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The compelling case for working less (bbc.com)
461 points by bigben00763 on Dec 5, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments

I'm convinced that our decision for how much effort to exert on work is not governed by the rational part of our brain. It's part primal - fear of insecurity and belonging to a social structure - part ego - accomplishment as confirmation of existence and your salary as a concrete number to compare favorably to others - and part culture and habit.

I also think overwork is a byproduct of a globally connected society. Humans are happy if they are relatively well off compared to what they know. With smaller societies, we know less and thus expect less from ourselves and our situations. But it becomes more difficult to remain this way as small societies get replaced with large social networks.

As a small example, you can be having a great life one day and feel woefully underpaid the next, and the only thing that has changed is your knowledge that in the valley, people get paid twice the amount you do in the UK.

I believe we need a generational understanding, acceptance, and appropriation of some of the unintended side effects of modern society.

> Humans are happy if they are relatively well off compared to what they know.

This is super true. I've been congratulating myself all month on my new job, paying me BIG BUCKS, compared to my friends. Well, just found out an old friend of mine also found a new job, getting payed literally twice as much as me. Now I'm in a funk and it's irrational and stupid but I can't help but look at the same number in a totally different way.

Age fixes that. Used to feel much the same. Now (approaching 50) I just couldn't give a shit anymore. A friend I've grown distant from over the last 4 years or so bought a 911 GT3 RS last year. And suddenly I hear from him. And I marvel at the waste. Purchases like that are meaningful on only two days - the day you buy it, and the day you sell it. I think a mid-20's me might've liked a car like that for the sex it could get me.

Making more money than me is great. Really. If making more money than me is important to you I KNOW I'm having more fun than you are. Somehow, somewhere in the last 5 years or so I've become content. I scratch-build model cars now in my spare time, and that's where I compete - with myself. Crazy fulfilling.

Age can both help fix the problem of feeling well-off and exacerbate it.

It's easy to be among the top in something in the little group that a kid in high school is exposed to. Even in a big district, there are enough things to be good at that you can be the best at something esoteric. Then you go to a good college for that thing, and come in thinking you're all that, and suddenly realize that you're average. But college exposes you to the fact that there are innumerable niches in that thing, and you can pick one and be among the best at that niche from your graduating class. You then go off to work, thinking you're hot stuff with your new top-of-the-line special credentials, and think you know more than everyone else in your field. Surprise: You don't. You meet someone who's been in the field for 30 years and can solve the special problems that you're uniquely good at in their sleep. And that guy has someone he calls when he can't figure something out.

It's sort of like looking for records in a baseball game: There are so many possible records to set and precedents to break, that there's something new for the announcers to go on about in most every game. There's a lot of room to be unique, special, and valuable.

This is one reason I think training kids in any 'classical' discipline is really beneficial.

You will almost certainly never be as good a composer as Mozart, as good a pianist as Horowitz, as good at dancing as any company you can see on TV or as good at singing as even a mediocre performer in a talent show. But you can learn from the best and always get better through hard work.

Being exposed to the idea that 'no, you're not the best and probably never will be, but the real reward is seeing yourself improve step by step through hard work' is invaluable.

One looks for nothing but safety and happiness. Being No. 1 is a lonely business. There is so much one must sacrifice to stand on that narrow peak. I'd rather take someone's hands and brave that world together, creating the happiness and bearing the bitterness. The thought of being No. 1 never crossed my mind again.

I think Ip Man said that. Not sure.

I'd argue that a 911 GT3 RS is not a waste. I would love to own a GT3, let alone a GT3 RS. Most GT3 RS owners are motorsport lovers, and use their GT3 RS for its true purpose. Motorsport and track events are also a great place to make new friends, as are organized road trips to incredible places in the world such as the PetrolHead tours.

The social aspect is true. I made a lot of friends when i took my lotus Elise to track events and other outings.

I've done the motorsport thing. Drove a '79 M1 around the Nordschleife once. And yes, that experience has value to me, but knowing I did and another hasn't doesn't make me better, or them worse. It just... is. And I'm glad the M1 wasn't mine.

I was at the Nurburgring this summer! I loved it so much I’m going to go back next summer.

Of course, owners are entitled to do whatever they please with their cars - but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing to see a GT3 RS, or any other track car, spend it’s life in start stop traffic in London.

I am very envious of the healthcare my friends have and age is not able to fix that. Only money can buy you a great insurance in our current setup. My point is that we have a problem with very fundamental things in our society that needs fixing.

It's better to rent a supercar unless you like doing a lot of maintenance work yourself all the time.

Yes and no. Sure, I'm no longer envious of, say, that friends who makes a ton of money; I now know what goes into that and I don't want to have any part of working like a hyper-caffeinated beaver.

On the other hand, when I was younger, seeing someone drastically less competent making more money didn't bother me. I thought it would catch up to them, and besides, I want in it just for the money.

Now, I know incompetence won't necessarily have consequences and that those other things don't mean anything, didn't happen, or whatever, and all I got out of the work was money.

Watching those people gets galling.

What happend and you started to feel content was it only age or something else?

I don't know about the person you replied to, but at 33 I've seen enough people rise and fall on new incomes to not be impressed. And more importantly, I've seen enough people find fulfillment in simple things at all income levels and professions to know money is not important past a point.

These days, I enjoy fiddling with knobs on a synthesizer for an hour or watching an old movie with a friend more than I ever did material things. Money can't buy being deep in a conversation where "So it's like Japanese vaporwave?" is a reasonable thing to say.

I became a father.

>Age fixes that. Used to feel much the same. Now (approaching 50) I just couldn't give a shit anymore.

Oh I don't know. If I'm 50 and am making enough to retire at 65, and my friend retires at 52, I think it will still get to me.

The most effective way to be unhappy - comparing yourself to others. Its far more satisfying to 'impress yourself', ie do better than you did before. I also like to remember that such comparisons are usually between your every day existance and their 'highlight reel'.

This. That’s why browsing Facebook and Instagram are basically the worst thing you can do when you have self-esteem problems.

Correction: Browsing Facebook and Instagram are basically the worst things you can do.

If you are trying to be precise, no, there are worse things. Poke out your own eye with a finger, for example.

I don't think most people can actually do that. In theory people can do all kinds of things, but each person in this universe is constrained by all kinds of things like instinct, resources, and what they actually experience etc.

So, among the things 75% of the people alive today might actually do, browsing Facebook might actually be the worst. Depending on your value system.

You're kidding, right? How about smoking? Alcoholism? Sexual harassment? Stealing? Lying? Cheating? I can keep going.

Facebook is waaaay down the list.

Well under 1/2 the worlds population cheats at any point in their lives, that number is not going to change any time soon.

The number of possible Alcoholics don't add up to 75% of the global population. Sexual harassment while bad is not really a temptation for most people. Stealing, is again not things most people even consider.

EX: I may not be average, but I am not in a relationship so I can't exactly cheat. I don't like Alcohol so I am not going to become an Alcoholic. I could go on, but things are really not in my realm of possibility right now.

> Well under 1/2 the worlds population cheats at any point in their lives, that number is not going to change any time soon.

And how did you arrive at this number?

> The number of possible Alcoholics don't add up to 75% of the global population.

True, but the impact is still significant: alcoholism is among the top causes of death, at least in the US.

Studies have a wide range for men and women across different cultures. But, using high estimates for both sexes you get less than 50% globally.

~25% to 60% of married people in the US cheet, but only 80% get married. Global data similar, but a significant number never get married which keeps things under 50%.

I don't find Instagram to be that bad. It definitely depends on who you follow though. Personally I use it to post cool pictures, photography, I take with my phone, and I tend to follow people who do the same.

People who start posting excessive "Look at my life" posts tend to get unfollowed pretty quickly.

>Its far more satisfying to 'impress yourself'

I find that this is something that sometimes sort of just happens to me, when I get aware of something I'm doing better now than, say, a year before.

But, I never really consciously decide to do that, because then I find it just doesn't work. Like the cliché of standing in front of a mirror and saying to yourself "today is gonna be a good day" (Has that ever worked for anybody? Where is this meme coming from?)

It works, but no, it won't turn night into day.

