Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Productivity and the Workweek (2000) (mit.edu)
345 points by kamiYcombi 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 228 comments



I'd be interested to know if other software developers feel their current working hours are good/positive?

From feedback I've had I'm generally regarded as pretty good at my job and highly productive but my current working hours leave me completely drained, to the point I go home and collapse on the sofa, make dinner and go to bed. And that's off an 8.5 hour day. It's at the point now where it's extremely likely I'll leave software for good.

Software to me is extremely mentally demanding and draining, it requires short burts of extreme concentration, but what is more draining is making up the remaining 4-5 hours looking busy. My experience of software work is that it doesn't scale linearly with number of hours. Unless you reach flow which is extremely rare in a business setting (thanks open-office / scrum) you can get the work done very quickly and then have large periods of unproductive time.

It's my experience that at most 2-3 hours is productively spent, the rest is wasted.

I meet software developers who advocate for, or don't mind, 8, 9, 10 hour days and I simply don't understand it, it's alien to me. Are they being productive all that time?

Edit: to clarify (since I've posted on this topic elsewhere today) the 8.5 hours include a 1 hour lunch break and Fridays are slightly shorter.


> Software to me is extremely mentally demanding and draining, it requires short burts of extreme concentration, but what is more draining is making up the remaining 4-5 hours looking busy.

Well said! I haven't met a single software engineer who hasn't described something similar to me. I'm the same, I like to wake up early, enjoy my first coffee and then I feel the most productive for the first 4 hours of the day. In those first 4 hours in my morning, often exactly between 8 and 12 I get a shitload of work done. I get so much done that it feels like a real milestone every day. The feeling of being contend afterwards makes it really hard to get into the same focused mindset back again after lunch. After I had my lunch meal I often spend no more than 1-2 hours just doing minor post-real-work tasks, email replies, etc. before mentally signing off completely and calling it a day.

Asking a software engineer to work a certain number of hours per week is useless. It's better to agree on a certain scope of work that one would like to see get done and then let them off the hook as soon as it's done. Some people can do a 3 day burst of 8 hours, but then are so destroyed on a Thursday or Friday that they won't get ANY work done. Others like me are productive every day, but only for ~4-5 hours. Either way, only a fool will think that they will get more out of an SE than they are actually able to focus on. They will just say that something took longer, a bug was holding them back or whatever.

Moreover, the salaries which SE get are so high that an employer isn't paying for the time anyway. They pay for the skill which is being applied during that time, so what's the point in making them commit a certain amount of time. Absolutely useless... well... hopefully one day things will change..


I agree that morning time is most effective and I’m not a morning person. I also agree that contiguous time is vital - usually 4-5 hours. What I’ve noticed is that once I achieve something in that 4-5 hours it’s very difficult to go on to repeat the feat in the next consecutive time block. It’s far better if I go for a run, bike, golf, hang out for the next time block than it is to sit there and struggle with the next code task. But this has been the case whether I’m coding or doing any other kind of work. That said, there are days maybe once or twice in a seven day period where I will code for 8-12 hours straight and the entire time is productive. I think it comes down to energy conservation. Just like runners can build up to run a marathon they usually don’t keep running marathons every day afterwards (although I knew a guy once who did that for something like 30 days straight). So what should one do in their downtime? I think planning and communicating is often seen as non work. I also think meditation is definitely not seen as something one should do on the clock. Yet when I read about billionaires daily habits, they often take naps in the day, meditate, etc. I think Dr. Dre was said to meditate twice a day during the time he was involved in Beats. (My memory is bad so if it wasn’t him it was somebody like that). Anyway I don’t think pay structure necessarily needs to change but maybe the constant monitoring and feelings of guilt if you aren’t pulling desk time should.


Hardy famously admitted he worked only 4 hours in math, and spent the rest of the time watching cricket in Cambridge.

Software is probably quite close in intensity to pure math, so I don't see anything wrong with this!

The 8 hour workday makes no sense outside agriculture and industry. And even here, due to automation, people should be spared from such a long day anyway.


The future struggle for people in these kinds of jobs is to get the wider culture to admit to itself that the latter 4 hours are unnecessary and even detrimental to workers.


I think it's rougher for people to understand that aren't in this industry, and there are so many jobs that _do_ benefit from this in a numerical way, i.e. more parts per hour, more accounts created, sales made, etc.


It's not just software and tech, though. It's almost every 'professional white collar' job.

I work in higher education, and it's exactly the same experience for me. 4-5 hours of productivity a day, at best, and 2-3 hours of just generally wasting time and trying to look busy/meetings/e-mails.


Can't deny that there are some industries where more hours are better and that beyond the 4-5 hour range they don't suffer from diminishing returns. But I'd point to David Graeber here and just say that there seem to be a lot of people out there making themselves look busy for much of the day, and in the process wasting a lot of their lives and needlessly taxing their own emotional states. And together we've tacitly made a decision that this is all OK and normal.


Yup, it's certainly a punchline in seemingly every office job I've ever worked. I've worked a lot of retail and cooking jobs though too, and I think a lot of people come from these fields as well and have trouble distinguishing intellectual work from physical, utilitarian work.


I don't know if they are unnecessary, but they do not require me to be in the office. I usually end up reading up on things, or responding to emails when I am in those latter 4 hours. Those tasks can be done just as effectively at home.


> I feel the most productive for the first 4 hours of the day

The same time that the product managers, project managers, portfolio owners, program managers, and stakeholders fill with hour-long "standup" meetings?


Meetings often destroy my productivity for the day.

I’ll be in the flow all morning, but once I have an hour long standup meeting (or similar scattered topic based meeting) I struggle to regain focus for the rest of the day.


I sidestep this problem by getting to work before all of those people are even awake.


110% this. I mostly work from home, but on office days, I show up at least an hour before everyone else, and often get a lot done in that time. Once people show up, start making coffee, talking about the latest sportsing, etc., I'm already 2.5 hours into my day.


No doubt the first 4 hours are intense and draining, which I definitely experience. But curious if any on this thread notice any correlation with what you put into your body? If I heavily caffeinate, I'll usually want to collapse right after work, which isn't helpful since I really would rather spend at least some time on personal projects each night (personal preference, not prescribing or judging to those that don't). Also, a bigger/carbohydrate heavy lunch usually knocks me out whereas something lighter or more fat+protein based won't as much.

[edit, cleared up who this is targeted at]


Had to switch from coffee to black tea for this very reason. Cannot subsist without some caffeine for mental health reasons, and absolutely love coffee, but it just does not love me back.

When I drink too much coffee, it makes alcohol that much more necessary to offset the extra stress and anxiety, but black tea does not have this issue, it just kinda fades away for me. Then a little cannabis at night for a bit of pleasure and sleep promotion.


I think this is where some of these Kalzumeus Classics come in:

https://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-pr...

https://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

The problem is most of us do not market our skills and the value we can provide. We market ourselves as being available to be handed tasks to toil on for forty hours a week.

Figuring out the value we provide, and how to explain and market that value, is hard work and higher risk, though, so many of us take the safe and easy route of a full time job sitting behind a desk for forty hours, whether or not we can fill those hours productively.


Thanks for this, I'm working my first job feeling like a complete slacker everyday, it's just like my head is full of fog after a certain period of time and I can't seem to push through it.


My experience too. This thread is helping dispel a bit of the imposter syndrome for me — you’re not alone at all.


yeah hopefully, still we are young.


I'm not a software developer, but basically a structural engineer / project engineer. I just wanted to say that my job is exactly like yours in some ways. Most of my quality work gets done in less than 2-3 hours; the rest of the time I'm either doing menial/repetitve tasks or talking to people / in meetings.

I guess I'm just trying to point out that I think this isn;t exclusive to software jobs, but it's the same trend for any mental labour job.

Getting into, and staying in, a state of flow requires a high cognitive workload, and getting back into it once you're kicked out is almost impossible some days. It often takes me at least 30 minutes to get back into that state, if at all. I think our society needs to re-think how we spend our time at work,but unfortunately that'll require government regulation, unless companies that are bold enough to switch to a 6 hour workday actual start making more money than their competitors.


It's interesting to hear that this is not just peculiar to software. I have no real understanding of what other jobs involve but I can well believe there's a similar experience in other mentally (and physically!) demanding jobs.

Flow is one of those things that I think is related to interest in the task at hand but is also, as you point out, difficult to recover once disturbed. It's also highly unpredictable. The 2-3 hours I spend productively might not be in a continuous block but also the time spent giving the appearance of productivity makes it harder to (re)enter flow. If work was structured such that you could work when productive and take care of life admin when not, rather than a discrete chunk of time every day, I feel like it would significantly improve mentally demanding labour.

Ultimately I'd like to see everyone work less [0] for which I think the driving force has to be regulation (companies demanding these hours are just more-or-less rational actors in the system), the productivity gains are there but we seem to be busier than ever - we've thereby created new fields of work (TaskRabbit, Deliveroo, etc) for people to work in, but at little benefit to people or society.

[0]: http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html


At my workplace we do recognize that there's a lot of unproductive time. The best programmers seem to watch YouTube a lot, the least productive ones seem to come early and leave late.

The company culture has sort of spotted the correlation and we're more or less free to do what we want at work. There's just enough pressure to not spend the day on DoTA and social media, which is probably the optimum pressure. Some of the team goes for two tea breaks a day. Some go for long prayer breaks. Some sleep at their desks.

The CTO doesn't use agile; we just tell each other what we want, and poll them on it after 2-3 days if it's not urgent, or the CTO just reads git commits to watch progress.

We still go to work 8.5 hours a day, because it's in the contract, but it's quite relaxing. Best job I've had so far.


I feel the exact same way. I come home and exercise and make food and I feel just beat. All I want to do is sleep by 9pm. I wish I had a few extra hours a day to study or spend time on leisure activities. As it is I study or read until it's time to sleep and if I want to spend time with friends something has to fall off my schedule even though I sit at work and try to look busy most days.

Once my work in a sprint is done my anxiety increases because now I don't know what to do and I'm considered lazy if I can't come up with some fascinating thing to produce. That's the most mentally draining aspect for me.


As a Scrum Master the final comment bugs me. The Sprint is a team effort, you might have been assigned user stories, but if your velocity is higher than others then you need to improve your estimations and you need to help others finish their user stories. Your scrum team does not sound like a team, but a collection of individuals.


As a senior engineering manager and individual contributor, your comment bugs me. You don't realize the value of "slack" and whitespace to allow people to perform at their best and most creative. If someone finishes their tasks early, let them breath and you'll have an amazingly happy, healthy and productive team member! Maybe they won't even quit 1 1/2 years into the job.

Building a team and helping individuals grow is so much more than "maximizing" (not really) every minute of the work day.


Just want to second your wonderful comment. Down-time is critical for productivity... it is not a paradox as one might seem. Just like exercising gives you MORE energy.


Down-time isn't down-time. Anyone who does any kind of mental work will continue thinking about the work even when they're away from their desk.

They will think about it on the way to work. They will think about it during breaks. They will think about it while appearing to wander aimlessly around the building.

