 11 seconds without training where others need 14 seconds and will never get even close to 11 even if they train.

If you don't have that "talent" for long work hours it's probably counterproductive to force yourself into something you just can't do.

Also, it's much easier to start work in the morning if you have an unfinished task to complete. It's easier to get into the flow if you can dive right into something rather than having to start a new task from scratch. Even though it feels nice to have things wrapped up nicely before going home, that's often counter productive.

Hemingway said you should always finish for the day when you know what the next bit is

"I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."

I'm not a developer but I believe it applies in a lot of other areas. I've been slowly rebuilding the Bronco II my dad left me when he passed away earlier this year, and I've found that if I come across an issue that I have to figure out and I'm hot and tired and sore from working on it all day, I am better off stopping there for the day and tackling that issue first thing the next day that I work on it. Otherwise I'll spend hours trying to do something in a boneheaded way that I will end up figuring out in 10 minutes the next attempt.

A recent example: I couldn't find the right combination of extensions and adapters to get a certain bolt off the transmission bellhousing from below the car, and I couldn't even touch the bolt from above. I spent half a day just getting a socket on there, then couldn't get my wrench to turn it. A couple days later I tackled it again and immediately realized I could remove the lower intake manifold (since I was replacing that part anyway) and get to it from the top. Twenty minutes later that bolt was out. My tired brain couldn't think that far ahead but when I was refreshed it was the first thing I thought of.

I think it's more important to think about what state of mind are you in - for example, if I'm tired, I'm just going to go home a lot of the time. I know that it isn't an efficient use of my time if I keep banging on a problem while not in a state to solve it efficiently.

This is something many academics learn quickly, as it is important in order to solve deep problems, especially with the workload that is levied on academics.

Myself, I've had many instances where this has happened, including with open source work.

This advice needs to be interpreted the right way: don't butt your head against walls.

Usually it makes sense to pick a task and finish it before going home. If you stop just because its 5pm, you waste time re-orienting yourself the next day. Worse, you can get into the clock-watching habit.

BUT, if at 4.55 pm, you realise there was some nasty wrinkle in the task and you need to rethink it or go back and do a big prepartory refactor, then you should go home and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

>you should never deploy to prod then go to bed

Ha ha. Yeah, that never quite works out does it?


Same. I also find that sometimes I need "passive" time to think about the problem in the evening. And then when I come back to it in the morning, I have a bunch of different ideas to try out. It's much more productive (and more enjoyable) than sitting at a computer, grinding away at a problem.

The solution is always in the pillow :)

Yes, relax and let your subconscious mind do some of the work.

Forcing things generally doesn't help. Like, the difference between working really hard at something and letting yourself attend to a task is minor at best. And the long-term cost of trying to "work hard" is huge.

I'm fairly sure this insight generalizes outside of programming as well. It's absolutely true for blues dancing, where not being relaxed enough hurts your dancing and having a couple drinks is performance-enhancing.

I've also had the solution (or at least ideas after hitting roadblocks) come to me at home, or on the drive home from work. Just last night I had a breakthrough while doing some dishes. Some days when it's not happening, it's just not happening, and trying to force it just doubles down on the frustrations I'm feeling by being stuck in the first place.

What you just described is my whole approach to programming and problem solving in general. Having time for your brain to chill out makes you exponentially more productive when you are actually working.

I help myself sometimes by taking a piece of paper, putting it next to my keyboard and writing down a schedule:

"It's 16:11, so:

    16:11 – 17:00    trying to fix that bug
    17:00            short pause
    17:05 – 17:45    implement easy feature XY so that I feel
                     I accomplished something
    17:45 – 18:00    wrapping up.

The thing with that is that you didn't really put down that problem for the 8-12 hours between ending one day and starting the next. You're percolating on it, thinking about it in the shower, playing out the different options, dreaming about it, sometimes even when you don't want to.

Sometimes on the way home I think of new approaches. After dinner I crack open the laptop and see if these approaches are possible. Just a quick test. Then in the morning I can usually nail the solution.

Edit: just noticed similar comment below. Seems common.

I had copied that exact paragraph before coming to the comments intending to make pretty much the same comment. This happened to me twice this week. Stuck on a problem for more than an hour late in the evening. Come in the next morning and solve it instantly .

Just this week, I've been collecting feedback from my team. Some of the most powerful I received was, "Since you took over, I feel like I've gotten more done with so much less stress and extra hours. Until you came in, I didn't believe that we could really have work-life-balance and be MORE productive and now I know we can."

Having been in companies where my approach has been called everything from "lazy" to outright "damaging," this feedback was both rewarding and validating.

Edit: For those who are in jobs where you're putting in those long hours, I can tell you there are managers out there who believe in the message here. I have three of them working for me right now and I constantly reinforce the philosophy of working sustainably. Don't settle for less than a manager who respects you the person--not just you the engineer!

Totally agree. We're running a team with engineers working 20 hours a week. That seems like about the amount of "productive engineering time" that most people have in them in a week, regardless of how many hours they actually spend working.

It's a bit of an experiment, but I have to say that I'm really happy with what it's doing for us. Our engineers are still quite productive. Their work life balance is good, so we can avoid burnout (though this will take a long time to actually prove). And, finally, it gives us a _huge_ competitive advantage when it comes to hiring top quality engineers.

Neat. Checked out your web site and really like your philosophy! I'm a solo consultant going into my tenth consecutive year. I too have found that >20 hours definitely throws off the balance. It's still a work in progress, but that 20 hour mark is about what consider my level of useful (high impact) hours.

I understand what you do for employees of your firm, but how do you apply your philosophy to yourself (and the other principals)? Client work is one thing, but there's plenty of non-client work too. Particularly in a small firm!

I'm also a solo consultant (really just a contractor), and I've been working 20 hour weeks for the last month or so. I'm finding that I actually don't feel productive enough, mainly because I'm working for a small unlaunched startup, and they are really itching to launch. I mean, I'm still feeling productive for those 4 hours, but when I'm in "the zone", I can focus for much longer. When I'm work on a personal startup or side project, I often spend all day on it, maybe with a few breaks for food.

I'm holding fast to my 4 hour days, but I'm starting to feel like it's not ideal to be the sole part-time developer on a project that needs to launch soon.

But I suppose this could probably be mitigated if they hired another 1 or 2 developers.

I used to be a consultant and went through periods of Uber productivity for 30 to 40 hours a week. When I was in this phase I let my productivity and creativity drive my total weekly effort. Being in the flow feels good and leads to better solutions. But it is not sustainable week after week. Now 30 years later, at 62 years old, I just can't sustain more than 20 hours per week of coding, software design or pre project planning for complex projects. I now find productivity and pleasure doing some of the administrative work managing my team and reporting up. Actually have a new boss and he is asking for lots of data and more. Right now his questions seem valid so it is not a burden. If he learns and grows great. If his information needs don't die down in a few months this may be a burden.

Edit: typos. Need coffee.

You make me smile, nearly 10 years as solo consultant too. For the past 5 years my "week of work" is 25 billed hours and for extremely hard problems (reworking old complex Fortran thermodynamics code) this goes down to 15h/week. Above that, I cannot sustain the rhythm more than two weeks.

The non-client work is done on an "energy and motivation" basis, so I accept that some weeks are good but I can do nothing two weeks in a row.

Ha, "energy and motivation" basis sounds about right for non-client work. I'm finding that getting smarter about what work I can outsource (e.g. bookkeeping to bookkeepers, tax preparation to CPA/accountant) is helping me out tremendously. It's very tempting to keep doing things because "I know I can do that", but forcing myself to let go of non-core/non-strategic areas is hugely empowering and helps with the balance issues and optimizes energy / context switching.

To be honest myself and my co-founder work closer to 35-45 hours a week. We also do about 20 hours of technical work a week, and the rest covers the business overhead (accounting, client relations, business development, project management, etc).

Our goal in the long term is to bring us down to 20 hours a week overall, also, but that's probably several years away. Still, we both feel that as co-founders at a small business keeping it well under 50 hours feels like a win.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about all the items in the business overhead. I've been creating extensive lists of what actually falls into this area, so that I can make sure I'm outsourcing / delegating (e.g. to freelancers) things that really don't need to be on my plate and are non-strategic. Do you have any non-technical employees, contractors, or advisors involved in your business? And, if so, are they are assisting in some of those business overhead areas?