It's about making sure you take a moment to appreciate the good things you experience. It's about making an effort to not assume malice when there's a plausible positive or neutral explanation for someones behaviour. It's about the fact that if you smile at people and say good morning, they'll return the favour more often than if you frown and don't. It's about making peace with the things you can't change. It's about not dismissing this stuff as happy-clappy bullshit, but about giving you energy to address the things that actually matter, rather than just going around being angry at the world.

Okay, I can see that. That's what I try to do too. Altough I see these thinking habits as more of a short-term happiness boost than a tool for feeling satisfied with my life (which I would categorize as a more longer-lasting feeling, independent of my normal up/down mood-cycles).

The value is that when you don't spend your life being angry at Mondays or the weather or the fortunes of your favourite sportsteam (never main all the things people are casually angry at their bosses for, but doesn't actually warrant anger), you have a lot more energy to identify and engage with the things that actually make a lasting difference in your life.

That's certainly true, but I would argue that there's some things that really don't warrant wasting your time / energy with (like you said, mainly inter-personal and superficial stuff like appearances, money, etc.) and others that you should listen to if it's something that continues to bother you.

Weather is a good example: If you find yourself constantly annoyed at the weather and it's possible for you to do so, why not go to somewhere with a climate that might better suit you?

I guess my point is, I agree, it's not worth it getting constantly worked up over stuff, but also one shouldn't ignore one's feelings towards certain things for a prolonged time.

> more of a short-term happiness boost than a tool for feeling satisfied with my life

The former can have quite an effect on the latter though. To take it to one extreme, if you're never happy you're not going to be satisfied with life. But more realistically if these habits often help you feel happy when otherwise you would've been less happy, then that's going to have a positive impact on how satisfied you are with life.

Manipulating ones self is surprisingly easy in some ways. This is because emotion is a biofeedback thing. We always seem to think of it as purely a brain-oriented thing, but that's simply factually incorrect. To be happy, you have to be able to smile. To be angry, you have to flare your nostrils and furrow your brow and grit your teeth. People with total facial paralysis, for example, rapidly lose almost all emotional capacity. Eventually they are unable to even recall what having those emotions felt like. Experiments having people hold a pencil in their mouth (which forces your lips into a smile) showed that they experienced less negative emotion and more positive emotion when watching upsetting and funny videos respectively. This is why you won't see an AGI with emotions that lacks a body any time soon. What emotions are is fundamentally tied into the body. And through manipulating the body, one can significantly influence the subjective emotions felt.

As pointed out on the most recent Hilarious World of Depression podcast episode, the positive affirmation in front of a mirror seems like it would never work, and many more people have realized that telling themselves really negative things about themselves works great--so why not give the opposite a shot?

I think this gets the causality wrong. I'd say you tell yourself negative things about you because you're already in a negative mindset. Similarly you're more likely to think positive thoughts when you are happy.

So I'd say rather than simply saying nice things, one should be conscious of when one is thinking negative thoughts and then try to see where they come from and then what can be done about it. Being honest with yourself is a big part of that and I think that's what many people have a hard time with. And of course: If you're happy, also try to notice and cherish that. (If you look in the discussion I've had with another poster in this comment-thread, we've talked a bit about this too)

> Its far more satisfying to 'impress yourself', ie do better than you did before.

The converse of this is why stagnation feels bad long term (you don't tend to notice short term, that is just a break taking things easy for a while). Knowing you have not learned/done anything new in a long time can be depressing, and fuels many a mid-life crisis.

But that's completely fixable, right? It'w quite easy to start learning something new, or start doing something new.

Completely. But not always easily. If you let the spiral go too far before reacting it can be hard work climbing out of the rut you've dug for yourself. Someone who becomes properly depressed by the matter is going to have a hard time - it can be a difficult mindset to alter because there isn't often a quick win.

On the other hand... How ever shitty my life is, it's not as bad as being a paralyzed, blind Indian beggar. So by comparing, I can actually feel better about myself!

This is not unique to humans.

Check out: https://youtu.be/meiU6TxysCg

It takes a lot of effort to learn not to resent accomplishments of people you’re “competing” with even if they’re friends and you’re not directly competing with them. It’s a learned behavior to feel good for them instead.

There’s probably a selected reason for this, but it’s possible to overcome it (or at least be aware of its affect).

It’s better to frame life success on something else - like what you want to learn or the type of person you want to be.

I have this strange dichotomy where I am happy if my friends succeed, but I am also kind of happy if they don‘t.

Seems like I learned to feel good for other people‘s accomplishments, but I haven‘t unlearned comparing myself to them, and feeling good if I accomplish something they do not.

I suppose it's better than feeling unhappy if they do succeed and unhappy if they don't.

In addition to what others have already said, noticing this is a step in a good direction. Having a clear idea of just how strange and arbitrary our emotions can be is a great antidote.

This might be my inner Canadian speaking but in my experience, it is much easier to feel joy when a friend of mine succeeds than envy him.

I feel much happier when people in my social circle are well off and living a great life.

I have also found that helping those around me succeed, whether financially, or personally, usually improves my own quality of life in someway (not always of course).

I also fully agree that one should only compare self to oneself.

After all we are all unique

IMHO happiness is truly achieved when shared :)

> This might be my inner Canadian speaking but in my experience, it is much easier to feel joy when a friend of mine succeeds than envy him.

In my personal experience, I'd say this is a very unique quality to have. Not all friends and family members can be like this.

It's not irrational or stupid. It's human. We've evolved to be not merely effective but also competitive.

The one doesn't preclude the other, though. It's also highly contextual, i.e. behaviors we've evolved (for some reason or another) aren't necessarily useful in another context. Humans are irrational and stupid.

Isn't competitiveness at the core of biological evolution and not something we have "evolved to"?

I think the confusion here is due to the semantic ambiguity of "competitiveness".

A tournament can be called competitive and a participant can be called competitive, but these don't mean quite the same thing.

Evolution is inherently competitive, but humans become competitive by evolution.

>Isn't competitiveness at the core of biological evolution and not something we have "evolved to"?

In short? No. Fitness is.

I don't understand the distinction. Competition is at the core of biological evolution and so we, like all living creatures, have evolved to be competitive.

Many living creatures have evolved to be co-operative (including humans). Some (like humans) are often individually competitive within a larger co-operative social system. Others (like ants, bees, mole rats, some shrimps, etc.) are individually altruistic and collectively eusocial or hypersocial. Evolution is competitive at a systematic, somewhat abstract level: traits that promote perpetuation of themselves given the environmental constrains tend to prosper, and if the pool of resources is limited, the prospering of some traits will probably be detrimental to the prospering of others.

The distinction is between competition in the sense of individuals or groups competing, over things that are often irrelevant with respect to evolution, vs the fundamental principle that given a set of environmental constraints and a limited pool of resources, an entity that can repeatedly propagate more effectively than others will tend towards a greater relative abundance.

The fact that many extremely successful species are not individually competitive proves that evolution does not require all winners to be individually competitive.

competition is not at the core of evolution, survival is. competition emerges when the survival of one requires another not to survive. is that relatively rare or commonplace? i think it's rare but it's down to ideology.

I'm not sure that these tendencies are entirely effective in the modern era.

I think this and many other problems are just too new.

It's not that we can't cope - human beings have amazing mechanisms to adapt to harsh situations - but rather so many problems are new enough that there is little prior societal understanding and defense for it.

When a problem is widespread enough to affect many members of society, the practices and solutions to that problem eventually enter the social vocabulary and become common knowledge. Social culture is filled with antibodies to past problems - college, seat belts, smoking, fitness - just to name a few things ingrained in society that passively guards our well being.

It's when new problems that affect entire generations emerge too quickly, there's not yet good common advice for how to deal.

Oh the many ways in which one can make themselves unhappy. For me it's not about how much I earn, but the kind of things I get to do.

The other day I've seen a trailer of a series on Netflix - Mars Generation, I think? I couldn't even finish it, because when I saw those kids doing the things I always wanted, it made me think about all similar realizations - that e.g. my university started doing things with rockets and satellites just after I graduated, that left and right I see cool spacetech opportunities offered to students only, etc. I'm having a hard time dealing with the fact I was just born few years too early. It's a stupid, irrational jealousy.

It's not stupid and it's not irrational. What you're feeling is normal - the unfairness of other people given the chance to do what you would've liked to do. It's not their fault, but still.