They will think about it on the way home. They will think about it while they're at home, they will think about it in the shower, they will think about while eating or doing something else, and they will think about while they're asleep.

It will take them at least two weeks of actual undistracted full-time down-time to stop thinking about it.

But you can also make them stop thinking about it by piling on distractions - hiring sessions, meetings of all kinds, absolutely critical company events that aren't, and so on.

And you can also make them stop thinking about it by giving them too much to do. Most people have enough mental space for one, maybe two, problem tracks. Giving them more - especially with limited context switching time - and you'll make it impossible for them to solve any of them.

You're not running a physical production line. The typing and the code changes are the output of a complex and surprisingly fragile mental process. If you don't understand how the process works, you're wasting a lot of its potential value.

Not only will people be unhappy, but the quality of their work will suck too.


“Fix your estimates”

I have, for a long time, been very opposed to single point estimates, especially when those estimates are going to be interpreted like this. For any task that has any kind of uncertainty to it, there’s a range of time for how long it’s going to take. If you take longer than your single point estimate, you’re going to be punished for it in some way (work late, etc). If you take less time than your single point estimate, you’re going to be... punished for it?

What I’ve settled on in my consultancy work is doing 3-point PERT-style estimates. If I finish a task earlier than the range that drops out, I make a mental note to be more optimistic in the future on that project. If I’m nearing the far end of the range, I take pause and reassess what happened. Did the scope of the task blow up? Did I miss something up front? Is there too much technical debt in this project?

When you use SPEs, there’s no way to tell retrospectively (except in extreme cases) whether an estimate was actually good and the completion time was within an expected statistical variation, or if the estimate was bad and some part of the estimation process needs to be tuned.


I agree, I am assuming you know how we implemented Scrum.... We do point estimates very early to know if a story is too big and needs to be broken down and for rough release planning. The developer that volunteers for a user story will do an hours estimate when the user story is fairly well fleshed out.

We do not use estimates and actual's for any management metrics, this is for the developer to gauge their workload for the sprint. We know from our history that once a developer estimates about 40 hours of work for a two week sprint we don't allow them to take any more.

For us, estimates are the developers gauge to know when the sprint is full.


> 40 hours of work for a two week sprint

You're my hero. For real!


This is exactly the attitude that causes anxiety. You are done with the thing you were working on, now go "help" one of your teammates somehow regardless of whether that will actually increase the amount of value the team is delivering.

Baseball is a team sport, but that doesn't mean you have two people swinging one bat.


Software development is more like basketball than baseball.

In basketball, players do "take off" certain plays. But the most valuable players are still contributing during that time. A good shooter can just stand at the 3-point line. Even if they don't do anything, they occupy a defender and make the whole offense better.

A developer won't be cranking out code 8 hours a day. But if they are available to answer questions, perform code reviews, and generally help the team, that's a valuable contribution.


Yeah, honestly, I think soccer/basketball are better analogies. The team remains in formation. Doing too much is far worse than doing too little, because it pushes everything else out of sync.

A big part of the work is sometimes just fixing/improving workflow. There are tests to write, documentation, refactoring, warnings to look at, plugins to update, that wonky button padding to fix, all these little things that are not vital but stack negative impact.


There is a much bigger point here, though, about idle time.

Idle time is not just about healing the psyche. It also does that. But you run into problems from not having idle time much sooner than burnout, typically.

What is at stake is that the greedy algorithm for optimization does NOT work for complex systems. “I will make every individual person efficient, everyone is always working on something, look how good of a boss I am”—and you WILL fail to meet deadlines. And you will blame that failure on other people, or on the business constraints, because “well I did everything that I could to make the system efficient, the expectations that were put on me were unrealistic!”

The greedy algorithm is really obvious. Why would every part of the system doing less allow the system as a whole to do more? But it is also really wrong for any system that is large and complex enough to have the right sort of nonlinearities. If you’re managing a call center and everything is very linear—everyone has the same task day-in, day-out, the output of the team is directly changed by the output of every individual on that team—great, you can use the greedy algorithm. But if different people are working on different interrelated tasks then forget about it.

Because if you manage an interdependent system without creating idle time, soon you have every task falling into the proverbial “three priorities: Hot, Red Hot, and DO IT NOW.” You have that because you have chosen to create a system where there are large latencies in response to incoming tasks, so that those tasks are piling up.

I discoursed more on the abstract theory behind this in an answer on the Project Management Stack Exchange:

https://pm.stackexchange.com/questions/26651/why-do-all-the-...


(also if you want a longer overview a bunch of related concepts are talked about in Dominica DeGrandis’s book Making Work Visible, and the advice on managing by the critical path method comes from a makes-my-eyes-roll-a-little-but-still-pretty-solid business novel by Eli Goldratt called Critical Chain, which applies the reasoning from another less-eye-rolls business novel by the same author to the “project context” that we find ourselves in when writing software.)


This is great. Thanks


This is a nice metaphor.

I think it's similar in many ways to the complaints one overhears about roadworks. "Why do they take so long!? It's just 5 people stood around watching another dig a hole!". Software is a lot like that, you can't have everyone run off and work on all parts of the stack and domain at once, there's only a certain amount of parallelizable work.


Examples are: The tester is always backed up (1 tester for 4 developers), so a developer can help test a user story they did not write. A developer can take on a user story that was originally assigned to someone else.


This is kind of a Kafkaesque way to destroy the developers' pysches.

I feel like you've misunderstood the critical replies you've received above. You may think you are profiting by trying to allocate every millisecond of the developers' time, but it comes at a great cost that is hard to see upfront, but is very very real.


The sprint is two weeks long, if you finish your user stories in a week like OP, then is a full week of downtime ok? That will encourage everyone to sandbag the work to only need to work every other week. No one is talking about milliseconds or even hours, but I don't want the developers making up stuff to do like the OP mentioned or taking stuff off the backlog that the team did not agree to for the sprint. He used the word Sprint, so I assumed we were talking about a team and not just an individual, support your team, that's all.


I believe many people, including myself, are caught up on the idea of taking "someone else's work". I personally would be much more comfortable with the items you suggest if they either had not been assigned to someone (new or backlog task), or organically offered up (someone says they probably won't get to a task during standup or somesuch).

Additionally, it would seem that you are assuming that the dev is doing something wrong by finishing early and doing nothing, when it seems to me that they are just acting on their incentives. If my incentives are to finish my tickets for the sprint, I'll do just that. Rarely am I incentivized to take others work; I'm not going to get promoted if my co-workers hate me for poaching their tasks. I agree that we should probably find work for said dev, lord knows I also get anxious without work, but the suggestion that we take our teammates work from them is one that many teammates will probably bristle at.

Finally, I have always found the focus on locking the sprint once we plan it a bit absurd. In agile, we acknowledge and even love that the ground under us is shifting constantly. We are always iterating in everything else, so why not the sprint? The idea that I should take others' tasks from them instead of finding something else that I can work on seemingly comes from this myopic focus on frozen sprints.

However, I would assume that is not your view! Maybe you can help me see why a focus on completing the sprint is more important than letting my coworkers do their assigned work. I might be a bit closed minded on this because of my experience, so any thoughts here would help me contextualize this!


I think the root of the issue I am getting backlash on is team work vs individual work. If you are using Agile as a process to just organize work then ignore all my comments. I am using Agile/Scrum as a way to build strong development teams (not just groups of individual developers).

For the locking sprints, that is a matter of protecting the developers from management and the customer. The product backlog can be moving target all day, but the sprint backlog needs to have some backbone so the developers have focus and are not pulled different directions every day. If the sprint backlog needs to change then the developers will come to me for help. Our history is from a very chaotic environment and the developers really like having some sanity/consistency with defining the sprint and holding it still. If the customer wants something else, then we can deal with that in the next sprint.


I feel like your last point does not address my criticism. The devs should feel like they have control, not the management, I agree. But my argument is we extend that control to allow devs to pull new tasks into the sprint if they are done.

Sure, you’ll have to explain the optics to management when they ask “how come the devs get to control their own process instead of me,” but with your conviction in the Scrum Master role, I’m sure that wouldn’t be too big of a problem, and would allow for everything you and I are arguing for, right?


So... what does the scrum master do then? If the developer needs to figure out how to work things out so he aligns with the rest of the team?


It depends. For me it's a 20% role, I focus more on the sprint flow. We have a System Engineer and they do most of the Product Owner cat wrangling that I would assume a lot of Scrum Master's have to handle.

The scrum team should be acting as a team and the developer should work with the team to figure out how he aligns. That is part of the "Self Forming" stuff. The Scrum Master is not their boss and does not weigh in on the project implementation. They are more of the advocate for the team and the advocate for Agile/Scrum. e.g. Dealing with the Product Owner when they try to add stuff to the current sprint or Management saying everything is top priority. Technically we call that coaching the Scrum process, but I'm going to make sure my team has steady/predictable work and are not going to burn out.


The idea that I can add to the productivity of my team by inserting myself into other people's workstream is pretty thoroughly debunked. Not only would I be working out of context, I would force my coworkers to deal with that lack of context and compensate for it while I'm "helping" them. It also shoves my relatively higher productivity into my teammate's face, which is usually demoralizing.

There are many other reasons that this reasoning is misguided, but I'll leave them for now and instead point you to those smarter and better written than I am.

Luckily, there is a ton of writing on this. I'd start with "The Mythical Man Month" which explains that your reasoning is a fallacy with software engineering: https://archive.org/details/mythicalmanmonth00fred


After you collapse on the sofa for a few minutes you then get back to work keeping yourself current, right?

A reasonable measure of what it takes to stay current and relevant in this industry is twenty hours of dedicated reinvestment per week. Often times this reinvestment time is not afforded at work and as much as employers want to provide this as a benefit to developers, few offer the resources or time to allow developers to get anywhere close at work alone. Therefore, that time is likely your sole responsibility at home.

If you're like most developers you should be budgeting four hours each day M-F (or three if you include the weekend). I know many that push for even more.

Since our jobs tend to be sedentary and it's probably helpful to budget at least an hour for the gym a day to help mitigate the severe health effects of working a desk job, don't forget to factor time at the gym in your scheduling. Also, if you're like many developers I know you're likely on call and answering e-mails at home as well which is easy to forget about when calculating available time.

This then quickly becomes a challenging schedule even for eight hour days. Those selecting ten hour days are probably not reinvesting as much as they should and will potentially burn out or become irrelevant in the long term. I've attempted a sustained schedule of 12 hour work days with 4 hour reinvestment and an hour at the gym and found it unworkable in the long term.


That is insanity. What could you possibly study four hours a day that would be worthwhile? That's just pumping in useless trivia information that will crowd out the useful development knowledge. Is it a web development thing? Framework-of-the-week psychosis? It just sounds like a recipe to get burnt to a crisp in a few years.


My first thought when reading your comment was "How could you possibly fit everything there is to learn into 4 hours a day?", but I think the disconnect is in two different conceptions of what a job is -

For most people, a job is something where you are hired to do a specific task for a specific wage, using specific skills that you learn once and then apply many times. "Make this button green." "Move the navbar 20px to the right." "When this button is clicked, send off an RPC to the server, and when it's complete, update the table with the relevant data."