Would you mind letting us know where this is?

Sure. We're a small consulting company called Apsis Labs (http://apsis.io/). We started in Seattle, although our hiring has been entirely remote across the US and Canada.

Cue the sudden influx of resume submissions.

I'm not him but it seems his company (apsis.io) deals with Rails, React, Unity3d, and AWS. The company (Apsis) been around since 2014 so they're probably a successful small startup with some runway.

I'm very curious about this, especially in the long run. Do you need to hire extra staff to work the "other" 20 hours that isn't worked, or do you find your staff are producing about as much in their 20 hours as they would in a 40 hour working week?

It really is on the manager and the top level. I've been at startups where 70hrs a week is the minimum "commitment" level because that's what the executives think will get them their product fastest. It doesn't translate to faster shipping - only a culture of no balance and turnover rates start to creep in.

> turnover rates start to creep in.

This is the biggest thing baffling me on this whole thing.

I mean, it is absolutely critical for a startup to get their product out ASAP, right? And everyone can probably agree that having a high turnover of engineers is absolutely devastating to that goal, since one leaver's knowledge is a hefty amount of the overall know-how in a small company, right?

So,shouldn't these startups be holding on to their good hires like a drowning man to something floating, instead of whipping them to yet another death march?

The answer, I think, is that the majority aren't engineering firms but are led by sales.

I've found that I can tell my team, sorry my brain isn't working anymore, there's no point in staying any later, and they understand.

Actually when I tried telling my manager that, he answered, why are you telling me this, I don't care what hours you work, as long as you get the job done.

Your manager sounds like he is focused on the appropriate metrics and is earning his keep.

But also sounds like he is not communicating neither the metrics nor the expectations well enough to the team

Do you try to stop people from working second jobs or too many side projects?

This is the big issue for me. I'd like to make 30 hour week standard - but I'd probably just spend 10-20 hours on side projects, still spending 40-50 hours a week total.

I'd prefer that obviously, but I can't say my employer would be better off.

You're essentially paying for your own training. That's awesome.

Never saw it from that point of view, but that is totally true.

No. Sustainable pace is important; respecting people's right to be who they are is more important.

Here's my thing: if my management team and I are paying attention, we'll see people's performance suffering if they were to be overworking themselves outside of our work.

Are you sure they wouldn't be? If you're a knowledge worker, your value is in your brain. If it makes you happier on the job, lowers turnover, and helps keep you refreshed ...side project away!


Original poster here - would you (and any other manager reading this thread who feels this way) be interested in talking to me about how you manage for these goals? itamar@codewithoutrules.com.

Happy to chat--traveling this week. You can find my email address easily enough; feel free to email me. :)

how does the reward structure work in this case. Are workaholics paid more compared to people who prefer work-life balance?

I've never heard of software companies paying you more because you stayed late.

If anything, theae people working late are getting seriously ripped off.

Not only do they lose health, mental peace, the joy of life, and happiness -- they also end up effectively making less per hour.

> I've never heard of software companies paying you more because you stayed late.

I don't think they do directly; but, there are a lot of bad managers out there to value hard work and firefighting above all else. So it's very common to see the distribution of rewards slanting heavily towards the "24/7 available people."

An aside to your comment (but not a direct response to you since you're just relating a too common situation): Hard work is not the polar opposite of working efficiently.

No, it's not. But people aren't stupid (at least, if you hire well) and it's often-observed that the simple act of "being there" is rewarded.

An anecdote from my past: two simultaneous projects; I'm the lead engineer on one and another person, more senior than me, is the lead on the other. I work with my team and we deliver ahead of schedule and with features that the product managers had become accustomed to being told, "no, that's too hard" by the engineering teams. The other project fell far behind, had the whole team working in a war room 12-18 hours per day for weeks.

Guess which team got big bonuses and publicly recognized for their work?

I left a few months later.

Such a bliss when you make your colleagues functionning better. Kudos

I started a consulting/services company a few years ago, and this year was finally in a position to start hiring. I'm a big proponent of this type of thinking, so while I couldn't offer the best salary, or the best benefits - I could offer a better work/life balance. I knew it was a win-win for us and the new employee.

We landed on a 36 hour work week. 8-5 Mon-Thurs, then 8-12 on Friday. We had more applicants than I ever dreamed of, and scored a great hire that was coming from the 70-hr-a-week startup life. Everyone's been extremely happy over the past six months, and I don't feel like I'm missing out on any productivity what-so-ever.

This is great, but isn't that a 40 hour work week? Most places consider 9-5 to be 8 hours (lunch and coffee breaks count towards the total).

If we accept this convention, your workers are technically there for 9 hours a day for 4 days and 4 hours on Friday. Still clocking in 40 hours.

Nevertheless, I'm sure they enjoy their half day off on Friday and the work culture that put it in place.

Most places in the US don't count lunch. 8-5 or 9-6 are normal 8 hour days, or 8:30-5 if you take a 30m lunch.

I have never worked in a salaried position where this is true. Citation needed.

Citation needed? Wtf?

Citation: I can't bill my customers for my lunch cause that's fraud. They don't pay me to eat. My employer provides no lunch charge number that I can charge overhead to.

Anyways, it's obvious that every employer has different policies for different things. "My employer doesn't give me disability insurance, citation needed yours does." (And mine does, I don't know how common that is)

Having anecdotes on both sides makes that "most" claim non-obvious and unsubstantiated. Now, if GP had led with "In my experience," that would be different.

Don't you have workplace laws which require breaks from using a computer all day? Those breaks are by law paid. Whether you have lunch on top of those breaks or not I don't care.

I've never worked in salaried position where this WASN'T true. Lunch was never considered to be paid time.

In the US, "salaried" is not a legally meaningful designation of employment. The term that applies here is "exempt". Workers who are paid by the hour and are "non-exempt".

Exempt employees (i.e. "salaried" workers in the US) are not paid by the hour and, so, it does not matter if they eat lunch for 6 hours, code for 1, and sleep for 2.

Their remuneration has no relationship to the length of their lunch breaks nor to the length of hours they code, are in meetings, take water cooler breaks, etc.

So, if you've worked in a salaried position in the US, it is true "Lunch was never considered to be paid time" but only because for all exempt employees neither is coding/meeting/managing/planning/napping considered to be paid time.

In the US, exempt employees are remunerated irrespective of how many hours a week they work.

EDIT: spelling, capitalization.

You can use all the legal definitions you want (which, btw, I already knew all about exempt vs non-exempt employees). When did I say "salaried" was a "legally meaningful designation of employment"? No one I know uses "exempt" in casual conversation to describe what kind of employee they are. It's always "hourly" or "salaried" (or "on salary").

The point was that basically every place I've ever worked on a salary, you were expected to work at least 40 hours a week (that's the minimum). Yes, legally they are required to pay you your salary if you work less than 40 hours in a week. However, if you tried to get away with just working 35 hours, pretty much every place I've ever worked would call you on it, and if you didn't adjust you'd lose your job. They may not use "not working enough hours" as your reason for termination (they'd probably say something like "not getting enough work done"), but the real reason would be because you weren't putting in your 40.

So you can say "In the US, exempt employees are remunerated irrespective of how many hours a week they work.", and that is technically true, but the practical side of it is, if you don't work the minimum number of hours your employer expects, you won't have a job, so you'll stop getting paid at all.

There is a case where "In the US, exempt employees are remunerated irrespective of how many hours a week they work." is practically relevant -- when you work more than 40 hours a week. You will not be paid more for working more than 40 hours in a week. It's one of the downsides of being a salaried employee. But you put up with it because almost all of the higher paying jobs in the US are salaried positions.

While it is technically true that a salaried employee working 35 hours a week and taking an hourly lunch is not getting a "paid lunch", that is the way most people I know would describe it. People are geared to think of the work week as being 40 hours or more, and I'm sure that's why they'd describe 35 hours of actual work a week (with hour lunch breaks) as a salaried position with a "paid lunch".

Like I said originally, perhaps this is regional. I've only worked in the Midwest, but as far as I can tell, this is the way everyone I know perceives it.