"Every time my friends succeed, I die a little."

- Gore Vidal

> irrational and stupid

Is it irrational and stupid? In a society at the limits of of its resources and stuck in a Malthusian trap, there is often zero-sum competition between members of the society.

Until the modern period and real technological growth, most humans lived in societies that were approaching local research constraints. Famine was common. If your neighbor had a bit more, it's likely because you had a bit less.

In that sort of a situation, learning that your peer makes twice as much as you thought is revealing quite a few things: e.g. you could have found a way to get paid much more and society is less equal or 'fair' than you thought.

I often have it the other way around with a friend.

Somehow only in the things he cares about. He has a car and a much better PC, still he envies my money.

Well, with your money he could buy an even better car and PC than he has!

When things like that happen to me I look at my 401k and other savings and remember that someday in the future I will get to enjoy things in life they will never be able to afford.

I'm sorry it is not about that topic in hand; but I just read 'BIG BUCKS' like Frank did in Scarface.

> I also think overwork is a byproduct of a globally connected society. Humans are happy if they are relatively well off compared to what they know. With smaller societies, we know less and thus expect less from ourselves and our situations. But it becomes more difficult to remain this way as small societies get replaced with large social networks.

This sort of logic is also part of why social media can be so damaging in general. Sites like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram heavily spotlight outliers who've become incredibly successful at their field, which will by definition make many people feel like failures in comparison.

And well, with most people being very image focused and only showing their successes on these sites, it can give the impression everyone else in the world is wildly successful while you're the only one struggling at all.

Still, that's something the internet reinforces in general really. That regardless of what you're interested in or seemingly good at, that there will always be hundreds or thousands better than you at it.

The glass half-full version of this is humans have an increased awareness and participation in pushing the limits of innovation, novelty and progress.

But yes, the half-empty version is the depressing awareness that you're not really "good" at anything.

One aspect of the half-empty version is that if you don't feel you're good at something it can discourage you from even trying to push the limits.

I think I've noticed this a bit in myself - before I had broadband internet I was more willing to play around and tinker with things, now I struggle a bit harder to find motivation to try anything I'm not already good at.

> That regardless of what you're interested in or seemingly good at, that there will always be hundreds or thousands better than you at it.

When I come across these people, rather than feeling inferior to them, I try to learn what I can from them so that I can do and be better the next time.

Feeling inferior is nothing more than an (likely false) acknowledgement that you don't want to be a lifelong learner.

I think it has more to do with insecurity about future. Sure I can work less and live a pretty cozy life a software developer. But I have no idea what will happen to my profession and to me in 10 yrs. Who knows if I'd be able to keep up with tech in 10yrs, maybe my brain will slow down. My job can be outsourced tomorrow or I can be replaced by someone younger, cheaper and more * hard working* than me.

Better to work and make money and position while you still can. Thats the reality of the modern world. I don't care about the joneses by do I care about my inability to provide in future.

Old age these days is 3-4 decades, I've seen what happens to people who end up with little money when they are old. It makes me insecure and scared. I am not sure how easy or hard it is to decide to end your life before you are too old, I am guessing its not easy to convince yourself.

"better to die with money than live without it" as the saying goes. I agree. That's one of my biggest motivators for working hard. That and the challenge and fascination of software. Not ready to ride off into the sunset yet, even though I can probably afford to.

Reality of capitalism. Work or die! or join them in keeping the masses overworked

Reality of the universe. A desert island has no capitalism, but still has work or death.

There exist many more friendly ecosystems than a desert island my friend. Capitalism is indeed a desert island, with fortified garden paradises hidden behind insurmountable walls.

The fundamental question is whether or not man can evolve enough to not be a greedy piece of shit that's willing to claw and stab his way to the top.

I think its the reality of humanity. There is always someone more desperate, more hungry than you to take what you have.

> Old age these days is 3-4 decades

As a 44+ year-old software engineer who is still gainfully employed, and who doesn't see that changing any time soon, I'm not sure what to make of your assertion...?

Are you seriously saying being older than 30 years of age is considered "old"?

sorry I meant 60-90. You need savings to sustain you for like 3 decades and those are expensive decades with all health and care costs.

> It's part primal - fear of insecurity and belonging to a social structure - part ego - accomplishment as confirmation of existence and your salary as a concrete number to compare favorably to others - and part culture and habit.

You forget a big part I think: planning for your future. You don't know if you'll have a job 10 years from now. If you have kids you know you need a bunch of cash to make sure they get a reasonable education down the road. Of course you'll feel the pressure to prepare for such eventualities. Not everyone is "living in the moment".

> Not everyone is "living in the moment"

Nor is everyone obsessed with being winners, of the moral high ground as in this case.

Sure working your ass off 80h/w will make you a penny or two more but you may die in the process and will have to sacrifice something to make time.

My father passed away with 200+ days of unspent holiday, and I cannot remember a moment with him. I for sure won’t make the same mistake

I'm sorry to hear that, and you make a really good point. A family friend was an engineer at Boeing and worked his whole life there, never taking time off or doing much outside work. He got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer six months after he retired and spent the last few months of his life in hospice care. Everyone knows they won't live forever but the conscious mind doesn't seem to be able to grasp the concept of reality without itself present. In many ways you are your own universe and that universe has a finite existence. It's important to approach life satisfaction in the same way you plan for retirement; if you ignore it, it won't happen.

  ... You forget a big part I think: planning for your future. ...
What I find remarkable is that in Thailand the people on the country-side generally seem to not think too much about the future. My Thai girlfriend sometimes tells me I should think less about the future, same like the Thai people do. She tells me sometimes I think too much about the future. The Thai people don't care too much about saving up for a pension either, probably because they expect their children to provide for their old age.

Perhaps this view of life has some roots in the Buddhist religion as well.

I do think if I would choose to stay in Europe it would be very hard for me to live in the moment, but I think in Thailand it should be possible. The problem is here you have to pay a lot of taxes, can make little savings and pretty much have to work 40 hours a week to have some disposable income, this is especially true if you have a wife, children, etc... As a software developer it should be easy, when staying in Thailand, to just work perhaps 25 hours a week and have enough income for a very easy, worry-free life.

Not worrying about the future works fantastically until the future becomes the present and you are woefully unprepared. I am all for living in the present and enjoying what you have, but you don't want to just pretend the future isn't coming. It is.

It depends on the culture, you can be a lot more relaxed about the future if you have the safety net of a large family or generous state to rely on.

> expect their children to provide for their old age. ..Perhaps this view of life has some roots in the Buddhist religion as well.

That has nothing to do with Buddhism, it's because developing countries dont have govt provided social security so old people have to depend on their kids for support.

I believe he was referring to the general living-in-the-present attitude rather than the supported-by-your-child part.

Theravada Buddhism (as it is practiced) very much tells children to honor and care for their parents. And to respond with compassion to beggars and even stray animals. And to attend to the moment.

But suffering tends to be sharper in poorer countries and some people find it stressful to be around so much less hidden suffering than a richer country where the poorer people are invisible.

This has nothing to do with Buddhism. It is found in about any ancient religion out there, because it's very much in the natural order of things in human societies. Here's what you can find in the Bible (and I am pretty sure there are more):

> “The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much....But those who won't care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers” (1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8)

There are lots of cultures (national and sub-national) where people don't think about the future.

Migration flows are always away from those cultures, and towards cultures where people do think about the future.

The thing is, everybody likes to dream about the care-free life, but nobody wants to experience the inevitable ultimate results of that: poverty, crime, underachievement (e.g. never accomplishing anything on a long time horizon), and powerlessness at the hands of people who planned.

Never forget the little red hen [1].

[1] http://www.enchantedlearning.com/stories/fairytale/littlered...

>> but nobody wants to experience the inevitable ultimate results of that: poverty, crime, underachievement

I grew up in a diverse community in Brooklyn NY. There were marked differences in ambition amongst cultures. BUT Not all lack of ambition is negative as I personally witnessed. It may be negative at a society-level, but I witnessed very happy people. Parents who played soccer with their children daily. Parents who were always present at dinner. People who lived paycheck to paycheck, but were happy. Obviously, this is NY, so there are some safety nets for two-sigma cases (medicaid, housing support.)