These types of tasks lend themselves well to an "instruction manual" approach to skill acquisition: you read the manual, you apply it to your job, you memorize the parts that you use frequently, and you're done. Once you know everything in the manual, there's little point in studying further, because you know everything in the manual.

A smaller (but growing) minority of jobs require you to solve a vaguely-defined problem, where there is no manual because nobody's solved it before, and often times the problem hasn't even been posed in a tangible form. "Find out who wrote everything on the web." "Evaluate whether we should invest $5M into this venture capital fund." "Identify our next billion-dollar business." "Make cryptocurrency useful."

These jobs lend themselves to a "toolbox" approach. There is no manual, but if you have a wide enough breadth of experience, you've picked up a large variety of tools that you might be able to apply to the problem. So if you're tasked with figuring out who wrote what on the web, one approach might be ask the authors by having them add HTML markup, and then parsing and following that. Another approach might be to identify author bylines through machine-learning and then cross-reference them with a database of peoples' names that appear on the web. A third approach might be to identify pictures next to the byline and run facial recognition on them. You don't know which approach will be most useful until you're given the problem and actually try a few, but the bigger your toolbox, the more likely you are to find one that works.

The financial returns to these types of jobs tend to scale exponentially with their complexity, because the number of people who can solve them decreases exponentially. That's why it's beneficial to have as big a toolbox as you possibly can if you want to play in these markets.


I have never been the former, so I don't know how it works. That type of developer clearly must exist somewhere, because I hear people on HN talk about it, but I have always been a "hey, we have this interesting problem to solve, can you help" type of software developer. And yet, I have managed to stay quite good at this even without dedicating four hours of non-work time to it. To each their own.


I've done both of these types of jobs and I definitely feel different about them.

An example is if you work in any service industry. You don't have to think much, you just do when things need to be done. There's a lot of repetition so you just do without thinking. Or in an office job there's generally a set of tasks that you get done and this very clear path of how to do these things. I do think more time generally leads to more output for these jobs (maybe not in service if we're adding more time into the times of day when there isn't a demand for service, but I think everyone gets the point).

In my last job I worked as a researcher and I'm now in grad school. I feel like for the most part I accomplish way more when I'm not tied to a clock (I still like deadlines and think they are beneficial). But some days are just worthless. Some days 10hrs is nothing and I've forgotten to eat. But most days I'm productive in the morning then do other things mid day, be productive again, hang out with friends, then do research at night. These breaks help me end up getting a lot done. The problem I'm working on is far away (though I'm positive some part of my mind is working on it in the background). But as soon as I'm tied to a clock I feel like I get less done. In those moments where I'm drained I end up just looking busy or do something like browse HN. The thing is that these actions don't allow me to recover, so it's harder to get back to work and be as productive as I was in the morning.

I think that's the trick here. Recovery. In mentally demanding jobs we don't consider rest. It'd be like working heavy duty construction all day every day. It's not sustainable. Or asking pro athletes to train at their max every day. Recovery is an essential part of training and being effective. I think you can train to get more hours of productivity in a day, but as long as we don't actually rest that will never happen because we don't recover.

But idk. Do others feel this way? Often I feel like many don't, but maybe people are just looking busy and we're caught in a feedback loop.


Excellent point. I would also like to point out that the instruction manual jobs that you mentioned are being automated away and the pace of automation over this type of job is likely to increase.


I personally study a thoughtful blend of the a number of subjects, including:

1. Machine Learning 2. Practical Software Development Tools and Techniques 3. Computer Science Fundamentals 4. Design 5. Marketing 6. Business Fundamentals 7. Strategy 8. Communication

I believe all of these are elemental to being a successful software developer in 2019. Machine learning is eating conventional software development from the inside out and conventional software development will eventually be mostly obsolete. Like many developers, I'm transitioning to this field to stay ahead of these upcoming changes.

Our jobs as software developers (and increasingly machine learning engineers and data scientists) demand superior communication skills and reasoning. Since the ultimate goal of most software today is to be sold for a profit an impactful area of study is business and marketing. Understanding how to structure software to best serve business goals means understanding the ecosystem that the creation lives in. Finally, the ultimate consumers of software and machine learning models are rarely technical and solid design skills are a good complement to a solid technical foundation.

Staying current and moving ahead in all of these areas of study takes at least four hours a day.


I appreciate the apparent effort you put into this post, but man there are a lot of fluff words in there. You inadvertently pegged my BS meter, even if you hadn't used "impactful." Ha!

I wish you nothing but success and hope your plan works out for you.


Everyone has a separate set of trigger words or phrases, I don't take offense.

As a side note, the phrase that machine learning is eating conventional software development might sound cringeworthy given how ML/AI is commonly portrayed by the media but it's the same description provided by Kunle Olukotun at NeurIPS (I was there when he delivered that talk).


I second what the previous guy said - what could you possibly be spending 4 hours daily on?

Anyone who claims to be current and moving ahead in all 8 of those areas would immediately set off red flags and signal to me that they definitely aren't current in all those areas.


I would argue that I'm current on the machine learning and practical software development side and minimally current on the others and improving.

To offer some background, on the machine learning side I've built and deployed over one hundred models using nearly every major machine learning technique available today. To stay sharp I actively compete in Kaggle and other competitions (and have won a few small competitions) and have attended over six large ML conferences over the past two years. I actively read through every major published book on machine learning and nearly an entire bookshelf dedicated to the practice. These books, as well as MOOCs contribute to the majority of my reinvestment time on this side. I turn around and directly apply this information to competitions and paid projects to help it stick. I also read through as many ML papers as I can budget time for. Arxiv Sanity Preserver is a great resource here (http://www.arxiv-sanity.com/).

On the software development side I've built and deployed over a hundred websites products and services in half a dozen languages over the last twenty years for clients or my own business. I subscribe to a litany of aggregators over python, c#, and javascript news and use that information to identify trends to focus on for the practical side. Outside of side projects to gain practice these skills I also use pluralsight, developer conferences, and (less frequently now) books to stay current on this side - which contribute to time against this daily.

On the computer science side I have a large collection of classic books I'm working through and rereading. Everything from the Intro to Algorithms to SICP. I'm currently on my second pass through MIT's 6.006 and 6.851. Much love for Erik Demaine. I own a collection of CS puzzle books including Cracking the Coding Interview and my wife tortures me weekly with dynamic programming puzzles on a whiteboard we have to keep sharp. Similarly, I also tackle LC and HR puzzles on a weekly basis.

On the marketing side I've managed a significant of marketing spend for clients and my own projects through every major marketing platform except facebook. Through this I've developed a skillset around split and multivariate testing. I've also run literally hundreds of marketing experiments to gain experience and understanding. I actively manage paid and organic marketing efforts for an array of projects which provides an additional impetus to stay current. To that end, I subscribe to a number of marketing news aggregators and I'm reading through every major marketing classic I can find. I've had more trouble finding good information on this side compared to other areas.

On the design side I'm currently taking courses through Kadenze and own every a large collection of design classics that I've been reading through. Everything from universal principles of design (strongly recommend) to the design of everyday things. Beyond thoughtful practical application of these skills in hundreds of websites and apps I've also exhibited artwork.

It's a similar story for the remaining areas. Mostly paid courses, conferences, and classic textbooks (I budget about 20k a year for these resources). I also use Anki for remembering important concepts.

I've been at this (reinvesting continuously in all of these areas) for over ten years and averaging 15-20 hours per week of dedicated reinvestment with nearly no breaks for at least the past three years.


Man, you sound like you need a big fat blunt. There is more to life than what you are describing here. Do you have any hobbies?


What is your end goal?

C-level executive? Having your own start up? Retire early? Researcher who goes to a lot of conferences and applies state of the art techniques to solve problems?

Sounds like most of the things you are working on are just making you a more efficient cog in large organizations. But in terms of compensation, sounds like the skills you are pursuing will have diminishing returns for increasing your compensation, with out a clear goal and road map for where you want to end up.


Most people (me included) reading this think it's insane. I'm glad it works for you and makes you happy (does it?). I'm sure some pointy haired boss would love you.

TBH, if you said all this to me in an interview or cover email, I'd pass you over and maybe keep your email so I could show it to people at the pub after work for a laugh. I'm not trying to be mean, but maybe you're so deep in this that you haven't heard how it might be perceived?

You may think this is due to some buried jealousy at your ability to keep this up, but I promise you it's not. I'm thankful for the time I spent all day/night learning what I know, but I'm thankful for it because it lets me not spend the rest of my life in that cycle.


Are you doing this for personal growth/satisfaction/enrichment? If so, more power to you. I'm personally more inclined to read a (non textbook) book or watch sports during my free time, but if that's what you enjoy then good for you.

Or are you doing this to maximize earning potential? If so, to me (maybe not to you) that's wasted time, unless you're banking over (arbitrary figure) something like $750,000 or more yearly.


I think 8 subjects is too much too make any meaningful progress. I have 2x 30 minutes when I'm on the train, and that's just too little to study anything worthwhile. I mean, I can read a novel in three days, but anything involving math costs me about 1 hour to get into before I can really learn something.


Can you give a couple of concrete examples when you claim machine learning is 'eating conventional software development from the inside out'?


See the first six slides here: https://media.neurips.cc/Conferences/NIPS2018/Slides/Olukotu...

This is not my phrasing but as someone that's deployed several models in production that have replaced existing conventionally written and maintained areas of code I believe it.

The significance is the ability for machine learning to displace traditional software development is small but growing and there's no real practical limit.


Thanks, I've seen Karpathy's core argument before and to be honest, I don't buy it. Throwing everything at neural networks and forgetting all domain understanding (sometimes developed over centuries) just doesn't feel right. They can be good at certain use cases, certainly, but the eating argument is going too far and just seems like lazy justification of his own research area.


I think they're on the money with the dedicating a few hours a day to study/productivity outside of work - I just can't imagine doing it for the same thing I'm already getting paid for anymore. If they're really into programming/dev studies though it's totally fine but it feels like a recipe for burnout.

A lot of people do feel bad if they waste their days just looking at Youtube or social media all night after work - I think a lot of people feel the guilt after the fact but never work to execute on it because its so easy to procrastinate/skip small commitments of studying.

When I was at a shitty job I hated that meant most of that study time went to side hustles and learning the local language to build my CV, but now that I'm free and in a good job it mostly goes toward trying out completely unconnected things like Piano or Chinese - as long as it's productive I'm fine. Playing around in new things that interest you half for fun is the best approach to not burn out I think.


> What could you possibly study four hours a day that would be worthwhile?

You're quite correct that ephemeral and arbitrary arcana makes up a HUGE portion of current applied knowledge in the software field.

But if I could study 8+ hours a day over decades, I'm willing to bet I couldn't exhaust the limits of language/platform independent applicable computer science and mathematics that's presently available, let alone keep up with any new developments. And that's before getting into domain-dependent specific issues and practices.


I realize that barefoot was speaking about studying things that are relevant to your job, but because you asked "what could you possible study for hours...that would be worthwhile", I'm going to say "study whatever interests you", regardless of it's relevance to your job. There are plenty of things worth studying for hours a day...as a hobby. I'm currently studying HAM radio & GIS systems.