Even service jobs occasionally give paid lunch hours. When salaried, the whole point is you don't need to track hours. Otherwise you need to bill for that 5 minutes of insight in the shower on Sunday when you have an idea that solves some important business problem. Anyway since I'm generally thinking about work related problems during lunch, frequently even eating at my desk, and lunch rarely takes a full hour, I've always considered my "lunch hour" as part of the total work day, and never had anyone higher up question it.

>When salaried, the whole point is you don't need to track hours.

Ummm... Keeping track of where man-hours is spent is good project management. Even when I worked jobs where I wasn't billing customers directly and my work was for the company's internal use I've always had to document where my hours were spent every day.

I can't imagine a project that doesn't keep track of man hours. Even if informally.

>Otherwise you need to bill for that 5 minutes of insight in the shower on Sunday when you have an idea that solves some important business problem.

I am not sure why you'd bill for that.

Anecdotal, but I'm in exactly that situation at a fairly large tech employer. We log hours against different projects, are expected to log 40 hours a week, and are specifically instructed not to log anything for a non-working lunch.

Billing clients or projects per hour is like billing lines of code. It's a metric that doesn't correlate to real productivity as much as some people think.

Billings and pay rate basis are parts of a large lie in business.

Revenues are based on customer value, supplier costs, and relative bargaining positions between the two, which moves the balance between the two. The party that can't walk away is the party that loses.

Pay needs to similarly compensate for the provisioning cost of labour, fully accounted.

If you're not paying your employees what theey need to survive and raise families, you're not creating wealth but are extracting liquidity. How you pay isn't terribly significant, though bad bases, such as piecework, are often long-term harmful.

Marginal cost and value are, I'm increasingly convinced, in many ways a distraction. Not entirely, but they confound the matter.

Guy named Smith had a lot to say on this a ways back.

Often especially for salaried consultants, the client billed hours count towards your bonus (which is a part of the overall compensation).

That said, most folks in such roles often work through the lunch. This is a bad habit but logical outcome of such comp structures.

I guess it makes about as much sense as paying employees per hour.

Umm, I'm here in Austin in a salaried position, work 40 hours per week, lunch doesn't count. If I work 9-5, and take a one hour lunch, that means I would have to work 9-6.

I don't know if this is an Oregon thing or national, but I believe that employers are required to give employees a paid 15 minute break for every 4 hours of work. So, at least a paid half hour break per 8 hour day is mandatory.

8 to 5 here; lunch doesn't count.

I've never been at a place where lunch was counted as working, and I'm in the US.

I guess I have never had a job that counts lunch as an hour, or heard of such a job! My wife, friends, etc. all seem to do a 8-5 with breaks and a lunch hour. I guess I've technically been working 45 hours all my life if that's the case.

I've had the opposite experience. Spent 6 years working in one professional position and another year at a second, where my lunch counted toward my hours, so a 40 hour week meant I arrived at work 8 hours prior to leaving work. When I finally started my current position and they explained that my lunch break was off the clock, I was shocked. Now I've added this difference to the things I have to account for when considering a new position.

And, when it comes down to it, all that really matters to me is the number of hours that pass between stepping out my front door and returning through it. So I suppose unpaid lunch time falls in with commute time as time that I'm not technically giving to the company, but is still heavily impacted by my work requirements.

In fact, the main draw of my current position over the last was cutting over an hour commute to 15 minutes, each way. Saved over 8 hours in commute time at the cost of 2.5 hours for an unpaid half hour lunch.

lunch and coffee breaks count towards 8 hour work day? usually 8 hour work day = 4 hours work before lunch and 4 hours work after

I count my work day as "time spent commuting, working, or anything else keeping me from spending time at home with my family."

Me too. It isn't time off just because I'm not producing for an employer. If it requires me to commute, walk, etc. and it is work related, I classify that as working hours because those are the hours of my day that are given to my employer, even if they are not getting an immediate, direct benefit from those minutes. I realize I am not being paid for that time, but it doesn't change the fact that I am doing that instead of something else.

If you are salaried, you are being paid for that time. The effect is to reduce your effective hourly wage.

I quit my last employer because the extra 2 hours required for commuting and dressing (both of which incur unreimbursed expenses) on top of my 9 billable hours was taking up a significant chunk of my compensation.

I co-sign this. If you want me to be in a location, any time spent conveying myself or being there counts.

I wish I could live in that fantasy world, where my hour commute both ways and my lunch break counted as working. Then I'd only have to do 5 hours of work while my coworkers did 7, and we'd all get paid the same.

Perhaps you should take up smoking cigarettes then? My coworkers take four 20-minute smoke breaks a day.

I try to get work done, not look for reasons to count commuting/smoking/etc. as time worked.

I work through lunch, eating at my desk. I prefer to do this over wasting time away from the office. 1 hour is not enough for me to go home and see my kids or work on my house or do anything legitimately useful or meaningful. Instead, I find myself being forced to fill it with something I wouldn't otherwise want to do. Therefore, I just grab a sandwich and eat while working. Officially, we aren't supposed to do this. Unofficially, no one has stopped me yet.

In my experience, lunch with your colleagues is one of the indicators of a healthy work environment. When this doesn't happen, for whatever reason you may have, I have always found the team to be unhealthy. How is it for you?

I don't do lunch with my colleagues because I don't eat lunch. Even if I did eat lunch I don't want to waste more time at work than I have to so I would nibble at my desk while coding. Our team is perfectly healthy.

I can't imagine lunch taking a full hour, seems like a waste of time to me though I know other people have different opinions on this, it's individual preference.

Do you have mandatory lunch times and locations? Doesn't anyone ever want to spend their lunch break exercising or taking a walk? Or even going home to eat with their families? These are all common in my office. What if you hired a Muslim who fasted for Ramadan? Will you force them to watch everyone else eat?

> Do you have mandatory lunch times and locations?

No. In some offices there is a canteen where you can sit down and have a lunch with your colleagues, though.

Times and locations are most of the time decided by people. For example, you might decide to go to a restaurant/pizzeria with 2-3 colleagues, or just one, or more people from different departments, etc.

> Doesn't anyone ever want to spend their lunch break exercising or taking a walk?

Normally, people here in Europe tend to eat at the same time - let's say 12:30, or 13:00, or 13.30 - depending on the country.

> Or even going home to eat with their families?

This is almost never the case - as far as I know.

> What if you hired a Muslim who fasted for Ramadan?

I had a Muslim colleague once, and while he was fasting, he just didn't join, which is fine. However, before/after he was always part of the group.

Mine was not a criticism, just an observation, because that's what I have noticed during the years. It doesn't imply anything, just that under the following circumstances:

- in a country where people tend to eat at the same time on average ( let's say at 12.30),

- there is a canteen/kitchen in the office, or restaurants nearby,

- nobody goes to see the family during lunch,

- nobody goes for a walk during lunch, except for reaching the restaurant, or in the case everyone in the group (that doesn't have to be the whole team/company) is willing to.

Then, I have noticed that when people don't sit at the same table (it doesn't have to be the whole company simultaneously), there are issues in the teams. As I said, this is a personal observation, and I want to thank you for answering because your response offered me different insights and points of view (like: exercising, going for a walk, eating with family, etc).

Oh OK I thought that there was mandatory lunch time for teambuilding.

Elective lunches and socialization is certainly a thing at my office too. It's just there is such a variety of lunch activities in my office and it's never been a hinderence to the team dynamics.

There's also some people with strong opinions on your relationship with your co-workers should be business-only and others who have met their best friend or even spouse at work.

None of this has ever hurt team dynamics though.

My office skews older though.

I have similar approach. I like to eat lunch at my desk - even if my hands are full so I am not coding on the work project per se, I can at least be reading something. I have plenty of opportunities to talk to my teammates during the rest of the day anyway.

As for hour+-long lunches, I don't get it either. I guess some people like it - in the same way in which I like to come home and work on my own projects. Everyone wants to allocate time on stuff they like. I don't particularly fancy eating with people.

I'm 62 and find my head hurts if I code all morning and then eat at my desk and get right back at it. So 1 to 2 times a week I eat in the cafeteria. I take a full hour and that helps. 3 days a week I take a power nap in my office even if my lunch was an hour. I used to feel guilty doing so. No longer. My productivity is high and my bosses count me as exceeding expectations.

I am lucky I don't have a micromanager as a boss.