Remember that ambition often comes with a cost (I worked 10+yrs on Wall Street, most high achievers I worked with rarely made it home for dinner with kids.) So many people I worked with were miserable.

> There are lots of cultures (national and sub-national) where people don't think about the future.

> Migration flows are always away from those cultures, and towards cultures where people do think about the future.

Source? How exactly is the amount of "thinking about the future" determined?

> There are lots of cultures (national and sub-national) where people don't think about the future.

Name three.

"Fear of insecurity" was mentioned, and quoted by you.

It's not just fear of insecurity. I mentioned planning for your kids' future, which is not about insecurity at all.

The fear that your kid will be a failure if you don't have money so send her to MIT is pure insecurity.

It's better to work 40 hours, follow and help her in school than work 80h and be the stranger that throws money over a wall to send her away from home under the guise of "it is good for you, trust me".

Sorry, but that's your prerogative. I haven't seen my dad much when I was a kid because he was working his ass off to provide for his family, and help us get in better schools than my family could not afford otherwise.

If you can afford to live in luxury with only 40h a week, then it's great, but don't assume that everyone can do it without trade-offs. And if that trade-off is your kid not getting the best chances in education down the road, then it's worth thinking about it twice, if you do love your kids.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and I agree with your premise. I know for a fact that I am better off than my parents, my parents were better off than their parents, and my grandparents were better off than their parents, and in general, this is true for families. Yet, IMO, we are less satisfied and it is because there is a real and growing chasm of people in different income groups in regards to quality of life.

   ... I know for a fact that I am better off than my parents ...
I believe for me this is only true because of my job. Because I am a freelance software developer. If I'd have the same occupation as my father or mother, I am sure I would be much worse of today than they were. In The Netherlands taxation has definitely increased over the last decennia and wages haven't kept up with taxation and inflation for most jobs.

That's because over here once you reach retirement age (which has gone up from 65 to 67 or 68), you get a free pension from the government which is enough to last you the rest of your life - nowadays 20-30 years if you're lucky.

I mean think about it. If you're anything like me, you've spent the first 24 or so years of your life in school (paid for in a large part by the government), and the last 30 years in retirement. That gives you about 54 years of not working and 44 years of working - and that's about 5 days a week, with an extra 21-24 holidays + national holidays.

What I'm saying is, you work relatively little yet with the taxes you pay for that you live a very comfortable life. And the work isn't too bad either most of the time.

I know you said 'over here' but still, this is very different for different countries. Retirement age, the amount of money you get, etc.

Where's "here"? I'd guess USA?

People often say the government pay for something without breaking that down and realising it's tax-payers/society who pay. That's always worth remembering IMO.

Netherlands, I'd guess from the context.

I agree it's worth remembering that "the government doesn't have its own money", but it's as much - if not more, these days - important to remember that paying taxes and every citizen having their tax money in their pocket are not equivalent scenarios. At the very least, governments use tax money to smooth things out on the wealth spectrum. Whether you're rich or poor, you get the same baseline of education, health, security and convenience.

Even working class people are (much) better off than the generation before us, because the standard of living has risen so much. Exotic holidays are within reach of most people (the lady who cleans my house goes on yearly holidays that were extravagant just 25 years ago), we have clothes and food and transport and entertainment that is vastly better than a generation ago, and unimaginable to 95% of all Dutch people the generation before that. We spend on average something like 6-8 percent of our incomes on food; that was 20-30 % 50 years ago, and 50+ percent 50 years before that! I'm typing this in a shopping mall in a poor part of the Netherlands, and look at what people ate buying around me - and they're certainly not 'upper class'!

> I know for a fact that I am better off than my parents, my parents were better off than their parents, and my grandparents were better off than their parents, and in general, this is true for families.

Honestly I'm not so sure that's true anymore. It's hard to compare our current situation with parents late in their career of course, but I feel like they didn't had the difficulties we experience to access home ownership (that's a thing in europe and valued areas in the us). Also when I look at myself or my friends with reasonably wealthy parents, I am pretty sure most of us will not match our parents' wealth.

I presume you mean "financially"? It could be you mean it in much broader terms?

I have a radically different thinking and I think it is related to culture and the country where you live. I rather prefer a strong health/education/housing umbrella where I have time to focus my energy in what I consider more important work than, for example, optimizing ads.

If you are thinking about some of the Western European countries I wonder if it's greater equality rather than anything else.

In the UK politicians like to talk about social mobility but I can't help feeling that is a lesser issue than equality. People only want to move up the social ladder because they are at the bottom.

I agree that it's related to culture and country. The early northeastern U.S. settlers who survived the winters were the ones who did the most work preparing for winter. Today quantity of work is still important, but it isn't the determining factor in success.

Further, I think even the early settlers could have benefited from working smarter, not just harder. Indigenous Americans built shelters using mud and straw that insulated much better than settlers' houses, for example. Imitating the success of people already here might have saved lives.

> Humans are happy if they are relatively well off compared to what they know.

So true. I have enough money to pay for my apartment, hobbies, new technology etc. I know that a lot of my friends earn 3 times my salary and to be frank, it eats me up inside.

I have not yet found a good way to combat this feeling.

There is this saying that your income should be the mean of your five closest friends’ salaries - is it different for you?

Does it work the other way, too? If I am made aware of someone who makes half of my salary for the 'same' work does it follow that I am happier?

I don't find this very convincing. This would only seem to be the case where the amount of effort is tied to one's salary, but for hourly wages this is much less likely to be true. I also don't think it's a kind of built-in part of our brain structure; this feels like a very "human nature" type argument which is wholly unsubstantiated. It is true that what we consider to be "human nature" (such as the arising of the desire for personal fame) actually originated in definite periods of history. It is also true that various economic orders, those feudalistic, capitalistic, of the slave society etc. bring about different changes in consciousness.

So for that reason, I don't think it's wise to project the desire to be more well off than one's peers as an innate factor especially considering alternative modes of organization in which overwork for this sake does not occur, or at least has no good reason to occur. The trouble with what I'm saying is that humans are 'stamped' with the mark of their current productive forces such that imagining alternatives is not only difficult but it seems utopian and impossible.

I also don't really buy the small society vs big society dichotomy as you have used it here. Even in small societies there are times where people 'earn' more for the same amount of work, are there not? I would argue that the problems you suggest exist are merely exacerbated by a global capitalist society rather than caused by it, but also that they are nevertheless features of any capitalist society.

I think the point is, when society values money, and considering a job yields money, it's not hard to see why people overwork themselves. And to call such a primal desire for money human nature is somewhat reductionist and thus rather unsubstantiated, naturally.

It's not being aware of someone else's situation - it's being aware that your own situation is not as good as it could be by comparing your situation with others out there.

In smaller societies, you have less people to compare to.

> I also think overwork is a byproduct of a globally connected society.

But what about the rise in real estate prices that happened just about when people were getting double income?

Overwork may be market-driven more than we think.

I actually really like this point. Market forces make it difficult to sustain long periods of vastly above average standards of living.

If a place has high standard of living, competition to live there will make people willing to pay more to live there until standard of living is back to the mean.

Good Point - but double income is just part of it. The other parts are: - ZIRP and resulting housing price increases - overleverage on housing, driving up housing prices - mainstream acceptance of spending 50% of income on housing in many markets

But your point remains -- costs are out of line from our parents' generation. I cannot afford to buy my father's house even with 4x the salary he made. Salary-Housing multiples are insane and drives people to make poor work choices.

These are the arguments Ted Kaczynski laid out, if I'm not mistaken.

Didn't know that - now I do.

Don't really agree they are the same observations, but do see the similarities.

Yeah basically.

I read a really interesting book that talked about precisely this (among other things), ie, how in the past people were content to be known in their little circle for whatever expertise they possessed, but now, with the internet and globalization, you're always reminded of how much better any number of other people elsewhere are.

This is the book:


There is a frequent pattern which concerns me of primarily justifying the desire for reduced work hours in terms of the alleged increase in productivity this will bring about (by allowing recharging, preventing burnout, etc.).

I worry that this already concedes too much. This allows for just as much stressful dominance of work over the rest of life, and shame over any deviation from this script, as maximizes productivity.