Haha, yes, I recognise a lot of myself in this description. My previous job was a start-up and I was working maybe 8.30-6.30 most days with 20-30 minutes lunch and also working on open source software in the evenings (I still do the open source stuff and it's one of the few things I actually enjoy). I also attended regular exercise classes and the job came with crunch periods.

Despite switching jobs a year ago to an 8.45 - 5.30 schedule I'm now so burnt out I'm taking 4 months out and will probably try to change fields. Software is well renumerated but it's a gilded cage, I am under no illusions other people are better off or other jobs are without stress, but trying to be a good programmer has reduced me mentally and physically to the point I can't face the thought of working.


It really seems to depend on the company culture (which itself depends on the actual product) and office setup. E.g. I work remotely, spend time throughout the day relaxing and always done by 3pm and very well compensated


Lmao, this is just so absolutely ridiculous. Nobody needs to spend that long outside of work keeping yourself current... it's much more effective to just try to transition your actual work-work to being current and maybe spend a few hours here and there working on something interesting.

If your current job isn't keeping your skills up to date, you need to switch ASAP. But even if it's not and you can't switch... jesus, it doesn't take 20hr/week to learn some new stuff


I agree outside of software development. However, the only constant in our industry is change and that change demands continuous reinvestment. The only other way to grow is to focus on complementary skills with longer relevancy and that takes real time.

Your proposed alternative solutions to switch jobs or apply current skills at work (I'm assuming new skills or understanding) are common solutions used by many developers but ultimately have significant detrimental effects on companies both from very high industry churn rates as well as unnecessary application of new technologies by unskilled and inexperienced practitioners. These are as ubiquitous as they are bad and from a principled perspective I refuse to use them.


Well, you do whatever you think is best, however for me I am never going to be so loyal to an employer that I will spend 20hr/week outside of work making up for the lack of relevant tech I am encountering at work. And personally I wouldn't recommend that.


>A reasonable measure of what it takes to stay current and relevant in this industry is twenty hours of dedicated reinvestment per week.

Which industry is that exactly? Because it's sure not mine, and I'm a software engineer, which I thought was the default assumption here.


The guy is, assuming some normalcy, unhealthy. Maybe he's very young and still in the learning phase where you're eating up all your time learning, or maybe some physical/mental difference (Autism, etc). He's clearly never been burned out, and notice he budgets no time for social activities. Very unhealthy.


It's a challenging habit to start but not as difficult as you'd imagine to maintain. That said, I've met a number of other professionals that sustain similar schedules. I have an array of hobbies including flying, rock climbing, tennis, and traveling. I've never been diagnosed with any behavior or personality disorder and organize social time primarily around the weekends. I also hit the gym every day which helps a lot. I completely credit any success I've had to working out frequently.

I don't cast any judgement over developers not choosing to reinvest. I also think it's critical to know your limits and stay within them. I've been burned out several times throughout my career and know where my limits are.

I am however very certain that this industry rewards continued learning and with the right mindset it's very rewarding both in the short and long term.


>It's a challenging habit to start but not as difficult as you'd imagine to maintain.

The question is, why would you want to? I don't spend any time at all staying current on my own time. I stay current on my employer's time. That's part of what they pay me for. If they don't want to pay for it, then I'm finding a new employer.

Furthermore, I just have no idea where you come up with 20 hours per week. The kind of software I write just doesn't change anywhere near that fast, and I'm doing cutting-edge R&D! When I need to learn a new thing to do my job effectively, I go do research and learn whatever I need to. I don't, and see absolutely no reason to actively seek out new things to learn that I have no immediate plan to actually use.


>That said, I've met a number of other professionals that sustain similar schedules.

Have you really? I've worked for years, and I'm not sure I've met anyone fitting this description.


What the heck! This is how you fall into a deep despair of depression because you wake up one day and realize your greatest skill is leetcode and job hopping. 12 years in the industry, I can tell you that you'll be fine with zero grinding. Once you learn how to learn, you can pick up anything you want on your employer's time if you have your fundamentals down. You have a life outside of SE, live it.


This might be the least healthy comment I’ve read on HN


> A reasonable measure of what it takes to stay current and relevant in this industry is twenty hours of dedicated reinvestment per week.

That's insane - do we have statistics on people who do that?


For people advocate 10-hour days, it's possible that they are plagued by meetings/etc. so can only work efficiently during certain hours. If you look at the sum of high productive hours it could be just like you: 2-3 hours.

I think 3 hours of high productivity is maximum for me too, the thing is it is very difficult to reach really high productivity, so I can wrap up my work in maybe 4-5 hours writing SQL and report (exclude the meetings and break/etc.) and still have energy to write code in my spare time for around 1-2 hours. How and when to achieve high productivity and enter the flow are pretty random for me.

If you can reach high productivity for 3 straight hours a day I'd envy you, because you probably achieve more than people (like me) who work 5-6 hours in sub-prime conditions. I'd rather to work full of energy for 3 hours during the morning, take break in the afternoon, and come back for another 1-2 hours. Much more enjoyable.

BTW I found that useless meetings drain energy really FAST.


I know the science has been semi-debunked, but I can't help but feel that the idea that you start your day with a fixed number of attention units is real. Meetings use up a higher number of units, and, once gone, you don't get them back that day.


I don't know that either. I can be REALLY productive for 2-3 hours a day but rest is socializing with other devs, answering emails etc... I try to structure my day so that I learn some stuff in those 8 hours, do some personal stuff (pay bills, call doctor, arrange stuff after work). I am regarded as quite productive but sometimes I feel really bad for not putting 100% in all those 8 hours but I find it impossible. I have problems with my legs when i sit for long periods of time so I am must productive in the morning till 12:00 after that it just so I have enough hours clocked in


I think it's maybe partly that the jobs I've tended to work have no real socializing/email answering/meetings aspect. I've tried to get more onto that side just to preserve my sanity but it's been very much "go through tickets for 7-8 hours a day".

I can't remember the last time I needed to respond to an email.

And they've all been very different jobs/industries - consultancy, startup and large company. Maybe part of it is the tech (C# .NET) or the location (England) but from talking to my friends in the industry the experience seems to be similar.


Grass is greener...

I miss the days when I could just sit down in front of a program, and just program for 6+ hours out of the day. I did that when I worked for a small startup. I talked to a boss for 30 minutes to an hour sometimes, but otherwise I was left to myself to build software.

Right now I work as an Architect/Support/Developer combo, and it feels like I get nothing real done most days. I'll have meetings at random times throughout the day, half of them status meetings, I'll get pinged at random times in the day by the business side asking to look into various things (I maintain the phone systems for three call centers, and various things don't happen the way they expect and they need us to look into it...we used to have a dedicated support guy for this, but he quit and they won't replaced him, it's been six months now). And then I need to look into our codebase for any of seven different internal phone applications I'm responsible for, figure out how to add the new enhancement requested by the business, and then write precise instructions for our offshore dev team of else it won't be done correctly (might as well have done it myself, half the time).

There are some days in which outside of the meetings, I'll fix a couple of tickets requested by the business side, and then feel like I have no mental energy for anything else.

Every once in awhile I get a taste of what it used to be like when I was productive when I work on projects at home, but even that has lots of distractions between my spouse and attention seeking dogs. I don't mind those distractions quite as much though. Usually. :)

I probably should find a small developer to work for again, where I can just be expected to code, but at my age I'm almost afraid to do that, since I know ageism is going to start limiting the dev jobs I can get before too much longer, and I could make a lot more money just embracing the management roles....but my brain wants to build cool things, not people.


I am working for a relatively small consultancy company. We are team of 5 programmers working on various small programs for government. It gets crazy coordinating between different people trying to get to know where to get data etc... I am changing to a pure backend java job next month. I can't wait to see how other programming jobs look like. (working at this consultancy is my 1st job as a programmer and I've been here for past 3 years)


I think you achieve a lot being really productive for 3 hours and it's kind of difficult to increase that amount because your brain is used to that amount already. It's pretty good if you can put another maybe 1-2 hours of study into it. I find exercising helps me to enter the flow more quickly, but not necessarily INCREASE the time. The total amount is probably defined by genes and health condition in general. I see people who can be high productive for 6-7 hours WITHOUT stop back in high school but that's rare.


I agree. Usually from 9 - 12:30 is my most productive time. Once lunch hits and I start socializing I am just not nearly as productive. I may get an hour or two or productivity in between 1 and 6pm but it's not nearly enough as in the morning. The worst is the last hour or two of the day. I've checked out and there's usually not much work so I end up just sitting idly browsing the internet.


Yeah, I also see this issue. It's made worse by Agile/Scrum that assumes during the planning poker meeting that every dev has 8 hours per day available of constant flow while the real value being maybe 5-6 if you're lucky so you end up cutting corners or burned out due to the stress of meeting the target velocity.


> planning poker meeting that every dev has 8 hours

You shouldn't be talking about hours at all. Points and team velocity help to account for all the overhead in a sprint. Once a team has a consistent velocity, they can talk about items in retro to speed up that velocity (drop a meeting, etc...).

I once had a manager who tried to break tasks down into 15 minute increments. There was a task that he argued was a 15 minute task. And yes, he was right assuming my computer was open, the right editor was up, the right project was pulled and up to date, the project was properly building, there were no updates to apply, and the list goes on.

Hours is just a bad way to plan. Unfortunately those who bill by hour are forced to plan that way.


Your planning system is bad. This was the original origin of using story points instead of days, because the designers of extreme programming found that the work of 1 "ideal day" (8 hours of uninterrupted productive coding) could be done in about 3 days.

And don't get me started on measuring velocity, especially across teams. Your environment sounds like its poisoned by middle management.


It's not my planning system but it was broken indeed even though they brought in a licensed scrum master as a consultant but he was more interested in running things the way middle managers wanted it as that guaranteed his job security.

Anyway, thank God I left, but from what I hear from other mates in the industry it's not better in other companies in my area since they're all run by middle managers.

Maybe it's a problem specific to Germany where managers are always right and their authority is unquestionable.


That's not specific to Germany. Middle managers are politicians inside a company. Their ultimate goal is almost always to accumulate power.


Agree. From the agile manifesto's principles [0]:

> Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

> Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

If either of these requirements are not met, you're not being agile.

[0] https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html


Not an inherent agile/scrum problem, we assume 6 hours availability per day during planning in my team


We assume 4 hrs, that not only accounts for meetings, breaks etc, but also allows people time to help each other with unscheduled support/help/discussion.


Which is still about 3 more than reality


Reading this makes me feel less bad, I tend to think I'm making excuses for myself and/or just being lazy. Especially because I also have to do some tech support stuff, side meetings, etc, while trying to work on (at least one) project simultaneously, the actual programming part suffers first.

Some days I just can't get the programming wheels turning, and a lot of the time it's just because I keep getting interrupted or can't focus with noise around me. God forbid I work from home when I have a hard deadline so interruptions are at a minimum...


Before leaving software, give freelancing / contracting a chance!