Oh wow I am the exact opposite. If I take breaks I have a very hard time getting back to work. I like to get in the zone and stay there.

When I was much younger that was my prefered mode. Not sure what age has to do with it but I allow myself to try new approaches from time to time to see if old assumptions still hold true.

I think we have a healthy work environment. No major conflicts or issues. I think the idea of lunch together as a team is nice, but not practical in my organization since we all run different projects and have conflicting schedules. We do try to do a monthly team lunch, where we go out to a local restaurant to eat together, but even those do not always happen due to scheduling conflicts.

I have seen places where people don't have any reason except for "naaa, I don't wanna spend my time with them, I prefer to spend it alone".

When there is a justification that goes beyond that, for me it's okay - actually, I am okay with every decision.

However, I have seen places where people create real factions during lunch time, or they just tend to be alone, because of the reason mentioned above.

No criticism, just an observation, which is wrong apparently, if not all factors (different schedules, etc.) are taken into account. :)

Our team has lunch together every week or so. I wouldn't be happy with the norm of having lunch together all the time. I like to get out of the office and play stupid games on my tablet over lunch. Doing that around people is seen as antisocial so I prefer going off on my own.

In my team we usually eat lunch at our cubes while being stuck on conference calls with folks from our local office, California, and Europe. Not sure if this counts as having lunch with colleagues :)

Then I believe such a "team building" activity should count towards working hours total.

That may be true in general, but some of us just don't enjoy going out for lunch that much. I've always eaten at my desk with a few exceptions when I do want to go to lunch with coworkers.

Thank you both for your answers! ;)

It should, yes.

Difference between US and Europe, maybe? In Europe so far I haven't seen the case where lunch time doesn't count into work time (assuming you get lunch time at all - many employers in low-skill fields use every dirty trick in the book to extract work out of people).

It is certainly common practice to not include lunch as work time in the US. But I think that is unfair to the employee.

In the US almost all Low-skill jobs that pay by the hour dont count lunch as work time. At those jobs you usually explicitly "clock out" for lunch.

At salaried jobs it is less common, though I'd guess 50% or more don't count lunch as work time.

If that is the case, then workers should also be allowed to eat at their desk (or otherwise eat while working - reading emails on phone, etc) and leave early if they spend less than an hour at lunch.

Perhaps this is regional, but I don't know anyone in a salaried position that gets paid for lunch time. It is always expected that you are working 8 hours a day outside of the lunch hour.

To be clear, I live in the United States.

I started work at 9. I'm responding to your comment while eating lunch at a restaurant. I plan to leave around 5 today. This is my normal schedule. I'm salaried and live in the US as well. My last two jobs were the same way as well.

That's great :)

Just how it should be.

I have a cousin with a union job. Her union negotiated 8 hour day with mandatory paid half hour lunch. The lunch is negotiated as mandatory so they go around and make everyone leave their cubicles at lunch time. Perhaps to make sure no bosses are expecting people to work through lunch.

Totally the opposite experience - normal 40 hour week means working 9 AM to 6 PM, due to 1 hour lunch break. This is even the case in most public administrations (Germany, France, EU Commission), I'm quite curious where a 9 AM to 5 PM day is normal...

Same in UK - My work week is considered 37.5 hours with work day of 9-17:30.

Regardless whether you count lunch breaks or not as working hours, the fact they get to leave at twelve on Friday is different from most companies. I'd certainly prefer that schedule over the normal schedule.

> We landed on a 36 hour work week. 8-5 Mon-Thurs, then 8-12 on Friday.

Oh yes please! The great thing about taking off early on Fridays is that you can use the time to run errands that can only be done in business hours, or you can use the time for travel and extend the weekend considerably. This is a great perk.

EDIT: Is your company in the monthly "who's hiring" threads?

That's still a 40 hour work week, just with the hours distributed differently.

9h Mon-Thurs (36h total) 4h Friday (4h total)

It's definitely still an improvement over 70 hours.

As a consultant I never considered lunch as work because I could not bill a client for it. So to me at least 8-5 is 8 hours of work plus 1 hour break for lunch.

Consultant is a bit different than a salaried employee. I'm not sure how the language is structured in the US, but in Europe as a salaried employee, you're not producing X, you're providing labour. As in, you're hired to provide labour for 8 hours per day to an employer. The language used in our labour law is something like "employee is considered at work when present at location during time specified by employer and is providing his/her labour for use by the employer". You could skip lunch break if required, but most of the time it isn't.

That doesn't apply to all of Europe. In Norway salaried workers have a 40 hour week, but are only paid for 37,5 hours. The work day is 8 hours long, but you are not paid during the 30 minute lunch break.

It is also common to work from 8 to 4, but developers and others who are not too dependent on the outside world can have a bit more flexibility.

It is funny to see the shock in some foreigners when "nobody" is at the office after 4, when in fact they have already been at work for 8 hours.

I think this presumes that there's no lunch-time....

I've always wondered why more companies don't do this. Offer a 30 or 35 hour work week and watch the top-notch candidates roll in, even though you can't offer a top-notch salary.

There's a ton of pressure to work more hours, from all over the place. It's way more visible than other metrics.

Project fails, the team Fred was leading was averaging 30 hours a week and everyone knows it? Fred's gone, doesn't matter how productive they were, and everyone on that team had better watch out. You tell the client features X and Y aren't gonna make the next deadline before [industry trade show], then client finds out all your people are putting in sub-40-hour weeks? Client's gone and telling anyone who'll listen that your shop is full of entitled, lazy scam artists who will take your money and fail to deliver what you asked for.

Flip that, same thing but the teams were averaging 60-hour weeks. It does not matter if that's worse for the product or if it's the cause of the failure, or it two of your best people quit over it—it means "not working enough" is off the table when the blame game comes around, and a smaller chance of getting a pink slip or passed over for a promotion or raise.

Any place where this sort of thing isn't a concern is like the eye of a storm—everything around is horrible chaos & destruction and the calm is fragile, precious, and could end at any moment.

Countering this will require a concerted effort. Providing an answer to the naysayers is what all these articles about productivity are for. Also, track something abstract like "velocity" for everything except billing.

We went more extreme and went to 20 hours a week, though we're a little crazy when it comes to our philosophy about work.

It did exactly as you described, though. We're able to attract top talent engineers even though we're a tiny consulting company that nobody has ever heard of.

> so while I couldn't offer the best salary, or the best benefits - I could offer a better work/life balance

That is a valuable recruiting reminder right there. For some reason, it is easy to forget that hiring is a marketing problem. It requires critical thinking about positioning and presentation. I want to poke my eyes out when I hear complaints from fellow business owners and managers saying they can't find qualified candidates. Usually they're recruiting practices suck. And it's not always about starting salary either.

Unless Friday is work from home day, and I can productively work from home, dealing with a commute for 4 hours in the office sounds terrible... Though I guess compared to the 70+ hour life it's not bad.

> One programmer I know made clear when she started a job at a startup that she worked 40-45 hours a week and that's it. Everyone else worked much longer hours, but that was her personal limit. Personally I have negotiated a 35-hour work week.

Wow, what a depressing time to be employed. The old standard (35 hours) is now considered a "short" workweek, and only the most desirable employees have the leverage to request it. Not to mention stagnant wages, rapidly rising costs of living, and off-hour availability expectations.

How did we end up here?

Easy. You hire more low skilled workers and run them in shifts because warm bodies are abundant and overtime is expensive.

High skilled workers have a high fixed cost per employee, low to zero marginal cost per hour. More hours from fewer employees is an obvious strategy to deliver the growth shareholders demand. By convention and legislation, high skill jobs pay invariant of hours worked and are overtime-exempt.

Low skilled jobs can be filled with whomever happens to be born nearby, so they can be distributed across small towns. High skilled jobs require the best people regardless of birthplace, and both employers and employees are incentivized to seek a large pool of potential counterparties to optimize wages and "fit." This naturally creates "destination" cities where inward migration of highly paid workers raises prices and therefore COL.

Stagnant wages - because labor intensive businesses aren't good enough investments anymore to have lots of employers bidding up the price of labor (except in some niches).

>How did we end up here?

MBAs and MBAification.

When management is treated as a generic function that can be performed by a particular class of people in any field rather than the most senior expert practitioners in their respective fields, this is what happens.