Even if my shorter-work-hours productivity doesn't match my longer-work-hours productivity, I'd still prefer shorter-work-hours, with no guilt over having those preferences. My goal in life is not to optimize everything I do for maximum benefit of my employer; I have my own priorities and trade-offs to worry about.

The libertarian argument would be that if government didn’t regulate working hours the number of hours worked vs the amount of pay would be negotiated by the labor market and you would be free to choose to work fewer hours in exchange for somewhat reduced pay.

The socialist counter-argument would be that under such a system people with few employment options or low skills would be forced to work more hours for the same pay and that it’s the government’s job to regulate a reduction in work hours to improve quality of life.

Neither argument is wrong, in practice you need both systems for different people, but the nature of politics, especially in the U.S., requires a binary choice the net result of which is that everyone works more hours.

I don't think it's illegal, in any western country, to work part time.

So we HAVE the option to negotiate fewer hours, no?

My experience is that the vast majority of software engineering jobs I see posted require full-time work.

What I think would be helpful is getting away from the notion that working 40 hours a week is somehow 'real work' and anything less is for students and housewives or single mothers who can't work more hours. That's a fact that's also reflected in less-than-proportionate pay which you get with may part-time jobs.

So yes, while it may not be illegal to work part time, it's just not a realistic option for many people.

You have the option to negotiate fewer hours but in a lot of places you will go nowhere. I have several times tried to negotiate eight weeks vacation against a pay cut but the response was always complete confusion or something about policy. I guess if you are sought after it may work but for most commodity devs there is not much to negotiate.

It is difficult to work part time and get benefits such as health insurance. Since this is a necessity for most people there is no practical option to work part time.

To emphasize the contrast to the parent comment on libertarianism and free market. Government does not dictate that a company can not pay for benefits such as health insurance for part time workers.

Insurance providers sometimes have minimum numbers of hours required for an employee to be eligible to participate. I have an arrangement with my employer to work only 4 days a week (32 hours), but I was told that going any lower than that would complicate things with regard to benefits. No, government does not "dictate" necessarily, but the current situation in the US with employer-provided healthcare greatly complicates working part-time, to the point that it's not really worthwhile for a business to spend time figuring it out when there are plenty of people willing to work full time.

Not sure why you're getting downvoted. I'm more on the socialist spectrum myself, but even I see what you and the higher comment is saying.

The commentor is not technically wrong, but practically so. Government might not dictate, but insurance companies will.

I didn't consider the health insurance system in the US.

If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying, 'How does the libertarian argument (removing regulation) improve a worker's ability to negotiate.' Is that correct?

Totally agree. I was disappointed to see the article follow the trend of framing everything in life around the notion of productivity. But one can only be thankful that poor mental health is correlated with poor productivity - it means the evolutionary pressure for modern capitalist society is at least acting in the right direction...

Work can still be for your self. I work harder, longer and more frequently working for mysel than an employer.

I think that's covered in GP's "I have my own priorities and trade-offs to worry about".

For me - a lot of the things I want to do for myself involves exactly the same kind of activities as my dayjob - but the end goal is mine, and I actually believe in it.

Doing nothing does not literally mean to do nothing. Strolling through the streets is meditative. Apart from mental rest, staring out the window gives processing time for the subconscious. I'm a student, and I feel uncomfortable with the expectation I am under to perform constantly, to "use my potential" "constructively". And often I have this expectation of myself. But I get my best ideas from just lying awake in bed in the middle of the day. Inspiration seems to appear out of nowhere. Of course this effect increases with more "rigorous" meditation.

I decided a long time ago that I would never enter into the proper workforce, as most people think of the term. The plan is to go tenure-track and teach the classes I loved to learn. Basically stay in school indefinitely from this point on. I'd rather learn by myself in my own home, but there are benefits here and I "gotta pay the bills".

I am not sure what field you are in, and I wish you the best of luck, but that kind if tenure track, teacher-centric position is exceedingly rare.

I had a tenure track job - in addition to teaching classes I loved teaching to amazing students, I had to chase grant money to pay for research that wasn't particularly interesting, but made a case for spending money, so the uni could get their overhead. The research I enjoyed and was good at was small ethnographic studies - you can't really spend a million dollars doing that. I also had to do service (review journal articles, run programs, volunteer at the national level), and of course publish or perish. In fact, the only part teaching played in my job was that I had to maintain a bare minimum in course evals, or I'd get fired. That was it - good teaching couldn't overcome the papers I didn't write.

Later, I landed a lecturer position elsewhere, and that was precisely the kind of job you're talking about: teaching interesting classes. I was paid basically a pittance, but enough that I could pay the bills, and my workload wasn't ridiculous, unlike what you normally hear about adjunct positions.

Unfortunately, the uni had to limit my term to three years, because if they kept me for four they were required to offer me security of employment (tenure for lecturers). SoE would have meant real retirement benefits and a much more competitive salary. To date, this particular lecturer position has rotated staff every two to three years (for decades) because they don't want to have to have a SoE lecturer.

I now work outside of academia. I miss teaching and being relaxed (especially during my lecturer stint), but like I said - those jobs are vanishingly rare.

I'm in mathematics. This is my only career aspiration so I'm going to shoot for it, because there is nothing else I would possibly want to do besides research and teach. There is nothing else for me out in the Real World. I'm doing all the right things at this point in my studies-- grades are good, relationships with professors, extracurricular projects with students and profs. I have the dedication, the motivation, and a very strong passion for this subject. If it fails, it fails. At least I will be shooting for something I really want, and not falling back on something I know will make me miserable just because I think I have a lower probability of failing.

But I thank you for the advice and the good wishes! Perhaps lecturing will be where I go! What happened with your tenure-track position? Was it too stressful?

Academic here. Those are the best possible reasons for going into academe.

It's true that tenure track positions in top universities are scarce. But there are many universities. One of the students in my department just took a lifestyle job in Australia at a university I never heard of. Another student took a faculty position at Harvard. They both appeared thrilled with their choices.

Look at the placement record of any phd program, then adjust for the number of students admitted annually, to estimate your probability to get an academic job. In many fields, a top-50 PhD program virtually guarantees academic employment. In other fields, a top-50 PhD program virtually guarantees unemployment. It is important to walk in with eyes wide open.

Yeah, it sounds like you've got the right attitude about it. Personally, I failed to get tenure for a simple enough reason - I didn't publish enough and ended up leaving academia before going up for tenure (although after five years I could tell I was probably going to be short anyway). The reasons for that are pretty complicated and mostly tied to frustration at the mismatch between what I wanted to do (and thought professoring would be), and what it actually was.

Again - my teaching was a vanishingly small part of what actually counted at the Uni where I was a professor, and even my research work wasn't quite right. I wrote a lot of interesting software for gathering video data in classrooms (this was the mid 00s) and analyzing student-teacher interaction really closely to show that general models of learning and teacher activity were pretty thin in terms of how they align with actual classroom activity. None of the software or curriculum I wrote was valued in any way by my peers (didn't count toward a tenure case, only r1 journal pubs count).

I had a really hard time getting that work published (too techy for regular journals, to ed-dy for tech journals, and my absolute-favorite piece sat in review purgatory for literally 26 months before coming back with positive reviews and an editorial rejection for being not quite a fit with the journal - this is what ended up sinking me actually, if I had gotten that particular rejection two years earlier, I could have easily shopped the paper elsewhere and been in much better shape for a tenure case).

But ultimately, I was just not happy professoring, as it turned out to not be the job I wanted it to be. Teaching and research are interesting and fun, committee work and being pressured to write big grants and politicking for courses to be offered and all that were not what I wanted to do (stress and just time away from teaching, writing code and analyzing video). Plus side, I'm a lot happier now that I've figured all that out.

> There is nothing else for me out in the Real World

Not true. In my experience there are more opportunities in industry which have equal or greater freedom to research and teach than a typical university tenure track.

I'm glad you've got the surplus cash for however many years of school, then.

It's not much, but they pay you a stipend while you're getting your PhD.

LOL! PhD you get time to think sure. About the same thing for 3+ years. Hit rate for going insane vs becoming a relaxed meditative thinker isn't as balanced as you'd hope.

What's wrong with thinking about the same problem for 3 years?

I mean, yeah.