I’ve managed to get great clients for years+ working 20hrs/week. I’m briefly doing 40hrs/week right now and am definitely finding it draining!

One neat benefit of freelancing is that if you don’t feel like working, don’t! It’s a win win. You don’t work when you feel drained and the company doesn’t pay you for your least productive hours.

Best of luck!


> if you don’t feel like working, don’t! Man, I got bills to pay, gotta save up for retirement, save up for a house, my car is on it's last wheel. I can't just not work


For me, it tends to be "all or nothing". I may be totally obsessed by my project, from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. I want to see it working, or complete a last feature, or a cool refactoring. I agree it's draining and not healthy but I feel I don't get much done if I only work a few hours. Besides, sometimes it takes time to warm up, and I don't want to break the flow.

Alternatively, I can be disinterested and I will be slacking for some period of times, could be weeks. I would add some doc here and there, fix a few bugs, discuss with colleagues, learn about new techs. But then, I feel guilty and anxious and overall not happy.

I wish I was able to be motivated everyday, work 7 hours of productive work and call it a day.

I haven't found a working mode where I feel productive and motivated for long period of times.


I wish I could upvote you a hundred times. I get at most about 3 hours of intense concentration per day. The need to show constant progress on daily scrums is what made me quit my job recently.


It's very similar to me. Not only on a daily basis but sometimes even a week worth of nearly nothing and then a day worth a week.

The problem I see is that reducing working time per day doesn't necessarily keep the same productivity. If I'm 3 hours productive in a 7 hour workday, I won't spend 3 hours productively in a 5 hour workday. My productive time is mostly random.

For me the solution is not feeling guilty about slacking 50% of the time, because it's mostly normal, and having a manager that understands that. As a manager in the future I definitely want to keep this attitude and want to be understanding myself and protect my developers.

Also in a 1hour meeting that felt completely unproductive for you, you might make a single comment that turns out very productive for the project overall. And reading up on new tech or watching conference videos on YouTube might feel like slacking, but it also improves your worth to the company.


Is it only related to software development where you feel drained after doing something mental for an extended period of time?

For example, what if you play a complex video game that requires skillful choices and mental effort? You might be making split second decisions many thousands of times over an 8 hour time frame.

For me, it all boils down to being genuinely interested in what I'm doing (and you can't fake this). If it's a programming gig that I really enjoy, then I will want to do it from the moment I wake up until I goto sleep and this might be 16+ hours (with reasonable breaks for food, etc.) but there would be multiple productive 4+ hour stretches in that 1 day. The same could be said for a video game that I like.

If anything I feel less drained at the end of those programming sessions because it feels like you accomplished a lot, and you look forward to the next session (it's all positive feedback). It's almost like getting some type of runner's high, except for your mind.

I only find myself feeling drained when it feels like I have to force my way through the work. I have no idea how low level chemicals work in your brain but just based on personal experience I would guess it takes a lot more mental effort to do something you don't enjoy for many hours a day. If your day is filled with mostly negativity, that's going to be very draining. It's might be similar to how if you hang out with someone who does nothing but complain or has a negative spin on everything you end up feeling drained. I struggled with that for a long time (being the negative one). It helped to become mindful of these things so you can reprogram yourself and make decisions that avoid feeling that way.

Just based on what you wrote, you're saying you only work a few hours a day but then waste the rest of the day away in meetings and trying to look busy. I'm no psychologist but it sounds like you're spending a majority of your day in a stressful / negative mindset. It would really suck if you had to "fake work" for 4+ hours a day to look busy so you don't draw suspicion while also being constantly interrupted every time you try to start something. I'm 100% sure I would be drained if my work environment was the same as yours.


10 hour day would be great, because if I am already at work, it doesn't matter much if I stay for 8 or 10 hours. But I'd rather work 4 x 10 than 5 x 8. That one extra day would go a long way.


I find I tend to write bugs after around 7 hour's work, and during the first four, I can throw myself at a new task in a way that at the end of the day I'd be utterly incapable. I think shorter office days would benefit most mature developers. ( I say mature here because I've worked with people who only manage to get things done through many hours extended foot dragging and procrastination. If you can focus, short days can be beneficial. )


I feel the same. The problem is, companies use this heightened productivity to pile on more and more work. So I struggle to get things done, even on time, when I'm context switching a lot. Part of this context switching is self-distraction, part of it is work distraction.

People are known to not be good at gauging their actual work hours. So, when people say they work so much, I'd be skeptical of those claims.


Another phenomenon that makes most programmers unable to achieve flow state is technology diversity - brain can get into flow state only when one is using familiar tools - and than happens rarely, at least for me (I work on a project for 6-12 months and ten move to other and tools and main technologies aren't chosen by me usually).


Work on one project for 6-12 months? Sounds wonderful. Try context switching between 7 different application's codebases with different technology stacks / system architecture in a single iteration (well, sometimes just 3 or 4). Our department was eviscerated and software that had dedicated people on them all got put in my lap to maintain and support. I have to reboot in my head how each application works a couple times a week at least.


Yup, maybe 6-12 moths is wonderful comparing to what you have to deal with, but still not enough for me to get into flow. I consider myself average programmer, so in your environment I'd feel like in hell ;)


I used to only work on one project at a time at certain previous jobs. I really miss it. I felt a lot more productive then.


I'm not a full time developer but have to spend some days purely on dev work(literally programming from 9 to 6). It is extremely mentally draining,yet rewarding.In any other field, with such a level of business value created, would result in compensation being many times higher than any developer would ever make...


I've begun to think most software engineering should be done remotely. Easier to get into a flow state, no need to look busy, and you can work at times when you are most focused. I transitioned to full time remote, and routinely work 5 hour days, and get more done than when I was working 8-10 hr days


Or we just need better offices. I hate working from home and don't want to have to rent a separate office space on my own dime. Luckily for me I work somewhere where I have a real office (with a door!) and no one cares in the slightest when I come and go or whether I look busy when I'm there.

If you like remote work, that's cool, but your complaints are with shitty offices, not something inherent to onsite vs. remote work.


> I hate working from home

Why do you hate working from home? I hate working in an office and will never do it again.

> and don't want to have to rent a separate office space on my own dime.

Also, most companies will (and should) pay for remote workers to have an office outside of their house, if that's what they need. That's been my experience for the past 5 years anyways.

> your complaints are with shitty offices, not something inherent to onsite vs. remote work.

For myself and many others I've read accounts from, it's so much more than a 'real office'. It means no commute, no office drama, being able to talk with my wife in person during the day, make my own lunch... For people passionate about remote, it's more than a specialized office, but a whole different way of working.


If you’re interested in the work it’s definitely possible to work more hours productively. But it’s not optimal. Maybe if employers escaped the gulag mentality and paid wages more proportional to value created it would make sense. But as is, any intelligent dev will find ways to minimize their output.


> It's my experience that at most 2-3 hours is productively spent, the rest is wasted.

That sounds about right for most workplaces I've been in, and it's probably a fairly sustainable pace for work that requires careful thought and concentration.

I remember reading about a consultant who advised struggling graduate students to spend no more than 18 hours a week working on their dissertations; on this schedule most of them finished in 6 months or less.


Working in an enterprise environment, and currently working probably 8-9 hour days, I think I can shed some light on this.

All hours between 10 and 6 are basically unproductive hours, because they get taken up by useless meetings and interruptions.

Any extra hour I work outside of that time, is worth basically 3 or 4 inside it. So working 10 instead of 8 hours practically triples my output.


My experience has been highly variable. It's just my experience, I'm a pretty weird person and tend to be an outlier. But I do think the observation of the variable effect of different job situations in my life is pretty interesting.

I had a period of time where I worked entirely on my own "startup" for about 12 months. I worked nearly 7 days a week for (what I recall as) a lot of hours but I honestly don't know how many. This work was SO much fun. It was definitely still work but I don't think I've ever had more exhilaration than created and launching the projects I did in that year.

I then worked at a startup where we worked a solid 6 days a week for about 10 hours a day. That really consumed my life and wasn't very rewarding in my opinion. I learned a lot and made some really great connections to silicon valley investor types but the job consumed so much of my life and the startup wasn't successful at all.

The next stage in my life was the time I coded the most. I worked for one of the huge silicon valley software companies and they fostered a good work-life balance for the employees. We generally worked 8 hour days and no weekends ever. Also, the work environment was pleasant. I became good friends with my coworkers. I say that because I think that all contributed to the 8 hours not feeling extremely draining. I had a lot of energy left after work. During those two years I launched two websites in my spare time that were pretty heavy undertakings. I also dabbled in other projects. I worked a lot of nights and weekend on top of the corporate job. I could go several weeks without a single day off.

After that I worked at a startup for 2 years and another quasi-startup for 2 years after that. I really disliked both of those jobs and seemed to have very little drive to work on anything on my own time. I actually started playing and recording a lot more music in those years, even started a podcast. :)

I recently switched jobs to a larger company with an established app and it has a similar feel of the other big-corp job I held. Generally, I work 8 hour days, a little bit of weekend and night work but only around releases and deadlines. I also get along with the people in my office very well, it's fun to be at work.

I consider myself as an "emotional" developer. I kinda say it sarcastically but there is some truth to it. When I feel good about what I'm doing, I can lock in for many hours straight and it doesn't drain me that much.


I have similar experience as you, and what I concluded was that it was the 4-5 hours of looking busy that really made me tired, usually I was surfing the internet, switching to a new page every minute.

A better strategy is to work 15-30 minutes and then take a few minutes break where you meditate.


> you can get the work done very quickly and then have large periods of unproductive time.

Totally agree, but I've also worked in codebases where I spend a huge effort and don't get anywhere (these are usually codebases with dark corners which no one knows anything about).


I intentionally show up to work around 11 and leave around 4 or 5 precisely because I know I won't be productive for the full 8 and would prefer to use those last few hours to go climbing or workout, which helps to relieve stress and prepare me for the next day


Do you work remotely or in an office? I do about the same (9 to 3) but remotely, so the visibility of hours in an office is what I'd worry about, though I have no plans to work in an office.


exactly. pretending being busy 4-5 hours eats lot of energy. Also sometimes, you spend weeks doing nothing and then your idiot manager wants to deliver something quickly over weekend. what a waste of life. My biggest regret wasting limited time of life on these stupid things and people.


Let's reduce economics to its barest rudiments: I'm pretty sure a worker could buy a house and support a family in 1950 on a single, average 40 hour a week salary; this was probably also true even as late as 1970. How many workers in the modern economy can buy a house and support a family on 1/4 of a 40 hour a week salary?

Those "productivity" numbers are obviously cooking the books bullshit. Either that or they're not measuring the right things. If the bare rudiments; food, housing, family creation cost the same or more, but we claim productivity has increased because ... I dunno we can sit on our fat asses and watch netflix instead of going to a movie theater: that's not measuring the right things.

Edit add: even assuming all the productivity gains have only benefitted, say, the top 10%, you'd see more people who could buy a house and make a family working 10 hours a week.


In 1950 the average new home was 983 square feet and the average household 3.8 people. Today it's 2500 square feet and 2.6 people. That's a 270% increase in home space per person.