You get insecure authoritarians who latch on to (utterly wrong) metrics as a means of "understanding" what it is their subordinates do without actually understanding what it is they do.

With software developers it used to be SLOC (thankfully that died). With GPs it's "number of patients seen". With teachers it's standardized test scores.

There's a direct correlation between managerial technical ineptitude and insistence on working long hours.

Measurement is hard.

Can't upvote hard enough. Even in the digital media space I'm in, with all our endless data, picking the right thing to measure and measuring it the right way is extremely hard.

Metrics have consequences as what gets measured gets managed, often to the detriment of everything else. Pick the wrong metric and you can shoot yourself in the foot inadvertently.

Here's how I manage to not just live in a cabin in the woods. If it's hard for me, I can only imagine how hard it is for the boss ( because scale ) . Even if the boss is an idiot, there's probably a lot more gain in cooperating and trying to fix it than in being belligerent.

But broken measurement systems invite corruption. It's now possible for ... dishonorable cliques to overtake the measurement regime and bend it to their own advantage.

Since they're going to be organized around the short term ( because that's how humans manage information overload - they go short term ), they're more likely to do things that will damage the organization for the long term.

It's the circle of life :)

If you need a book to really drive that point home to someone, check out "Seeing Like A State" by James C. Scott.

Have you seen "All Cared For By Machines of Living Grace" by Adam Curtis? I wonder if Curtis used this as source material? It's the same basic idea, although it may appear that Curtis generalizes to a different view of the fallacy underlying all this.

The ghost of Otto von Bismarck laughs every night.

Thanks for the suggestion - the summary info I read makes it sound like a lot of intuitions I don't have fleshed out well enough to explain thoroughly. It's likely going to be either great or maddeningly off in subtle ways. Either way I'm interested in watching it.

Adam's films are .. just essays. They're flawed and informal, but the basic ... bones of his ideas are intriguing and stimulating.

I am glad I could reciprocate with something because I really like "Thinking Like a State" ( after my rapid-read treatment, with a slow read TBD). It encapsulates so many ideas I've never really seen bundled before, along with some that require further digging. I would not be surprised if "Thinking.." wasn't an influence on him.

I'm somewhat embarrassed that I've never seen that before. Thanks much. Hopefully, it is as good as it sounds.

Measurement is hard. Resisting the impulse to confuse what you can measure with what you wanted to measure is damn near impossible to do long term.

And making sure that your decision to measure a thing isn't incentivizing the system to optimize for the measure. This is, in short, why Germany doesn't have good forests - in the 1800s, they started measuring the number, species, and age of trees.

And in science, it's impact factor (average number of citations of journals you publish in, not number of citations obtained by your papers)

Labor and capital are in constant conflict. Labor basically died as a cohesive international movement by the 80's. Labor-hating ideology has dominated economic thought for decades.

Where are you working? My team works 40 hours max (never overtime over the 3 years I've been the lead). We make great money for the Midwest.

Small dev team at a non-tech company on the east coast, so all these nifty Silicon Valley management practices are unheard of here. At our company, you're lucky if you don't have to clock out and in for your lunch break...

And I'm not one of those "most desirable" employees I mentioned earlier, so I'd be very lucky if I could negotiate for better hours or more vacation.

What city? Thinking about moving from the northeast. Trying to figure out some options.

What "old standard"? For Europe maybe? (I honestly don't know if that's what you meant).

If you are talking about the United States, people have had a 40 hour work week for much longer than I've been alive.

Maybe parent is saying (7 working+ 1 lunch)*5 days as a 35 hour week.

Huh? That's exactly what I was refuting. He was saying working 35 hours a week (7 hour days with lunch being paid) is "the old standard". My whole life I don't think I've ever known someone who got a paid lunch. Almost everyone I know works 40 hours a week outside of their lunch hours (at a minimum).

Pointy Haired Bosses

>There are companies where this won't fly, of course, where management is so bad or norms are so out of whack that even a 40-hour work week by a productive team member won't be acceptable. In those cases you need to look for a new job, and as part of the interview figure out the work culture and project management practices of prospective employers. Do people work short hours or long hours? Is everything always on fire or do projects get delivered on time?

I have never figured out how to ask this. It always feels like I'm asking, "I don't like to work much, is that ok with you?"

Well, that's the thing, you aren't really asking. You form the demand as a question to allow for negotiation, so it's not really a question. You should always try to walk into a negotiation from a position of power. It's an art form that is hugely valuable for getting what you want though, and you shouldn't feel bad about trying to get what you want. If you make your life better through negotiation then you might give someone else the confidence to put themselves in a better position. I'm not saying you should pretend your actions are altruistic, but don't blind yourself to the positives that can come from you trying to get what you want.

Sounds a bit complicated, but it's true. It's all about negotiation.

I negotiated lower hours a month ago. After almost 3 years on a project, asked to go down to 20hrs/week. As I see it, I have proved I'm trustworthy and that I can contribute significant value to the project even with lower hours.

In addition, my position of power was that I had some cash and other options, in case the other party refuses.

This is actually something that keeps happening to me. I show my value and that I'm trustworthy, and get anything I want, be it working from home, lower hours, or both.

Its tricky. I usually wait until near the end of the interview, after I've asked a bunch of questions, especially when they say "do you have any other questions?" Then I say, "Hmm. What is work/life balance like at X?" I used to wait until the end of the full-day interview, but many times found out I'd wasted a day on a company that I wouldn't want to work for. So now I do it at the end of the phone screen.

I go a step further at this point and tell people how important that is for me at this point on the first call. I'm not actively looking, but when I was this was a great filter. The ones that really offer it latch on and push how good they are and the others are discovered to not be good fits in short order.

Result? Minimum time wasted for both parties.

How do you ensure that they're answering it honestly, though? Or, less maliciously, that they're answering it with something in line with what you'd think is a decent work life balance?

Its not really in their interest to answer dishonestly: if I take the job and it turns out the work/life balance sucks, I'll leave, and they'll have wasted a lot of time & effort on me.

Also, the people I'm asking are typically engineers, they're not inclined to lie about things like this, and they're not expert spin doctors. Plus, when I go for the full day interview and talk to many people, I'll ask many of them about it.

If they don't answer honestly and get annoyed with you when you clock off after your agreed hours, it's their tough shit.

I worked for two young guys once who'd never had proper jobs, much less ever managed anyone before, and they had the cheek to have a go at me for only working my hours. I told them it wasn't my company and walked off. They couldn't sack me for working my contracted hours, regardless of if other people were working more for free...

I think the best way to frame this is not say that you don't want to work but instead that you want time to pursue some socially acceptable activity like "Learning Spanish", "Working on my haskell side software", or "Volunteering".

This makes you sound more like a high performer and less lazy.(I do not think people who want to work less are lazy. I would prefer to spend much less than 70% of my awake time involved in cranking out "yet another crud app". )

Hi, OP here.

If you're already employed at the company they know what you can do, so it's actually not that hard in many places to reduce hours.

If you're looking for a new job you basically need to: 1. Get the right vibe from the company during initial interviews. 2. Be really desirable as a candidate. 3. Only bring it up after you have an offer and it's clear they really want you. 4. Emphasize how when you work you really work.

And as others said, having a good excuse helps. "I want to spend more time with my child" is mine, and it's true, and why I worked 27 hours/week in the past and 35/hours now.

I always ask what the typical workday is like for someone in my position, preferably getting the answer _from_ someone in a similar position. It's never failed and in addition to getting the hours answered, it gives you insight into other practices you may like/dislike such as standups and number of meetings in the average day.

For my current job, after getting an offer I said that I was only willing to work 40-hour weeks, and that I would have to turn down the offer if this was a dealbreaker. Even though this means I work fewer hours than most people, I can confidently walk out at 5:30 every day, so I think this strategy worked out pretty well.

I have never figured out either. Then only reliable datapoint are other employees (your possible future colleagues).

The not-so-crappy way I found to bring it up is discussion about hobbies and family. But not with management, specially during interviews. They can see right through it.

Isn't that doubly important to bring up with them then? If you hide that this is important to you, you shouldn't be surprised when your expectations don't align. Interviews are critical for checking those expectations on both sides.