You should try doing work before you write it off entirely. The world scarcely needs anothered sheltered permanent academian anyway :)

I'd say don't. Easy to get used to the lifestyle and money and never get back into academia. Then find working for companies soul crushing.

I definitely didn't have a career when I was a teenager, but I had experience with different positions and just the thought of working for an entity whose goal was ultimately to make money felt entirely meaningless. I could smile at customers, I could upsell our shit, I could work for 12 hours a day hauling construction material in and out of renovated buildings, but the core of it felt disgusting. Obviously there's more room to move around when you have a degree and are working in a field you generally enjoy, but as a whole it's not a creative pursuit. In that circumstance, I would fulfill my life outside of work, but also in that circumstance I probably wouldn't have time to pursue any major projects outside of work while also getting enough rest and maintaining my important relationships. It just sounds like a nightmare. It sounds like all my time would speed up and run away from me until retirement, when I'd finally realize I should have just pursued what I actually wanted. And then I'd die unhappy.

When me and my former collague now partner left Square after 4 1/2 to start a new design consultancy, we decided on a couple of things which have changed our lifes for the better.

We wanted to be able to walk to our office.

We work 3 first days of the week.

We Have meetings and checkins on Thursday.

And use Friday for various products we are developing or just for time to think.

We dont do project prices only daily or weekly and mostly retainer deals.

We are pretty expensive to hire which means mostly series a round startups or larger organizations like Tata.

Our clients dont pay for any overhead on our end and get way better results out of it and we get the time to build up our organization properly.

If you ever want to expand to the UK, let me know! It sounds like you have a really well considered working routine.

A few years ago, I decided I didn't want to work 40-hour weeks any more, and asked my employer to switch to 32 (four-day weeks), with a 20% pay cut. Satisfaction-wise, it's been fantastic, as four days isn't long enough that you'll get tired by the week, and three free days is amazing to recharge.

Unfortunately, I've found that it's rather career-limiting, as people don't care as much if a lowly developer works four-day weeks, but for more senior positions nobody will accept that. I have a choice between fulfilling life and fulfilling career, and I think I'm leaning towards the former.

I did the same. Asked my employer to work 4-day weeks to lower the pressure after the stressful period during which we released our first product.

Life satisfaction I get from that extra day off if quite huge, as I almost get twice as much free time compared to the time I actually work (3/4 vs 2/5). That time allowed me to get better at playing music and rock climbing and I now have time to read and learn more.

Productivity wise, I probably do a little bit less than I did while I worked full-time. But I'm more productive for every hour I work, which is not really a bad deal for my employer. We have several offices, and most people I've been working with remotely didn't notice that I was working part-time for months.

I also got a 20% pay cut, which reduced my after tax income by about 15% (living in Belgium). Lifestyle hasn't changed, but it definitively has an impact on how much money I can save every month. I'm considering buying an house, and working part-time will definitively delay this by a couple of years.

I agree with you that working part-time could seem career-limiting, but my opinion is that it's more like an inner feeling than something my supervisors think of me (it's a little bit awkward to work part-time when most of your colleges work full-time). In the end, the average gap in productivity between an engineer that works part-time compared to the same one that works full-time is way less than between two given engineers.

> I agree with you that working part-time could seem career-limiting, but my opinion is that it's more like an inner feeling than something my supervisors think of me (it's a little bit awkward to work part-time when most of your colleges work full-time).

That's exactly it. I don't think there are any misgivings as to my output, just what having a senior person working 4-day weeks would project. Maybe they're afraid that other people would start choosing that option? I'm not sure.

Then again, I've mostly been getting those comments from other companies, so I think they're just scared of the 4-day thing, and maybe they wouldn't actually be against it after they saw how the relationship works. Some people have told me "I'm worried that someone working four days will be less committed than someone working five", to which my reply is "then, by induction, you'd want everybody working 24/7".

People are generaly apprehensive of new things, and four-day workweeks are no exception.

In general I recommend bringing up shorter workweek after you have a job offer. At that point they've reached point of "oh this person is quite good" and they've committed in their head. Still will be lots of companies that will say no, of course, so it's a numbers game, best done while still employed (ideally at a company that already gave you a shorter workweek).

And, yes, some people translate commitment to "we want you to work 24/7". You probably don't want to work for those people even if you're looking for regular full time job.

I have successfully worked relatively senior positions (principal software engineer at a couple of startups) working less than full time. So I don't think that's necessarily the case, especially if you can build the skills to be very productive.

It's definitely harder, since less companies will hire you. But on the flip side, since you've already negotiated shorter workweek it's easier to get that at other companies, since you have proof you work well with less hours.

I talk about both the skills and the negotiating tactics involved in my book (https://codewithoutrules.com/saneworkweek/).

How long had you been working there before you asked? And was there any push back? I'm sure this will vary from company to company, but I am curious to hear your case.

A more important factor is the country/legislation. In Germany you're entitled by law to work part time (after 6 months of employment)[, unless there are important reasons against this, which an employer would need to prove in court].

I had been working there for two years or so. It's a funny story, actually. I had gotten fired due to a manager who was... less than stellar, and when I was in talks to be rehired, I requested four-day weeks and they agreed. There was no pushback, but I think my new manager, the one who pushed for me to be rehired, went to bat for me on this.

It's been working out great ever since, and, as far as I can tell, for both sides.

I'm not sure how that worked out well for you, unless you also negotiated a 20% reduced workload.

Currently, I have way more work than I can possibly do in 40 hours, meaning I'm already dropping things on the floor if I only work 40. Working even fewer hours would exacerbate this problem.

Sounds like a management problem, it seems to me that your company needs to hire someone to help you.

Might be management problem, as someone else said; some managers are just bad. Might be learning how to negotiate will help. But might also be a mindset and skills problem: often you can do same amount of work with less time if you approach it correctly.

For example, you can figure out which features are really necessary, and work on those first. Then when you inevitably run out of time you can say "I did A B and C, but did we really need X Y Z?" "Well... I guess not."

More here: https://codewithoutrules.com/2016/08/25/the-01x-programmer/

Might also be a can-do attitude. If you can't say no you'll always end up with "too much work".

That's what I mean by negotiating. "Sure I can do that" when you actually can't isn't a good move for you, nor for your employer.

How many of us are reading this article while "at work"? Just me? I don't think so. I open HackerNews four or five times a day and I read some of the articles. Right now I am in a company where I have to work at least 43 hours a week. Needless to say that I don't feel rested as I used to and my productivity is way lower compared to the past and I get distracted longer and more often than before.

I've never understood required hours. Because sometimes 20 hrs in a week is a lot. Other times 60 is no time at all. Those weeks where 20 are a lot I am extremely distracted and the next day I am not excited for work. The weeks where 60 is no time, most of that is productive and I want to go to work. Judging work by number of hours just seems like a poor metric.

>I've never understood required hours.

They want you there to answer questions.

Workplaces value availability because it's too difficult to design coherent systems and to document them. Instead of that boring old stuff, in the modern workplace, we go fast and break things (or never get them fully working in the first place).

Then we expect workers to be always around so they can be reached on slack when there is a problem.

Yeah, but with modern technology everyone is almost always reachable.

And that's an unwelcome intrusion into my time off.

But hey, I like surfing, and you can't 'reach' a person while they are surfing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I don't put company email or company chat (slack) on my phone.

Would you if it gave you more time flexibility? And could set it to only chats for you, not group?

Not at all. When I leave the office, I want to leave work concerns along with it. My off time is for me, not my employer.

More than half of my work is time and materials work (as opposed to a fix bid project), and so it's directly billed to the client. My putting in hours is directly proportional to how much the company makes.

I don't like it either, and I feel like I could contribute a lot more effectively on the fixed price items if I wasn't constantly scrounging up T&M work, maybe I'd even have time to think up decent solutions instead of justifying why I have to spend another 2 hours on issue #blah, but it's an example of why required hours exist.

yes, a poor metric but a measurable, quantifiable metric common to all regardless of their individual capacities in a given time.

I don't believe this. Because your managers generally know who is a good worker and who isn't. The rest of the workers definitely know.