And that doesn't even get into all the other ways that modern housing is fancier. Central A/C, attached garages, swimming pools, high ceilings, granite countertops, finished basements, more bathrooms, massively decreased fire risk, higher capacity electrical circuits, improved water heaters, builtin appliances.

Median home price in the US is $123/square foot. To house a family of four, under 1950s standards costs about $125,000 in America today. That's easily affordable to a single earner at the median full-time wage of $45,000/year.

I'm not saying that housing policy doesn't artificially inflate the price of housing. There are many easy reforms that would drastically increase affordability. Especially in high-priced metros. But to pretend like people in 1950 had it easier than today is just ignorant of the historical facts.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_... [2] https://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/the-righteous-small-house... [3] https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/average-price-per-square-...


That salary price is nowhere near the minimum wage in the US. $45,000 is around $21.63/hr. Although most places pay more than minimum wage, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.

Also, you'll be hard pressed to find a livable house for that cheap. The average price of a home in the US in 2019 is $226,800 [2].

The numbers just don't work. Most people can't afford a house right now.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_wage_in_the_United_S... [2] https://www.businessinsider.com/cost-to-buy-a-house-in-every...


> The average price of a home in the US in 2019 is $226,800

Yes, because the average home in America is 2000+ square feet. The OP explicitly made the comparison to 1950. And in 1950 the average home was 980 square feet. It'd be like me complaining that cars have become unaffordable because I decided to double the number of cars that my household owns.

You can easily find a 1950s size home for less than $125,000 almost anywhere in America. For example check out the Zillow listings for Omaha, Nebraska. There's a plethora of 2 bedroom/1 bathroom homes (typical 1950 sized house) priced around $100,000. (Many actually built in the 1950s.)

Omaha has the third lowest unemployment rate in the country, and Nebraska's educational system is ranked above average. If your benchmark is 1950, which entails a four-person family, a 1000 square foot house, a job, and decent schools, that's easily achievable today, unless you insist on living in a high cost metro like New York, San Francisco or Miami.

> Although most places pay more than minimum wage, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.

Only 2% of full-time workers make less than minimum wage. And of those ones that do the vast majority are under-25. Not exactly the typical 1950 head-of-household. You're trying to compare the poorest segment today to the upper-middle of 1950. You can't compare advertising executives from Mad Men to modern-day dishwashers, then declare that things have gone backwards.

If you do want to look at the poorest Americans, instead of the middle-class, then 1950 looks even more bleak. 25% of homes didn't have full plumbing. 15% didn't have a toilet. 20% didn't have electricity. A third of were heated with coal (which is filthy, unreliable and terrible for the respiratory system).

Without a doubt the bottom quartile of Americans had much much worse housing conditions in 1950 than today.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2016/home.htm [2] https://aceee.org/files/proceedings/2004/data/papers/SS04_Pa...


If productivity goes up but wages are flat, the productivity doesn't help the person who's being more productive.


It might if they also get compensation other than wages.


Have those not also been flat?


>I'm pretty sure a worker could buy a house and support a family in 1950 on a single, average 40 hour a week salary

The average family income in 1958 was $3300. Adjusting by CPI, that has the same buying power as $36,000 today.

https://census.gov/library/publications/1952/demo/p60-009.ht...

https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm


It's not a technological problem, it's a political problem. We could have automated things like solar energy production in the early 80s but the powers that be said no. We could have done similar things with mass transit, or organic farming, or wireless telecommunications, but that top 10% with all the money kept saying no. So here we are decades later still paying for the long term costs of technical debt in our economy.

The fallacy is looking at the sticker price of homes without considering the externalities. Planning and zoning put homes too far away from workplaces. Houses are still built of wood 2x4s instead of recycled materials. Heck, we still build homes mostly by hand. Not to mention that land prices are hyper inflated due to the age old power imbalance between land owners and plebeians.

We're basically living in the 1999 economy from the Matrix movies 20 years later. I think it's either going to take a mainstream movement towards some of the democratic socialism ideas from Europe or organizing on a mass scale to solve these problems. Unfortunately politicians and the elite will do everything in their power to stop real progress like that, until (like with solar) it becomes cheap enough that it can be rolled out without government incentives.


I don't disagree with you there are political problems, but this is a measurement problem.

>The fallacy is looking at the sticker price of homes without considering the externalities.

If productivity had truly quadrupled since 1950, it doesn't matter what the externalities of homes are; not even the fact that they're still made by hand. If it takes X worth of labor and materials to build a house at t0 and t1 and societal productivity has gone from y to 4y between t0 and t1, there should be some large fraction of the population at t1 who can afford a house on 1/4 of t0 hours. There isn't. You can't even say that modern houses are better in any sense than 1950s houses; they mostly are not (energy efficiency maybe; even that is dubious).

I think the thing we have to come to accept as a society is that productivity and efficiency increases are a mirage.


The interesting thing is that wages have remained stagnant as productivity has increased dramatically. Which means that our labor has been valued less over time. What needs to happen is that the work week shortens while the minimum wage increases in kind. Top execs need to be comfortable making less, as they are the only ones profiting off these productivity increases.


People need to start seeing the value of unions again.


Is this (wage stagnation) true for tech? It seems a special case.

I wonder what the exec-pay/wage/productivity growth charts look like if we exclude tech. (Less disparity? More? Less productivity?)


There is substantial wage stagnation in tech. I'm pretty sure average compensation hasn't really risen much in 20 years (50k-75k entry, 125k after 5 years, average dev peaks around 200k). This is while many of these developers are making the companies they work for millions in value. Of course there are outliers, and a lot of big blowout top-of-HN companies qualify, but the number of developers has grown substantially and thus diluted the income pool to largely maintain the status quo.

And it feels like there is an active campaign by tech companies to obfuscate that fact. That they can guilt trip developers into saying "well we are still getting paid better than most people being exploited by corporations for huge profits per worker!" as if that means they shouldn't argue for their fair share of the value they create.

Some developers should be paid millions because they are making millions for the company. Some should also therefor not even be employed because they aren't actually doing anything valuable - there are a lot of "developers" that snake their way into teams where they don't contribute functional or productive code and just manage to exist as a fixture of bureaucracy where the dozen layers of management over them don't understand what programming is or how to evaluate their performance so they just collect their 6 figure check as a trick of good fortune.

So there is a faction of developers who don't want to see greater pegging of their salaries to their value, the executives usually don't want to do it because underpaying your top talent is hugely profitable, and the productive devs that should be arguing to be paid according to the value they create are guilt tripped by everyone that they shouldn't. But that absolutely produces tremendous wage stagnation. Just because developers are fortunate to be in short enough supply to demand a higher base salary doesn't change the fact the only reason there is so much demand is because there is so much money to be made.


Maybe? I know I make about the same as my uncle did working for Ernst & Young (in DC) during the late 90s early 2000s.

However, neither of us were/are in development.


I think this is why tech companies and venture capitalists are investing in bootcamps. Take the Lambda school for example - it got funding from Peter Thiel, Geoff Lewis of Bedrock Capital, Google Ventures, GGV Capital, Vy Capital, and Y Combinator.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2019/01/08/how-lambd...


> Top execs need to be comfortable making less, as they are the only ones profiting off these productivity increases.

I know that would be the ideal world but... that's never going to happen under capitalism.

I'll die 50 times over before capitalists say "I have enough". While the world revolves around companies, it can't change. Companies have only one objective in mind: increase profits. There is literally zero incentive for anything to change, specially with more and more people in the world.

Edit: wording


We live in a global economy now. Like a billion people have been raised out of abject poverty. It's an absolute falsehood that only the top earners have prospered. The middle class is shrinking in the US, because they're moving up. We brought in millions and millions of foreign workers from impoverished countries, did their wages remain stagnant?


Executives live in a global economy. The rest of us might "operate" in one but we don't get to take advantage of that privilege the way the wealthy do. You are right, world wide poverty is on the decline. But given the choice between:

- better for 1 billion people

- worse for 2 billion people

- really outstandingly fantastic for 200 people

and

- really good for 5 billion people

- worse for 200 people

I know which way I'd lean in that spectrum.


It's slightly worse for white men in the West who had a historically unique period of prosperity immediately following WWII. It's still nominally better for them, it's just not relatively better compared to everyone else. It's better for women, it's better for minorities, it's better for immigrants, it's better for the billion people who escaped poverty since just 1990. What are the big complaints compared to 50 years ago? If you happen to live in some of the best places to live in all of human history it's harder to buy a house?


Unless I'm mistaken, the premise these arguments always seem to follow is, just because people in general have a better standard of living now than in the past we should ignore the following questions.

Why the majority of profits from productivity gains over the last 40 years have gone to a select few who are already wealthy?

Why the rate of increase of our standard of living hasn't been on par with the rate of productivity gains?


I don't believe those questions are genuine.

As a thought experiment... Let's assume for a moment that we both agree on these two points. First, that taxes, social safety nets, and regulations impact things like income and wealth inequality. Second, that income and wealth inequality was better 40 years ago. How many people are willing to turn back the clock on taxes, social programs, and regulations to what they were 40 years ago when we imagine that things were better? I've personally never met a single person who complains about wealth/income inequality who would take that deal.


What? Nobody is talking about turning the clock back. I honestly can't fathom where you are arguing from here. Your response comes across as the king of all strawmen. Go reread my second question. Standard of living is better now than 40 years ago. I don't know why you are assuming I think anything else. The point is to ask whether or not that increase in standard of living was at a rate that mirrors the increase in productivity. Just because things are better doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.


Well, what kinds of changes would you propose to do in order to attempt to reach this state where the increases in standards of living matched increases of productivity? Does it have anything to do with taxes, social programs, and regulation? Because I have a known historical set of of those things which led to outcomes that are at least closer to what you want than what we have now. Can we not recognize that the last 40 years of changes were a failure, so we should move back to the better state and then move forward from there again in the hopes of doing better this time? Or must we continue to add on to 40 years of failure?

Because if you're expressing a concern about wealth/income inequality, and you're not willing to try to recreate the state which created better wealth/income equality, then you seem dishonest. Frankly, it seems like you're speaking exactly in the reverse of your stated goals. You say you want equality and that taxes/regulation/social programs are the means. But you are acting the opposite, that taxes/regulation/social programs are the goal and that complaining about equality is the means.


> The middle class is shrinking in the US, because they're moving up.

This is only half the picture. The middle class is shrinking in the US, because some are moving up and some are moving down.


According to the US Census data, the percentage of households that are low income is smaller than ever.

https://fee.org/articles/why-our-shrinking-middle-class-is-a...


No, according to Mark J. Perry and FEE the percentage of households that are low income is smaller than ever, not the US Census data. This article cherry picked $35,000 as the middle to lower class threshold for a reason.

The Brookings Institute, "Our definition is a relative one, meaning that the thresholds pictured above will shift as the income distribution changes shape. If income rises across the distribution, so too will the thresholds that delimit middle-class incomes."

Long-running non-biased standard measures of middle-class do not agree with this article's definition of where the middle-class starts and ends:

https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/09/the-american-midd...

https://www.brookings.edu/who-are-the-middle-class/


> Only the top earners have prospered

This is actually a relative truth, absolute falsehood cannot exist. It's not absolute truth though.