A manager who isn't candid about hours is dumb because it will naturally result in a poor fit for both sides and higher turnover. If a company has a decent pool of applicants, it makes no sense for the manager to not screen for people who have a clear understanding of the demands up front.

Having spent a lot of time both as a manager and as an individual contributor, here's the rub (at least for programmers): software developers are a classic market for lemons. The bigger the org and the more operational complexity the more space there is for poor developers to hide out and draw a pay check. But even at a small scale it's remarkably difficult to measure productivity actually.

Therefore, what you need is intrinsic motivation. You need engineers who really care about solving the right problem at the right time in the right way. 35 hours or 70 doesn't matter if they can't get that right, and it's very hard to have management that is qualified to make that judgement on people (especially as an org grows and management becomes a full time job). So the problem is that given this opacity, finding someone who works 70 hours a week is a better proxy than someone who seems excited about a 35-hour work week—the former are people who are clearly driven whereas the latter are literally everyone. It's far from a good metric, but perhaps the best one available to the pointy hairs of the world.

Speaking from personal experience, it wasn't until I had a kid that I found out what I could do in a 40-hour week. Once I had that time constraint, it forced me to be more efficient in a very deep and fundamental way from the core of my being. When I was 25 I would hit 5pm and think to myself: I still have another 8 hours to solve this problem before bed. Perhaps this is post-hoc justification, but I think that makes sense when you are just starting out and not really competent yet. Once you've passed the magic 10k hours or whatever, I think turning over problems in ones subconscious can provide a lot more of the value. So sleep / exercise / meditation can all help elevate your performance far more than extra hours—but only if your brain knows what it's doing.

In my experience the lemons have no problem working 70 hour weeks; they weren't working that hard to begin with and know that they need to appear productive since they can't be productive. Whereas employees who are productive are tired after 35 hours or want to get home and work on side projects.

Long work hours actually select for lemons.

Well, but here's the thing: you've figured out that you're more productive on shorter hours. So really you want to prevent those people who work long hours from doing so, because they'll actually do better.

Not much research in sofware AFAIK, but there's a bunch of research in other fields showing maximal output is at 40 hours a week, with rapid fall-off at longer working hours. See http://www.igda.org/?page=crunchsixlessons

So it's your job as a manager to prevent burn out and maximize output by encouraging people not to work too long.

Of course every personal experience is just anecdotal but since I only work 24 hours a week I feel able to educate myself, do sports, feel more healthy. Before that I worked one week full and one week only 4 days repeatedly and I really got the feeling that coming in on Mondays after a short week was so much easier. I felt more relaxed and satisfied because I could do other stuff on the weekend than trying to catch up with buying things and all that organizational junk you have to do as an adult.

Now I work 6 hours a day, 4 days a week and I don't take long breaks anymore. I stopped to read blogs or news at work after lunch, I just work. Would be really interesting if this is just me or if it could be scientifically proven that working less is more.

May I ask what industry you work in?

I support researchers of the humanities by developing different services like registries and restful apis. But you know, everything has it's cost. I am definitely underpaid but at some point I decided time > money for now.

That's right, no man can excel more then 6 hours a day doing great, focused work.

We can't all be Iron Man unfortunately ;)

Even better, drop hours as a metric of work. Offer the flexibility to work whatever hours are most productive... and find a boss who doesn't care whether that is 40 or 20, as long as he gets the value he expects from your time.

After all, employment is a business contract. You are given money in exchange for the value you add to the organization. Not hours... value.

I have heard managers respond that if you can get your responsibilities done in half the time, you should be getting more responsibilities.

I'd respond that I'd expect to be getting a requisite increase increase in compensation.

At least I hope I would.

Years ago I casually met an owner of a small software company who happened to be hiring, and I was looking for a job. He asked if I was cheap and I instantly answered 'why, are you?'

Normally I don't think of witty things like that to say until about a week after the event.

The problem is they directly translate hours in seat to pay, so your logic would make no sense to them.

That's what I do at my job. I leave whenever I feel satisfied with the work I've done.

Supposed to be working 9 - 5, but I come variable times in the morning and usually leave at 3:30. Boss doesn't care as long as I'm punching in code that makes features work.

Hours are just easier to measure. Other things may not be measurable at all.

Works great if you are a single developer owning an isolated piece of the stack. Doesn't work so great if you need to collaborate with others to maximize your productivity.

Collaboration is overrated. IMO the biggest purpose of a good software architecture is to minimize the amount of required collaboration between programmers. Each gets a well-defined place to work on and focuses on that, instead of constantly discussing how to build every single class. The latter gives you a diffused design in which nobody understands any part of it. The former gives you design in which, while single person may understand all of it (as it always is due to fractal complexity), every piece of that design is fully understood by someone.

You speak as if the only work that exists is cathedral software development.

Look, I get you, I've been a professional programmer for a couple decades now, and hobbyist for another decade on top of that. But there are so many times when it helps to have a conversation with someone. Maybe you're team is not all senior level architects, maybe someone is working with tech someone else on the team understands better, maybe the designer is delivering an unworkable visual design and the engineer is implementing it by making tradeoffs that result in a terrible UX, maybe the programmer is going into a cave polishing his own micro-architecture without regard to what is useful and good use of time for the team as a whole.

The point is, it's not wise to cultivate a worldview where you hold your own knowledge and experience on a pedestal above everyone else. The things which a great team can build will always surpass what a great individual can create, and a bunch of great individuals operating independently without sufficient collaboration does not a great team make.

Maybe collaboration is overrated by clueless MBAs, but I'm not a clueless MBA, so don't make that straw man argument to me.

I agree with what you wrote here, but I don't think having a good team requires perfectly synchronizing their work schedule, as long as it somewhat overlaps most of the time. There are many times when you want, or need to sit down with your teammates and discuss stuff - design the overall architecture, brainstorm particular solution, troubleshoot a bug - but most of the actual coding work is done in silence and requires focus. And this work takes most of the actual productive time, so it doesn't make sense to synchronize the entire schedules just for the brief moments of direct, synchronous collaboration (quite a lot of teamwork can - and is done best - asynchronously, e.g. via e-mail).

> Maybe collaboration is overrated by clueless MBAs, but I'm not a clueless MBA, so don't make that straw man argument to me.

Apologies. I definitely didn't want my comment to sound personal in any way.

I'm a firm believer in flex time and heads-down time. Heck, I led an engineering team from 2 engineers (one of them being me) up to an engineering/product team of 25 with more nationalities on the team than employees (if that doesn't compute remember dual-citizenship), and distributed across 9-10 countries. I have successfully scheduled a three-person call between Melbourne, San Francisco and Berlin.

All this by way of saying: I have fully tested the philosophy that you should hire the absolute best engineers you can, no matter where they are based and when they want to work. For the right individuals with the proper workloads it's definitely worth it. But we shouldn't pretend it doesn't come with real tradeoffs. A story to illustrate my point:

I had my best video engineer in London, and my best ops guy in Seattle (and he didn't like waking up early). Even though these guys could do 95% of their work independently, there were times when they had to sort out hairy issues related to bugs or edge cases in 3rd party software. There was no way to easily shove it on one of their plates, the bottom line is it requires both their expertise. We nearly burnt out the first guy by making him stay up until 4am in order to get the necessary collab time. These are juniors either, but it still was a real issue that cost a significant amount of productivity and morale.

(PS I upvoted you as I don't see why you deserve downvotes)

So I'm assuming you write all your code with zero dependencies then?

No, but I keep my dependencies isolated in a well-defined way, and I provide well-defined interfaces for people who want to depend on my stuff.

That's basically software architecture 101 (modularization), and it serves exactly this purpose.

You should start a consulting business or startup and offer this.

Measuring that value precisely may ultimately consume more value than a crude metric like hours.

I was expecting the list of sources at the bottom of the article to be a mile long. Not a single one. Hot damn, so much broscience and red herrings.

To be fair, the title wasn't "New study proves that..." or even "Scientists say...". It was very clear that this a blog post written by a dude sharing his own experiences and anecdotes. Not some "proof" that life is better with less hours.

http://www.igda.org/?page=crunchsixlessons has a bunch of research in non-software fields cited at the end.