I don’t think that there are many people who can code in a concentrated manner for more than, say, 6 hours per day. There are days when I manage 8 hours of actual coding, but those are not my favorite ones - I only do those under immense deadline pressure, and with all the interruptions it means sitting at a screen for 10-12 hours. Such days leave me exhausted for 2-3 days after. Not sure why, but the brain is a muscle after all, and it can get sore.

I got sidetracked.. what I mean is that you need HN, Facebook etc to prevent you from using too much of that precious brain power. Maybe this is different for other areas of work, but IMO it should make not much of a difference whether you are forced to stay at work for 35 or 45 hours - you just will procrastinate more.

Update: Added “more than”.

The brain is an organ. If I could flex my brain, I would!

Of course it is. I think we all know how brains work physiologically (at least basically).

But use it, and it will tire. Forget to pause and it will tire faster. And neurotransmitters are not an endless resource.

Just because it's not an endless resouce doesn't mean it's a muscle. Your liver isn't an endless resource.

The half of the world that includes the US is well into the evening now, so I’d imagine most of HN is surely not still at work.

Asia, Australia/New Zealand are well awake and almost at the end of their working day :)

One of older articles linked from HN said the very name "stress" is wrong, because it conjures incorrect expectations. That you can forever endure a certain level of pressure, but will break after a certain point.

The term "stress" comes from the world of physics. Instead, the article argued, stress resistance is like a muscle. To develop it, you need to exercise it a bit, then STOP. As someone who made working out his hobby, I know rest is an essential part of training. Newbies often utter nonsense like "I will do pushups 7 days a week". It works for the first few days, then you get overtraining and your performance falls below normal.

You won't get overtraining by doing pushups 7 days a week (you shouldn't, but you won't)

If you do 3x12 pushups (or 2x to failure) every single day when your current level is wall pushups you will over train.

There are a lot more people in this world whose level is wall pushups than you may realize.

There is a broad swath between pushups every day (technically just 2 push-ups) and 3x12 or 2xFailure. Most notably, there is 1x50-99% of failure which would be a great way to advance from wall pushups.

And yet professional athletes can train for several hours every day. Sometimes twice.

Doing a couple pushups every day won’t kill ya.

Being stressed every day however might.

Professional athletes had to build up to that volume. Training to handle increased volume is real. A beginner can't handle near that amount.

Also professional athletes are the best of the best. They are genetic freaks, use drugs to help them recover faster, and devote their lives to their sport.

Professional athletes sleep A LOT, way more than a normal person. The need for rest doesn't exclude them, not at all.

Another difference between professional athletes and normal people is the likelihood of being on drugs that improve performance.

You can do push ups every day, but it's useless.

> Professional athletes sleep A LOT, way more than a normal person.

To elaborate on this...

Lebron James and Roger Federer have both said they sleep 12 hours a day.

Usain Bolt, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Steve Nash sleep up to 10 hours per day.

Most NBA players take naps every game day, sometimes for as long as 3 hours.

That said, not all pro athletes sleep a ton. Tiger Woods said he only sleeps 5 hours a night, for instance. But it seems pretty clear that most of them are sleeping way more than the average office drone.

I can believe that. Not to belittle Tiger Woods or anything, but golf is not a sport in the same way that basketball or triathlon is a sport.

EDIT: This was poorly worded. Golf is a sport, but I don't know that a professional golfer is an athlete any more than a professional carpenter is an athlete. A professional basketball player is an athlete however.

I've heard it said golf is probably on the high end of athletism of what might be termed skill sports like darts, billards, bowling. Lots of eye hand coordination required, some specific strength/power requirements, no aerobic fitness/reaction time requirement.

> And yet professional athletes can train for several hours every day. Sometimes twice.

> Doing a couple pushups every day won’t kill ya.

Your now comparing a group that is new to an action and one that is trained in it. However I would like to rephrase OP's comment to: As a beginner you should recognize rest is more important than constant training.

When you’re actually good at something you do, dont give 100% in all the time. Get a feeling of what your clients/boss/etc. need to be happy and try to exceed it marginally.

- Be capable of 100 in normal working hours

- Be expected to deliver 70

- Deliver 80

This provides also a good buffer for errors and other unexpected stuff. And reduces stress.

Scotty: Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.

La Forge: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.

Scotty: How long will it really take?

La Forge: An hour!

Scotty: Oh, you didn't tell him how long it would really take, did ya?

La Forge: Well, of course I did.

Scotty: Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.


To explain a bit further, I feel that this approach also makes you more ready for promotions and working with new people/industries/tech. To me it seems that people who worked their ass off and received a promotion “as a reward for their hard work” seem more prone to burnout later on with more responsibilities. We can be better than that - don’t get promoted for hard work, get promoted for SMART work!

Is this how any great scientist, athlete, artist produce their works ? I highly doubt they took your advice.

If it's just about making money however, then sure that seems like a sound strategy.

> Is this how any great scientist, athlete, artist produce their works ?

I've never seen an athlete that goes 100% all the time your body just simply cannot take it. Hell someone who always trains at 95% multiple times a day is pretty sure to take some PEDs to help with the recovery.

I know a guy who does strongman competitions for a living. He never gives his 100% outside of competitions (3 to 5 times a year) The guy sleeps like 12 hours a day minimum (~8h at night and 3 or 4 naps), spends more time eating and then training and once he is nearing competition and going for that "peak" performance for a competition training after warmups might mean doing one single rep of deadlift as the whole days routine (probably takes a good 2 or 3 days to fully recover from that with his muscles). There are just some very real limits to the endurance of a human being. (the brain is also an organ just like muscles and has limits and needs rest etc.)

I think that trained athletes actually know better of their limits and when to not push for the maximum intensity than “regular office worker” in their corresponding field. The fatigue and risks of near future subpar performance are more concrete than with office work.

Also in any field, it ofcourse requires time, work and experience to become actually good enough to give yourself some slack.

I agree athletes train to maximise their performance on the games that matter.

I'm not sure what the equivalent is for the office worker.

When the boss is watching...

Yes, actually. For athletes especially, you need to rest because that is when muscle growth occurs. Have you ever looked at a training regimen for a marathon? The longest practice run is usually 21-22 miles, not the full 26.2.

You might find looking into this question interesting.

It's not universal, but a surprising number of the greats in all fields work less, not more.

I'm so thankful I grew up with retired people who came from cowboys and farmers in the mountains. After living a slow life, and especially after experiencing combat, I've never really had a problem seeing right through the rat race. Its funny how near death experiences put things in perspective.

I often think of a comment by Noam Chomsky, about how the industrial revolution promised so much to the people, but many saw it for what it was, little better than chattel slavery, the only difference being you get released to go home at night.

The main problem I've run into is how ingrained the Stockholm syndrome is in people who seem to define themselves by their work. I've been on a break since my last burnout as a senior sysadmin, pursuing a data science degree and doing side projects. I can see the judgement in others when I explain that though... but I don't really care, I feel my pursuits are worthwhile and fulfilling.

People also tend to think your work defines you or themselves when it doesn't and shouldn't. For example, people who don't know me might think I'm "just a sysadmin", but I'm a combat vet who has aspirations of a presidential run some day, and I've spent many years forgoing normal social life in my free time to study the big picture of geopolitics and geostrategy . I don't know if I'll ever be ready for such a huge responsibility, but I'm working on it.

My heroes are men like George Washington and the autodidacts of history, but these days I far too often hear how its impossible to do that anymore.

I disagree. Why artificially limit ourselves like that? We should work on freeing people up to pursue more lofty goals, or maybe I'm still a naive idealist who places too much weight in the principles of the enlightenment.

I enjoyed this comment.

Disclaimer: Haven't read the full article, but got the gist.

I have a counterpoint to this. I am from India where if you work normally you will be spending your life in conditions which are not very healthy for you and your family. Your home will be small and in a society where neighbourhood will be lacking in basic facilities like sanitation, security etc. You might remain happy if you have great friends and a supporting family. But to improve your living standards and getting a healthy lifestyle will ask you for a decent pay which will force you to work more than your peers. And as this is India, the workforce is generally cheap and very competitive so you have to be really good and beat a lot of other people to climb the ladder. And I dare say you can't do that by just doing 'less'.