I reduced my time at work to 80% at the beginning of July. Every Friday is my day now. This week I had to switch it up so today is my day off. It's 1pm and I have already worked out, ran some errands that had been bugging me and am now reading this in one of my favorite diners which I for some reason almost never found the time to go to before.

If you have the chance and it seems intriguing to you I encourage everyone to try it out. I guess not all workplaces support it in the same way as mine does, but it was possible for me to have a three month trial phase after which I can go back to 100% or decide to continue the 80% for a year. Maybe your workplace would be open for that but you just don't know!

Of course it's quite the pay cut, but as a developer with few obligations I can still manage quite well. I feel much more relaxed over all and I enjoy my work more when I'm there. It even subjectively feels like I'm getting more done at work. The weekend feels so much longer and relaxing, because stuff I normally do on the weekend often is already done.

One problem for me is that I tend to cram a lot into my Fridays. I feel like I have to use them to their full potential. Then when the weather doesn't work out or something else falls through I'm pretty bummed. But I think that is something that can be improved over time.


I would do this in a heartbeat. Life is too short to believe that we seriously need to spend 5/7 days working for our entire adult life, no matter the type of labor or how much you enjoy it. If you can live comfortably with 20% less income, do it. Money ain't everything.


This sounds awesome. I'm held back a bit, I have always been warned against working less than a full workweek, since it would presumely substantially harm my (European) retirement build-up (unless I would make a lot more money than I currently do). I have never investigated yet, but would before cutting working hours.


I did the same thing a few years ago, moving to a Mon-Thu working week, taking a 20% pay cut in the process - I'm so glad I did this, and I wouldn't want to go back to a 5-day week.

I get more time for family, side projects and me - and yet I honestly don't think my productivity dropped!


It's certainly something I'd love to trial. I think most people probably look at their take home pay and imagine that taking 20% off of that figure would be a big cut. In the UK at least, as a higher-rate tax payer (40% tax) it wouldn't be nearly as bad as that seems.

At the moment we're looking at nursery for our 7 month old 2 days per week. If instead I could work 4 days a week it would be a wash financially. I'd get the benefits of spending more time with her but obviously looking after a < 1 year old isn't 'a day off' by any stretch.


I work 60% now. Instead of having two days off each week I've opted to work 4.5h each day. I can only focus intensely for about 4h each day on coding, so this works out well.

It's always been this way for me and to get to 8 hours I'd go through the logs each day (important, but not taxing at all and something better left to an intern most of the time) and attend much more meetings (low intensity but 90% of them were completely pointless) as well as take more breaks for stuff like hn.

I'd guess that I'm producing about 90% of the value I used to, but putting in way less hours. This isn't a bad deal for my employer, I think.

The pay cut kind of sucks, but I'm still making the national median salary because developers are paid so generously.

A lot of people opt to take whole days off, when they work less hours, but I find this arrangement works much better for me. It gives me more time for hobbies, friends and family, working out, eating healthy etc in the day-to-day.


I’m aiming to get a remote job and say I’m working full time but actually do this. As you say, if you give these hours the employer gets a fantastic deal. My strength has always been the speed I can work at and I’d love to swap the time I spend looking busy with free time and a bit of Slack monitoring.


Yep, exactly what I do currently


I work 80%. Maybe I will lower it to 60% eventually as well :)


Where do you work that gives you this option if you don't mind sharing a little more?


Not OP but I have a similar workstyle: I work half-time for one client (remotely), 4 hours a week for another (also remotely) and occasionally take side gigs like teaching or something. The remote work is mostly in Norway, I live in Poland, so the pay cut is not noticable – the fact that "I could be making twice as much if I worked “normally”" is something that always is in the back of my head, but is somewhat dimished by the fact that I still make more than a typical fulltime salary would net me here in Poland.

Being a contractor in a niche technology (in my case it's Perl) is great for this, because the companies involved can't really say "work more or we'll find someone else" – we both know that they won't ;) Also, beyond 4-5 hours a day my (and afaik everyone else's) productivity is diminishing anyway, so it's not like they're losing much because of it.


In-house product development of a SaaS platform. You can check out it out at ardoq.com.

The company is imo a great place to work, but this is also in Norway where it's pretty common for people (usually older ones, though) to work 80 or 60%. That probably made this a lot more likely to happen.

I'll add that there was some fear that everyone else would want the same arrangement and that we'd suddenly only have devs working part time, but nobody else has expressed any interest in this. Different strokes for different folks...


not OP too but I'd love to add an extra case: I work 3.5 days/week. I asked my boss after 14 years of work there if I could reduce my working time, given the fact that I think family time is more important. It went well and I suppose it's also thanks to the effort I put into my job daily.

Dunno if you're interested in the whole process, but I documented it on a blog post in case someone is after the same solution (https://givemethechills.com/why-did-i-start-working-part-tim... )

BTW I first got the idea right here on HN and the good thing is that I think, as developers, we have one of the best jobs that allows reducing our working time.

To improve it even further I'd love to do this kind of work entirely remote, thus givin me some extra time to spend with my family and removing the commute. That'd be the max :) I can't ask for this now because we're not a remote company and I know for sure that if the company is not fully remote I'm gonna fail badly (mostly because I'll be the only one doing it ).

In any case, after doing it for many years I can say that it's amazing and I love it


I work 70% (5.6 hr/day) at SAP in Germany. I made it a condition when they hired me. In the meantime, many team members have switched from full-time to 80% to have Fridays off to spend time with their family.


Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem - how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

Yet there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.

-- John Maynard Keynes

http://www.econ.yale.edu/smith/econ116a/keynes1.pdf


Perhaps if we were not handing over most of the productivity gains of society to CEOs, the rest of us would not need to work so many hours. https://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-compensation-2018/


What really gets me about this as a sometimes-entrepreneur, is that management is not even taking personal risks. Besides narrow cases of torts and their need to have fiduciary duties, they are no different from other staff workers.


I think many people would work less if they could afford to. But we're not getting paid for all this extra productivity[1].

[1]: https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/10/03/us-wages...


Ah yes, Tim Worstall. Every time I read one of his articles I end up thinking, "He touched on this important related aspect of his topic but then failed to actually detail how it impacts his claim, both for and against." I this article, he mentions "total compensation" includes benefits and suggests that those benefits somehow make up the missing wages. From a pure numbers perspective, the increase in benefits is an increase in total compensation. But it doesn't call out that most of those "missing wages" have been absorbed into handle rising healthcare costs. The people who are receiving these "increased benefits" haven't received anything other than the same healthcare but now they pay more for it.


Something like 30 hours a week, 4 days a week cant come soon enough.

Right now I work 40-45, 5 days a week and it feels like all I do is work and chores.


30 hours a day seems quite extreme to me.


Well for starters, looking at the charts in the link 30 hours is still much more productive than the 40hr 1975 worker.

As a programmer I'm not doing focused programming for any more than 30 hours a week anyway


He was joking because you said 30 hours a day


Ah, I completely misread it both times.


You might be productive, but you can't produce 6 hours a day from nothing.


——

For immediate release.

CERN is proud to announce it will resume LHC operations shortly after a major system sensitivity upgrade and is poised to launch a new set of tests on behalf of their corporate donors.

This year marks the first time scientists will seek proof of the (not-yet-)theorized “anti-second”.

According to the head of the program, Dr. Ismadeup:

“When the efforts of our labors are successful, the rules of physics will fundamentally change! This discovery will allow corporate taskmasters and mindful spouses to extract even more productivity from those under their sway.”

Athletic organizations, alcohol distributors, and adult media companies are eagerly awaiting the commercialization of any resulting technological enhancements derived from the research.


Finally I can ditch the portable black hole I was using for work hour dilatation.


Clearly, a week was meant here


Two questions

Are many companies offering 4 day weeks? I’d guess yes.

Can people afford to live off a 4 day week salary? I’d guess no in general.


Offering 4-day weeks: Do you see this often? Just curious -- I feel like it's rare, so my guess would be the opposite. (I do know several people that work 4 10hr days as machinists or window installers).

My intuition is also the opposite of yours on affordability :), at least in tech...


I live in a country I where yeah it’s common enough (let assume for good workers not borderline ones) but we’re not paid as highly as the US, so supporting a family on a 4 day senior dev salary is a push unless you end got a paid off house.


The US system's structure penalizes companies for hiring workers between 20-40 hours. Any company that doesn't rely on flexible <20 hour employees or salary + forced-overtime is basically throwing money away.

edit oops- <20..


Can you elaborate on why? Is this a tax related thing? Or benefits related?


Tax code relating to benefits and labor laws (which kind of assume the environment encouraged by the tax code.)

As an example, benefits have fairness tests between highest and lowest paid employees. Fail those tests and the benefits are taxed, possibly as normal income. Companies find tricks to get people out of the group of normal employees under the IRS rules to beat these tests.


The possibility to work part time with pro-rata pay is mandated by law in some countries under certain conditions (15+ employees,...) (i.e. Germany).


I would be more than happy to work 1 day per week and live with 20% of my current salary.

I believe a lot of people can accept 80% salary for 4 days per week.


My previous company allowed people to work 4 days for 80% pay. Out of 60 people, 3 people took advantage of that.


Probably because opportunity for advancement becomes nil when you're not "all in."


I'm curious. Could you by any chance know some reason behind this? Is the salary not sufficient for the zone, or people do enjoy working, or they just simply think they would be bored as they take it?


Which company? Whenever I offered to work 60% of the time for 50% of the money I was flat out rejected.


Mandate 4 day weeks and see if salaries go down. I would guess not as companies still need to keep their workforce.


What about those of us who want to work more than four days?


Some people work 6-7 days a week already. So if they're working under that arrangement now, it will probably be fine for them to work more than mandatory hours in the future also.


Personal anecdota: it definitely seems like a huge part of the people in my city (Zurich) are working 80% (4-day week for 80% pay).


>>Are many companies offering 4 day weeks? I’d guess yes.

Uh, probably not. Unless you mean part-time work. Or 10 hour days.


i guess the idea is, considering how much worker productivity has improved over the decades, even working 4 days a week, one should still be able to survive just fine (at least that is my interpretation)


Cost of living increases almost every year. Value of money decreases somewhat from inflation. Worker salaries have not been increasing on pace with inflation, much less cost of living increases, since oh... the Reagan years.

What has increased dramatically since the Reagan years is executive pay and wealth of top 1%. What has also increased is consumer debt, particularly during the Clinton years. At the same time that consumer debt was increasing, interest rates (for consumers, not the prime rate) were climbing quickly to their legal limits. Also, those legal limits were occasionally being increased.

Yes consumers are consuming more stuff, and yes most of that extra consumption is rather wasteful and provides decreasing benefit in terms of quality of life or happiness. But the rate of some consumption is going down. Modern computers, TVs, and even mobile phones now can do so much more than most users need that there is less and less reason to upgrade frequently. Buying a new car every couple of years is a great way to waste money. But generally speaking, "the people" aren't living larger than they did 20-30 years ago.