Its the Theater of Productivity, similar to the TSA. You can see Meyer's approach to productivity was ultimately just as successful as the TSA on secutity. Yeah doing an early stage startup it could be on the side of a day job so yes you are going to inevtiably put in a lot of hours for $0 doing a startup. But for regular businesses that are well established such as Yahoo this isn't productivity its Productivity Theater in the same way the TSA are Security Theater.

I think the key is less-stress and not shorter hours. Meetings, especially long ones, induce stress.

I've tried reducing hours (as a freelance remote developer). I cut my working hours to 25 per week from somewhere around 60ish per week. (And I could afford losing out money)

At first, I felt I was missing something. I thought it was the money. After being completely off work for a month, I realized I was missing the people (Slack chats, meetings, fire-fights)

When I started back with another client, working just 25 hours per week was much much much harder. None of these worked: 8x3days, 4x6days, 6x4days, 5x5days. Few weeks I could not even complete 15 hours, and other weeks I was over-working. I was still stressed. Finally, what worked was odd - (10-12 hours)x2.5 days. So I ended up working a bit more hours than I wanted to. It was proven again that it takes time and focus to pickup momentum and costs a lot more to loose it frequently. And I still work on my other stuff totalling to about 45-50 hour work-weeks and still feels much less stressful.

Have you tried working when you feel like it (or when you really have to), and just not working when you're not in the mood? I had a three year period working freelance and it was most profitable and fun. I have no clue how many hours I was doing but for the last six months I only worked a few hours a week because I was able to automate most of my work.

I'm doing a startup now and this lifestyle wouldn't be acceptable to my partners so it's back to a 9-late schedule plus weekends. I'm nowhere near as productive and strongly feel like I'm accomplishing less, but to go back to working how I like would just cause conflicts.

Unfortunately, I do not have such luxury. I do have flexibility within a work-week. i.e. I could be working on client project on MTW or FSS or in between, but I prefer doing much work within Tue-Fri. Fortunately, I have been with one very good client working on challenging stuff yet does not have tight deadlines. It is a risky strategy to stay with just one client - but I am not worried too much about it now. Since its billable hours, I don't see automation would help reduce my hours - it increases efficiency though.

I tried a startup with some partners and recommended a flexible schedule, but unfortunately partners got too flexible and it never took off. It is better to slog and make others do that in a startup.

There are certain jobs where it may not work, but from what I've seen places I've worked, 40hr workweeks seem like a holdover from some, in my opinion, truly bizarre cultural expectations. I mean, at some offices I've worked people are basically shooting the breeze for at least 10 hours at the office a week with coworkers. Some of them don't like being at home with their families and so seem to think work is a way to get away from their responsibilities outside of work. I'd rather have that 'time bullshitting with coworkers' to do things I like to do not at work.

Is this some holdover from previous generations of just wanting to pressure everyone to do what they had to do? Sure, sometimes things need to get done, but alot of jobs aren't saving lives or doing much amazing, but "hit that deadline or we're going to die" is almost the implication made in business in the US in my experience...

Hopefully we'll stop this work addiction some day and realize lots of things can get done without making people be behind a desk an arbitrary number of hours per day...

> Some of them don't like being at home with their families

I've noticed this as well. The people who worked the longest hours did so because they didn't like going home.

Henry Ford originally found that 40 hour work weeks were optimal for productivity for his factory employees. Before this, they only had one day of rest and were generally overworked and inefficient. I think the work of a factory worker is vastly different than the work we do today behind a computer, especially programmers where your brain power is everything. It would be interesting if a big enough company were to do some proper research on the most efficient working patterns of a programmer today.

Recruiters. Find me a company that believes this, and I'll actually reply to you.

Find me a boss that believes this (and has their own boss believing them/it enough that they don't force them to maintain the status quo) and I'll go work for them and then recruit you.

Less jokingly, there are two problems here; one that this sort of embedded culture is very slow to move (especially given that the powers that be are often from prior eras of culture) and secondly that I believe there are actively people of THIS generation who still believe in or at least pay sufficient tribute to the "butts in seats, work long hours" mindset. (I reference family members in finance, and managers I've had at software bigcos in the past spouting such wonderful quotes as 'I can't advocate him (a high performing engineer) for a promotion because he's full remote and it sets a bad precedent' and 'You need to increase your throughput. (me) You realize I'm already working 13 hour days. (him) Work harder.')

Many companies are in a mild version of a Malthus/Schumpeter trap.

They live on an essentially negotiated resource level that will go down year by year. They've managed to careen into a business model where the income stream is latched and ever so slightly declining. It's like they are an airplane on an engine-out landing.

This happens A Lot. I won't say you don't want to work for them, but there's almost no chance of actually innovating or "selling" their way out of this trap. There are two ways out - acquisition and closing the doors.

> Find me a boss that believes this (and has their own boss believing them/it enough that they don't force them to maintain the status quo)

See my HN profile if you're looking for that combo. :)

any chance you are looking for fresh grads (in Canada) ?

Ask them on the interview.

It will be a red flag to dysfunctional companies who think you don't want to work hard.

Employees at good companies will be proud that they don't overwork.

This is true in my case. We work 8 hour days, 5 days per week, and I always mention it when interviewing candidates. We're proud of the fact that we can ship a successful product without working the team to constant exhaustion.

I actually ask on the first call now. Saves a tremendous amount of time.

My company fully believes in this (although many people choose to work more because they are Type A and love their work--their decision).

The hard part is convincing candidates we're not BSing them about this, or our benefits. Especially ones from sweat shops that have clearly been scarred by the experience and suspect everyone is lying to them to trap them.

> My company fully believes in this (although many people choose to work more because they are Type A and love their work--their decision).

Peer pressure, whether actual or imagined, will keep people from leaving when they should if others are working longer. I have in the past told people to go home even if they wanted to keep working - this is the only way to actually respect the work/life balance of their peers.

In my experience, in order to maximize the productivity in creative work and still work 40 hours, you have to pick the best 40 hours out of a 168 hour time frame:

- If it means you work '13 hours 20 minutes' on Monday Wednesday Friday, so be it.

- If it means you work '5 hours 45 minutes' Monday thru Sunday, so be it.

- If it means you work one way one week, the other way the next week, so be it.

- If you work best in the middle of the night, so be it.

- If it means you work 10 hours everyday for 52 days straight, and take the rest of the quarter off (39 days!), so be it.

The problem is, we have to do this thing called 'work/life balance' in which we are at work 9 to 5, whether we feel fresh or tired, and have to forget about work for the remaining 128 hours.

Combine that with the need for in-person interaction with the team, the boss, and what not, it gets worse.

IMO you can't have it both ways.

Yeah.... not so much for me. I'm going to give an alternate point of view.

To become world class at something, you need to be obsessed. You need to put in as many hours as possible and just love what you're doing.

"Oh but you won't be as effective after 8 hours of work!"

So what. Let's say I'm only 20% as effective after 8 hours. I'll take it -- 20% of the last 5-6 hours of the day towards my craft over 0% doing 'normal' things (drinks on the patio? Pointless travelling? Whatever my fellow annoying millenials like to do).

This is the kind of mindset you need to reach the top of a field. And it should develop naturally, you should really want it. Whether it means outdoing everyone at your company, getting that prototype done two months earlier, closing more leads, getting that tricky piano passage, whatever.

If you love what you're doing, more is more. Because you probably can't help yourself. If you feel like working more, just do it. Don't let normal social expectations hold you back, especially if you're young, because you only get so long to become great at something.

I'll finish with one final caveat. Figure out what level of sleep, exercise, and nutrition your body needs to sustain your desired work habits. Get those right ASAP, keep trying modifications, and realize it's different for everyone's unique biology. I like 8 hours of sleep a night, weightlifting 3x/week at 45-60mins each, and a certain amount of protein and certain vitamins (and coffee of course, ha). You'd be surprised how these 3 lifestyle factors can make such a huge difference in your energy levels and hormones -- one can literally become a different person!

The theory here is that not only are you at 20% for the last hour: you will be at 90% at the beginning of the second day, 80% on the third and so on. Of course the percentages are totally made up, but it is obvious that there is an amount of work from which no single instance of rest can cause a complete recovery. If the results of such unrest are cumulative, then there must exist some amount of work that is less productive than working less for any kind of sustained endeavor.

The problem is we have no real way of measuring personal productivity, so we have no real way to find where the optimal point is for any individual. Society as a whole has chosen 40 weekly hours as a standard for mostly orthogonal reasons. In aggregate, the number is probably wrong. But it seems crazy to me to argue that there's no (sizable) fragment of the population that would not be as productive, or more so, with less than the 8 hours they work now.

> You need to put in as many hours as possible and just love what you're doing.

I guess that depends on what you consider "work". I do programming stuff in exchange for money, and it's not always the programming stuff I want to do. When I'm not working I do programming stuff (or read about programming stuff) I do want to do, but not in exchange for money.

This tends to be a non-issue, though. If you really love what you're doing that much, then it makes sense, and you are running off of additional energy.

This doesn't apply for, I would say, 99% of people, though, and definitely should not be influencing policies or standard hiring.

How does a company like SpaceX fit into this? They seem to promote the opposite and are seeing some pretty amazing success. Do they succeed because of or despite working long hours?

This isn't an absolute. Of course you can do "sprints" successfully. You just can't do it for very long. And we don't know and never will if one or the other problem they had might not have been prevented if the guy designing or making the part had had enough sleep - so it's always a discussion with insufficient data. After all, we've had enough research to show that a lack of sleep impacts the brain, from psychological studies to neuroscience, which now tells us that the brain is actually cleared of toxins during sleep. For the cases who still get enough sleep, well, not sure how the lack of "a live (outside work)" impacts various factors short and long term.

For my coding work I have stopped doing certain kinds of coding after evening, basically, anything that isn't "mechanic" but requires design decisions. Even if it's "urgent". Executing what I had decided earlier is okay, but decision making just doesn't work as well for me that late in the day, even if I still feel great. The next morning always seems to bring a fresh perspective.

Maybe I've seen it in the past but I don't remember it now -- what is their employee turnover rate? I imagine they have no shortage of applicants willing to put in 70 hour weeks until they burn out, just to get that name on their CV.

This sort of thing makes it hard for me to respect Elon Musk. He is, personally, doing great things, but I wonder if his overall effect on the world is negative in the long term because he's promoting some views that I find very harmful. So many people around him, who admire him, yet he feels like a one man team.

Fun fact -- I originally wrote "80 hour weeks" in my post and thought, "Nah, that's too much," and bumped it down to 70. Looks like I was way off, haha.

Maybe with a less stress, fewer hours culture they would have even more success in the long run. But how can we know that? I think we need leaders willing to take this kind of risk at their companies. Because the outcomes could really change the world.

SpaceX is not your typical company - it's a vehicle created to instantiate an idea (getting humans to Mars and beyond), and not a specialized instance of a generic Company class with a Product parameter set to Rockets. That is, people who work there are the ones who believe in the idea; for them it's more of a vocation, a life itself. Those who don't fit that bill burn out pretty quickly - hence the turnover rate.

The most (professionally) successful persons I know worked very hard at least at some point in their life. For instance, I know tons of professors that pretty much work all the time. Same thing with former schoolmates working in finance now.

I'm not saying it's the road to follow, and obviously, not all careers are comparable, but I think that in order to reach their full potential, people have to (and can) work a lot.

Just a few days ago I read an article or blog entry - which I may even have found through a comment on HN? - where a successful important person described the reunions with the people he had studied with over 20 years.

At first everybody was so amazingly successful, great wife, then great kids, all doing very well, financially too. But after 10 years with each reunion less and less people showed up. Those who were missing had no wife and family left and didn't want their old pals to know how their personal lives had faltered.

You only mention careers...? Please report overall long-term life success that includes the family :)

Also, since you mention finance, while they personally benefited, and their industry did too, what about the rest of society? Does the latest microsecond computer trading algorithm really benefit mankind overall?

So to summarize, the questions I have are about 1) individual success not just "career", "financial" and "short term", and 2) that individual success from the perspective of society.

Please report overall long-term life success that includes the family :)

Exactly, personal "gold rush" journeys look good on a blog, Wikipedia article, or TechCrunch post, but what are these people like in the flesh? Three marriages, children who don't know their fathers ... but hey, they "made" it, right?

As I said, I didn't want to mean that everybody should work hard or that professional success is the only important thing. But I think that in order to succeed in a competitive field, one has too work hard and it's definitely doable.

That being said, I'm an advocate of less working hours and more vacation. I worked in the US for a couple of years, and this is the one thing that made me go back to Europe. Free time is the most important thing in my opinion.

I wonder if that just selects for people who can work longer without losing productivity / sanity. That doesn't strike me as normal.

But how do you define "success?"

I think you're conflating working hard with working long hours. Truly difficult intellectual work requires a lot of downtime, thinking at the back of your head while you're doing other things.

If you talk to a professor and ask them about productive intellectual work they'll tell you they don't have as much time for that as they'd like, because they're busy writing grant proposals :)

There is no science here what so-ever. Just a bunch of feel good rah rah BS about working less hours and getting more done. Some fodder to go to your manager with I guess.

Who said that 35-40 hours is optimal? How can you even quantify it considering every job is different. I've had jobs where 50% was brainless support so i'd work 10-12 hr days and my brain was totally fine to keep going. Some jobs come with inevitable social BS that will take 50% of your time anyway.

The problem is that management and developers have different incentives. Managers [in more cases then not] are pushed by executives to justify their worth and deliver results.

Developers want to create, but also don't care as much about the bottom line. They want to have a life outside of work.

It's that simple. Let's not go pretending like anything beyond 40 hours takes 10x time to get done because it simply doesn't. It's just an empty thing to say like "you should give me a raise because of inflation".

There are plenty of people working their own startups doing 80-100 hr weeks and getting shit ton done. Does it mean that you should do this at a corporation? Maybe not, maybe yes. It all depends on the trade offs either side is willing to make. Managers will of course be incentivized to push for more productivity per employee.

Places such as Basecamp take a stance against this incentive gap. They're actively working at making employees take more vacation, sleep better, and have a better work life balance. This must improve employee morale and retention. No idea what it does to bottom line or employee paychecks.

As a manger I've had people that worked 40- hrs and delivered amazing results. I'd never even think about caring how many hours they've put in. Then there were others that worked more but delivered a mound of technical debt or nothing at all. They were usually the ones most vocal about working too many hours. There are very few people out there that can come in, get straight to work, and deliver quality. Simply making a blank statement that they will do more by working less is silly.

I agree strongly with the idea that "40 hours" is just as made up as "15 hours" or whatever. We need actual data to draw any conclusions here. Similarly we haven't explored all the ways we can make people more productive either. Maybe if the employees who feel tired after six hours could take a long nap mid-day they'd be able to work 12 hours a day at a high level.

That said I'm on the work what you feel comfortable working and as long as goals are being met then it doesn't matter.

The 40 hour work week comes from Ford. It is optimized for factory workers. Data for creative/makers would be interesting to see.

"The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement, was started by James Deb and had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life. The use of child labour was common. The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours for six days a week."[1]

It is the second time this month that this misconception about Ford comes around, I am curious to know where it comes from.


Interesting! I remember first reading this on Wikipedia a few years ago. either I'm misremembering or the article has changed since then. Here's one article about Ford's influence on it: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/sep/...

A quick Google search and there are a lot of others like this. Thanks!

I'm skeptical that it's optimized for factory workers, even...

They are likely not sleeping enough at night to begin with; I know I'm not. A solid 8-9 hours(or whatever you need) will easily get you more hours of productivity than a lot of the comments here think are possible..

But you're not going to get that amount of sleep if you're working long hours.

Why in the hell would I want to give HALF MY DAY to the company?

it all depends what you want. I've had intense jobs that required a lot of hours but I liked the pay and the experience from delivering a lot. Some of my coworkers went to a different employer in a different industry and down to 35hrs/week + lots of vacation. This included a big pay cut but they are perfectly happy. Just like I am perfectly happy where I am. this is not black and white

Startups fail all the time, many with people working endless amounts of hours. I wouldn't go using that as an argument-clearly work hours != success. It may to a certain extent but clearly working insane hours can also be a waste of time.

It's interesting that you make a blanket statement, but call another blanket statement "silly." Perhaps there are more people than we think that can come in, get to work, and deliver quality. It's interesting that this suddenly doesn't become an issue when something needs done off hours with a short deadline-then they CAN come in and work right away, right?

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