The point of these "we all work too much" articles only applies to advanced economies where pretty much everyone could work less, and still live a very very comfortable life. Yet we don't. There is nothing illogical about working an extra hour every day when the reward is tangible (as in your example). For me however the difference between working 6 hours and 8 every day is very small in terms of reward and enormous in terms of well being.

Being self employed working from home (coding), I recently started to do some timetracking to see how I spend my work. I used pomodoro technique with 25 minute slots and 5 min breaks in between. I set up an initial goal of doind 10 per day or about 5 hours, sounds very modest to me! Also, I set a rule that I have to stop working when I felt mentally drained, you know when you just feel sluggish at the end of a normal working day.

The thing was I struggled very hard to reach 10 and found a nice balance at around 8 slots of focused work per day (4 hours, ncluding coding and administrative tasks). So a 25 hour work week suggested in the article sounds reasonable to me.

You don't have to convince employees, who are eager to try it and unwind. How do you convince employers ? Surely not by pointing out THEY don't work as much as we do.

My managers, and their managers, have worked longer hours than me at every job I've ever had, including retail jobs in high school, academia in grad school, and now software engineering.

Once you hit the C-Suite you don't even think about work-life balance, because your work is your entire life. I know people like that, who have enough money to retire in their 40s and live in luxury without ever working again, yet they don't want to stop working.

I don't think anyone can convince employers as most would prefer longer hours, misplaced or not. Nevertheless they understand financial incentives e.g. probably better off respecting labour laws.

"Holidays also can literally pay off. One study of more than 5,000 full-time American workers found that people who took fewer than 10 of their paid holiday days a year had a little more than a one-in-three chance of getting a pay rise or a bonus over three years. People who took more than 10 days? A two in three chance."

I'm reminded of the best sysadmin I have ever known. You'd see him at weekly staff meetings, but most of the time he'd be in his office, probably playing nethack. He was part of the furniture.

Then he'd go on vacation and all hell would break loose. I figured that was his way of letting everyone know he still existed.

I like this article. I hate cherry picked statistics.

For instance, average GDP per worker is much higher in Norway than the U.S. This proves that large numbers over large numbers may in fact be smaller than small numbers over small numbers. Especially if the small numerator (Norway GDP) is relatively large because it's dominated by a single factor (oil wealth).

Bad, misleading stats. This is why you cannot take even legitimate news sources like BBC at face-value:

"Even on a global level, there is no clear correlation between a country’s productivity and average working hours. With a 38.6-hour work week, for example, the average US employee works 4.6 hours a week longer than a Norwegian. But by GDP, Norway’s workers contribute the equivalent of $78.70 per hour – compared to the US’s $69.60."

This paragraph links to this article on 'no clear correlation' but the article itself says the exact OPPOSITE--that there's no correlation between increased vacation and greater productivity: https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/vacation-time-vs-productivity/

Not only that, but while Norway is indeed #1 of GDP per hour worked, USA is #3 and countries like UK and Canada are a distant #12 and #13, suggesting this obviously does NOT have to do with 'working less': https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)...

"When I moved to Rome from Washington, DC, one sight struck me more than any ancient column or grand basilica: people doing nothing."

Yes. It's like a big small town. It's quite refreshing - though it can be frustrating if you want to get something done.

My friends who have visited or lived in Italy say the same thing. I kinda experience the same thing with Latin America.

It's relaxing to be in a place that isn't all about the rat race, but it can be irritating when you want to get up early and do stuff, or when you're dealing with the bureaucracy, or you're trying to plan anything. As with most things, it's a trade off.

I suspect it’s more about people doing nothing _outside_. In other cities and climates, there’s plenty of people doing nothing at home, in front of their TV or computer.

No time to protest if you have to be at work all day.

>Even so, the apparent belief in balancing hard work with il dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing, always struck me. After all, doing nothing appears to be the opposite of being productive. And productivity, whether creative, intellectual or industrial, is the ultimate use of our time.

No it is not. Good use of my time is whatever I decide is good use of my time. And speaking about this in plural(our time) and absolutes(ultimate) is even worse.

Well, look at Germany. 4 weeks of holidays required by law, additionally 10-15 days of public holidays, and 35-40h work weeks. Productive as hell

This is the reason I'm considering going back to consulting. I could work less hours yet create lots more value and have plenty of time to rest, read and have healthy activities.

I'd be happy to see full time employment re-defined as 20h/week.

On a good day there's 4 productive hours in me. Cut my salary in half but release some of my time so I can live a little.

. At least for certain occupations / productive superstars who can do full day's of work in 4h.

Upside would be

- 20h a week to invest into family, hobby & entertainment.

- "more jobs" are created ...

- limit supply of labour solving unemployment (no need for UBI anymore?)

- Salaries would creep back up somewhat due to higher productivity per hour

An interesting related thought I had recently was: why are we optimizing the technology we develop to help / increase the productivity of, those who work more/harder?

...and not the other way around? It seems like everywhere: even in software, languages and tools that increase the productivity of "lazier" people (aka more "contemplative" or "think a lot, do a little" type of people) are basically always abandoned by industry after the "transplantable" ideas are extracted out of them (Lisp-s, lots of other meta-programming tools like OMeta, lots of functional languages with advanced type systems, lots of ideas for smarter-IDEs, smarter-debuggers etc. - basically what we've chosen to use as professionals is like 20-years behind what "can be done"). And same is true for most consumer facing technologies - nooooobody wants to develop device or apps that minimize user engangement! When this is exactly what the "think a lot, do a little"-people would need to have their output increased without requiring them to work harder.

Also when it comes to online classes and all. There's very, very few content designed to "let it seep in while you have a beer on the beach"... very few "high density but low focus-requirements" educational content. So to make any meaningful progress at learning something, you have to actively make a schedule with hours-lengths chunked of focused time at regular intervals... aka "work hard"! But I know from personal experience that this is not the only way to learn stuff!!! Many of the things I know I've "soaked into my brain" in pretty low-engagement ways that may have taken years to learn what others can learn in weeks of concentrated effort, but... it's just a different feel to it. This kind of knowledge was acquired effortlessly and I can use it effortlessly - I just load up a problem into my mind, and my subconscious just presents me with the solution, no need to actively think about it! And this is just amazing, you get that "god / the-universe downloaded the solution into your brain" kind of high.

Also, at the other end of the spectrum, we don't seem to recognize that a large percent of the population has too low IQs to be able to do any meaningful work in the current world. And yet basically all mind-augmentation technologies are targeted at people that are already smart. Nobody's building a "Siri that could help mentally challenged people work as nuclear engineers", when that could very well work.

Shouldn't we maybe use technology to actively fight against Price's law instead?

Shouldn't we focus on developing technology for achieving more through doing LESS? "Give" less, but "get more in return?" What's even the point of striving for anything else?!

    </ dangerous idea>

> nooooobody wants to develop device or apps that minimize user engangement

I'm going to take a guess and say that many developers would like to develop those apps. But marketing/sales/C-level says otherwise.

Developers want the $$$ too... so they too follow whatever generates revenue. It's more like the psychology of incentives got screwed: we've taught people to prefer subscriptions instead of one-time-payments, and you're psychologically biased to pay a more expensive subscription for something you spend a lot of time using. You're not going to pay $50/month for a tool you use 3 times a week for 10 minutes no matter how useful it is.

Othoh, if the price was "license + 1 year free upgrades" you'd be quite likely to cough up a $600 license, because you'll think more in terms of outcome value and not time spent. But though luck, the company selling the subscription thingie would be valued more. So you're not going to do that.

Once you do this, you'll not want to waste too much of your user's time, as they'll choose a more efficient competitor... but you're not going to want to take too little of the user's time or attention either! Now he's subconsciously biased into thinking in terms of price/time-unit and you need to play this game.

I wrote a blog post on this: https://medium.com/leaf-software/working-too-much-please-sto...

The reaction I've had is pretty surprising. A lot of people seem to think it's too difficult for them work less.

I just like working and creating things.

Me too. Have you noticed that when you don't take breaks, that you create worse things? If not, ask the people around you if they notice.

True words. And I do have to remind myself to take breaks

Most of my friends work less than 40h a week, only those who don't get paid well work full-time.

Even a few who don't get much money try to get along with it by living in a shared flat before starting to work full-time.

Any tips on how to go less than full-time as a project manager? Going in to consultancy? Shifting to Product?

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