There's very little doubt that the vast majority of the value of the increased productivity output has gone to the top 1%. That's factually visible even without exposing the many sources of hidden offshore wealth that is sometimes estimated to be multiple times larger than the known wealth.


People aren’t motivated because work is an endless treadmill. Financial independence a roll of the loaded startup dice.

The British model of a financialised economy doesn’t work for the many. Just the rich, like YC VCs.

All the questioning “how do you stay motivated “. By retaining your surplus value.


you're going to get downvoted the all the protestant work ethic people that think labor is virtuous per se - "an honest day's work is reward in and of itself" type thing (forgetting or conveniently omitting that these values/virtues were defined by capital not labor). I agree with you and many more would too if they didn't see themselves as "temporarily aggrieved millionaires".


As Iain Banks put it his The Culture universe, "money is a sign of poverty". We're hopefully still in the tricky beginning of a transition phase to a post-scarcity civilization. Just need that fusion reactor to start with...


The number of times this topic has come up on HN recently is really surprising. It seems 1 or 2 posts on this topic hit the front page just about every day. I run a newsletter and job board called 30 Hour Jobs [1] – I started the project about 6 months ago and it seems like my timing couldn't have been any better.

Usually, I try not to shamelessly plug my own projects too often but I can't help but share it in the comments when the topic is so relevant!

[1] https://30hourjobs.com


Unfortunately, the mid-noughts vintage of this page is showing. After about 2010, productivity growth has not kept up with the page's 1.7% estimate (https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/fredgraph.png?g=oGgn).

Also, this page neglects the influence of heterogeneous productivity changes. Some fields don't experience the same kind of productivity growth that we've seen in manufacturing (and services aided by technology); for example a doctor now is not seeing four times as many patients as a doctor in 1940. A barber now is not cutting the hair of four people at once.

You can't productivity-gain your way out of the costs of dedicated attention from individuals.


> The conclusion is inescapable: if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.

The logical conclusion from this seems to me to be "productivity doesn't mean anything". If we all have four times as much stuff as in 1950 (rather than working fewer hours) then where is it? Obviously there have been a lot of amazing technological developments since the fifties but most of them aren't that expensive: if you sold your computer/phone/etc. you wouldn't be four times richer.


My work/life balance has changed a lot in the last 5 or so years. I've done all of the above (in chronological order):

FTE 100% in the office FTE 100% remote (same company, living in the same city) FT Contract on-site plus consulting FT Contract on-site minus consulting FTE 100% remote (HQ 4-5 hour drive away, quarterly-ish visits) FTE 100% on-site FTE* "wherever" plus 10-15 hours/wk consulting

Right now I'm a FTE at one place where I probably _actually_ spend about 35 hours/week working and then I am on monthly retainer for my old employer (through my consulting corp).

I wake up before 6 most mornings and either put in a few consulting hours or go do crossfit. Then 9-noonish I try and be productive at my full-time job. I usually a long lunch/run errands after that, and then a couple more hours for the full-time job in the afternoon. I'm usually done working by 4:30 or 5pm and then it's time to either cook or go to the in-laws or order food depending on how I feel (I'm the cook and we're a family of 6).

I have found the variety of doing multiple jobs keeps me much more productive in general, because I can basically work on what I want whenever I'm motivated to. The end of the month/sprint can be rough sometimes if I have procrastinated (or just not felt motivated at one job or the other), but every month when I get a check in the mail I feel freshly motivated haha.


Someone wrote here about whether 3 hours or so out of 8 being productive "is not just peculiar to software work.

There's an old post from a photographer blogger and funny guy if somewhat controversial [1]:

> The Two-Hour Rule is a law of American business which states that "no salaried employee, employed by a business to work in an office, may exceed two hours of actual work in any business day."

> The Two-Hour Rule does not apply to government workers (police, fire, military, libraries, public works, etc.), independent contractors, services billed hourly or apply outside the USA. I'll cover these at the end. The Two-Hour Rule applies to people working at government subcontractors because they are businesses.

> The Two-Hour Rule was created to ensure that American business thrived on efficiency, not on dumb hard work, so that Americans could enjoy the lives they had earned."

https://www.kenrockwell.com/business/two-hour-rule.htm

[1] Naive amateurs with religious feels about photography and its "rules" tend to hate him, for such advice as "just shoot JPEG" (as if shooting RAW, and squeezing that extra quality is not a tradeoff of file size/storage/post processing, but a holy duty of everyone who photographs, even if it's just BS family/travel/pet pics nobody would ever really care about - not even the family/pet).


I was an avid reader of his blog, but never read that. Genius.

On the footnote: reading his advice over and over again made me a better photographer. I still shoot RAW, as I like editing, but his advice on just sticking with AUTO is what made me far more productive rather that fiddling with trying to get the best shutter speed/aperture.


this fits in really well with https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-... , thanks for sharing, I think it's very useful to get these alternate perspectives on the corporate grind


I want to note that there's something that has been rarely mentioned in these threads and I wonder why: longer education time (and earlier retirement).

On my parents generation a small percentage of people went to university, and on my grandparents generation most people started working on their early teens (post-war, I'm from Spain). In contrast, today having an undergraduate degree is very common, and a master or even doctorate is no rare. This makes a 10-15 year difference of no-work time to our lives, which is ~1/4th of our work lives. Where before we were expected to work from 16 to 66 years old (~50 years), now we are expected to work from 22 years old to 62 years old (40 years).

Only this is a reduction of work by 20%, or a full work day.

To add on top of that, our life expectancy has been increasing in all developed countries (except, USA). While this does not take away work time, it does add leisure time to our lives.

To be clear, I agree with the article and sentiment here and we should be working shorter weeks. Only wanted to note this since many people seem to ignore it when discussing work week.


It's a little odd that the link doesn't mention that average working hours has in fact gone down over time in the United States, from 1989 hours over a year in 1950 to 1,757 hours in 2017[0]. That's a decrease of roughly 12%. Not as much as if all of productivity increases had gone into increasing leisure, but I'm not sure you'd expect that to have happened.

This trend seems fairly robust across countries and extending even further back in time. The average work week in the USA was 62 hours in 1870, and was 40.25 hours in 2000, a decline of 29% [1].

My suspicion is that this actually understates the increase in leisure time, as many household chores are presumably easier due to modern tech.

[0]: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/AVHWPEUSA065NRUG

[1]: https://ourworldindata.org/working-hours#the-decline-of-work...


Tech actually seems really optimal for this.

I get assigned a 8 hour task. I spend 4 hours trying to get it done in 4 hours. The next time I get the same task, it takes 4 hours. I can optimize it even further if it happens a lot, get it done in 10 minutes.

I can 'siphon off' time this way, lowering estimates a little, cutting time spent by a lot, then basically reinvesting the saved time into rest or productivity. The other day we had a meeting; I got all the work done before the meeting ended then waited an hour before showing the result.

There are lots of tricks, like figuring out keyboard shortcuts, IDE plugins, or simply refactoring staging/production builds into a single button. It's surprising how much mental effort and time a shortcut like CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + F saves.

The long term goal is to be so productive that I can probably negotiate a shorter work week or more vacation days instead of a raise, as I already get paid a comfortable amount.


You can absolutely do that to a huge extent, but good luck actually capturing the productivity gains as an employee. You won't be rewarded with shorter days or salary increases, certainly not in proportion to your productivity increases.

At best, you can use the siphoned off time for learning new things, or networking your way into management.

Employers don't value that kind of thing, possibly because although it increases your efficiency, it also leads to a complicated, brittle environment that is difficult to scale to many employees, and staff that are less interchange and harder to replace.


“Productivity” means something very different for assembly line workers than it does for retail workers. As productivity has improved over time, we actually have seen the expected reduction of hours, but it varies by occupation. A much smaller number of people work in manufacturing now, while the ranks of retail and white collar workers have grown. People are moving towards occupations where “productivity” is harder to gauge and not necessarily the most important metric at all times. The increase in productivity in some sectors and the migration of workers to new sectors are broadly related, too, since the former requires technological advance, which is the result of cognitive work and creates more need for white collar and cognitive work.


We should be having official 4 hour workdays. State mandated.

We can only do about four hours of solid work. There’s really no tricks to productivity. Just trying to mask fatigue, I suppose.

But me? I don’t do any real work until after lunch. Maybe a meeting, to manage my managers, of course.

I learned this just in recent years tho. Before that, I was as neurotic as anyone.


Working fewer hours is absolutely required as a practice of degrowth to reduce CO2 emissions and limit ecosystem damage.


Do you know why work is so much more productive? Because so much is automated away, and relies on machines. Each and every worker works using lots of machines. Of course, the more machines you can make work the more productivity you have.

When a large part of your work can't be delegated to machines, for instance nursing a baby, talking to people face to face, etc (mostly "human relations" things) then your productivity can't augment as much. This is also why "human work" earns less than "things work".

Do you know what machines use to work? Energy. In the end, energy availability is the ultimate constraint. Good old thermodynamics. Why can't anything grow forever (and surely not GDP)? because of available energy, and thermodynamics.


Sure, productivity is rising. But how much are healthcare and education costs rising? And how does that compare to this rise in productivity?

Until those two pieces get solved, productivity gains don't matter since everyone needs to produce/earn more to just get those basic needs fulfilled.


> Sure, productivity is rising. But how much are healthcare and education costs rising?

But wait, part of the problem is that productivity growth has effectively decoupled from wage growth since the 70s (in the US, maybe the UK, and similar but not as drastic trends in other comparable Western countries). I find it odd that the article barely even mentions it in passing.


Are healthcare and education demponstrably multiple times better than in the 1950s?

Are lifespans multiples of what they were in the 1950s? Are college graduates multiple times more intelligent than they were in the 1950s? Is housing multiple times better than what it was in the 1950s?

Or are all these gatekeeping functions capturing rents?


What is productivity?


For some things it’s easy to measure: eg how much wheat is produced per hour of farm labor.

Some easy to measure things don’t rise and it’s easy to see why, e.g. how many students does one teacher teach in a given day.

Productivity in the aggregate is “the gross national” product and is calculated by the bureau of statistics. This is divided by the total number of hours worked.

Must be a very big spreadsheet. :)


GDP per labour hour.


I do a three day week with a corresponding pay cut. Incidentally, this puts me in the same position, time-wise, as women returning from maternity leave, so the shorter hours don't mark me out particularly. My co-workers are fine with it, and if a surge is needed, I can work longer weeks and accrue Time Off In Lieu. There is no way that I would go back to a routine five day week.

I'm doing this to prep for the more significant transition of fully retiring, so that I don't hit the cliff edge of going from full-time to nothing. Stopping work is still going to be a bit of a shock, but I genuinely feel part-time working is helping me to prepare for inevitable retirement.


Interestingly we did a survey such as this on our massive danish government and it turns out that since the 1950s there has been a 0% productivity increase, the wages have however followed increases in the private sector.


As a good tip, in order to keep my workweek short, I try not to work on Wednesday and Friday, and of course, on the week end.

This means I try to work 3 days a week only. I usually can do it pretty much easily.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: