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On working too hard: finding balance, and lessons learned from others (lawrencejones.dev)
174 points by lawrjone 20 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 93 comments

A friend of mine who fell for the "work hard forever" idea just wrote a lengthy post venting about what this did to her: when you spend all your free time working/studying, and constantly turn down invitations to go do stuff with friends, people stop inviting you to things. And you drift out of friend groups because of this. Your social skills atrophy, you have no idea how to try and make new friends on the rare occasions you pry yourself away from work. Work becomes your life. And even if your work is something you love to do, that never involves a toxic workplace or moral qualms or any other problems, there's still emotional needs work will never, ever fulfill.


“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them - work, family, health, friends and spirit - and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls - family, health, friends and spirit - are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life." —- Bryan Dyson, then the President and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, delivering a commencement speech at Georgia Tech

I hear more about the American hatred of redemption in that speech than the harmability of oneself from overwork.

A person that has truly amended his relationships seems to have stronger ones than one who always had ‘fine’ ones, in many cases.

Scrooge may not have become as beloved and loving a person without his repentance journey.

> A person that has truly amended his relationships seems to have stronger ones than one who always had ‘fine’ ones, in many cases.

And in many cases, there is no amending anymore, cause other people got enough of it and trully moved on.And in even more cases, those seemingly strong relationships are actually noticeably damaged forever. They seem good because they are shelfes hanging together by sheer effort and often only out of inertia.

No matter how repetant you are, you cant unhurt other people. Repetance is about you, but they in the meantime made own decisions.

And if your plan from the start was to be repetant later to get back things you decided to sacrifice, it is smart from them to not accept it.

American hatred of redemption? [Citation needed] for sure.

Relationships can survive a lot, but not every relationship can survive a lot, and sure there may be relationships that survive a lot of neglect but including those means you're falling for survivorship bias.

A child that hasn't seen her parent in the formative years of childhood because they were too busy at work isn't going to be able to relate to her parent the same as a child who was able to. I see that with some of my acquaintances and their relationship with their father.

Friends and family bounce back as well. As you get more free time you go out and get new friends, or you contact your family or old friends again. The only problem is health, you don't really get that back easily.

Of course it is harder to get them back than the keep them constant, but the same applies to jobs as well, the longer you have been without a job the harder it is to get back, but it is still not that hard.

Elderly family members might die before you retire. Spending time with your child when they are all grown up won't make up for missing out on their formative years.

Friends and family don't bounce back though, you need to repair them, glue them back together etc..

There's a difference between working hard with balance and working hard to the point of excluding everything else in life.

> when you spend all your free time working/studying, and constantly turn down invitations to go do stuff with friends, people stop inviting you to things.

If we consider a strict 40-hour maximum workweek on one end of the spectrum and what your friend is describing (100-120 hour workweek that leaves zero time for anything else), there's still a huge middle ground.

We don't have to choose between working so hard that our entire lives fall apart or not ever doing hard work at all. Many of us do work longer weeks when necessary, balanced with a healthy dose of social activity and things we enjoy. If someone is working so much that they lose all of their friends and even their social skills, something else is going on. Burning yourself out and withdrawing from society isn't what people mean when they say "hard work".

Like the author said, balance is important. Your friend's struggle wasn't necessarily with hard work, but with a complete lack of balance.

I work a strict 40 hour work week, but I hardly know anybody else who works that much in my social group in the Netherlands. 32 is far more common; I think only about 4 of the 80 people in the company I work for work the full 40. I only work this much because my wife is jobless.

So it's strange to see it described as the low end of the scale. I'd pick 24 hours per week.

We Dutchies have one of the best flexible part-time work systems available I think. I think that because when I read HN or read job postings from other countries, or ask US people then I'm noticing that 40 or 40+ hours is much more common.

I've noticed that a 4 day work week has outsized mental health benefits compared to 5 days. Especially when your free day is at Wednesday. There's only so much "damage" a consecutive 2 days of work can do. That break on the Wednesday is truly a life saver. With that said, I'm noticing that if you want to upskill and immerse, then 5 days is better, but it comes at a cost, which is: not having a lot of time for much else since a lot of free time is actually spend on recuperation from the work day! That cost isn't there when you work 4 days since recuperation happens much faster.

Also, if you have remote possibilities at work, you can basically start doing what Tim Ferriss wrote in the 4 hour work week years ago. It's quite easy to travel and see the world in this mode. I guess even with kids? You have 3 whole days per person to figure stuff out. Well perhaps not anymore, but being able to determine your own work location is always beneficial (even if all you want to do is go to the office).

I think with a 3 day work week something even strangers happens. You're now capable of completely living a second live that can truly eclipse your work week (e.g. 4 day "work" weeks in your other life). I haven't experimented with this though.

A lot of fun can be had when you and your significant other both work 3/4 days per week :)

It won't make you rich, but the upside is that you get to enjoy life now and practice your mind every now and then at work ;-)

In that sense, I think Dutch people that truly fine tune this with regards to their needs, location expensens and so on can live a really rich life.

As an American, Inhave never had a job (whether hourly or salaried) that allowed me to control how many hours (or when) I worked beyond part/full time.

Working more than 40 hours a week has diminishing (or negative) returns. Proper scaling means delegation and systems. Grinding away isn’t just unproductive, it’s a sign of a poorly run company.

>Working more than 40 hours a week has diminishing (or negative) returns.

This can be so true. In the 24/7 operation it's important to recognize how this can occur and do whatever it takes to work around it.

OTOH making progress with unique electronics (which is not going to last forever anyway) can be done in an ordinary company if the ordinary company work can be accomplished in 35 hours instead of 40, and the resulting surplus 5 hours devoted to the unique electronics.

The equation says you have to actually work harder and more effectively for this to be true within the same 40 hours.

Resulting in the perfect example of positive returns.

Then if you put in 20 hours of overtime what have you got to show for it?

Well you could get five times as much accomplished per week on the unique electronics if you were so motivated.

The equation now says you have to actually work way harder and more effectively for this to be true and that 40 hours is out the window from the get go.

Only you can decide whether that kind of accelerated progress is more positive or not, and compared to what.

Probably your average job you could put in 80 hours and not even get nearly twice as much done as 40 hours, so why bother?

>Proper scaling means delegation and systems.

Ideally there would be backup gear and backup staff to insure 24 hour progress using only 40 hour weeks, but too many business operations are nonideal and build upon a relatively defective or incomplete foundation.

>Grinding away isn’t just unproductive, it’s a sign of a poorly run company.

I just can't let that bother me sometimes, most companies are not going to be that far above average if at all.

Usually little or no progress is on the agenda for being deployed.

If you're an innovator almost everything's always going to be underleveraged anyway since there's only so much resources to begin with.

Plus progress takes time & effort, how much progress would you like to make?

Your equation is missing a critical factor: performance degrades as you work more hours. When it comes to technical work, you can actually cause quite a bit of damage working in a degraded state. Bugs, missed opportunities for creative solutions, technical debt…

>missed opportunities for creative solutions

This is what really hurts me, when you put a lot of overtime into a project and you come across so many unforseen opportunities that you won't be able to investigate further.

If I had the necessary staff for what I'm already doing I wouldn't be working after hours so much my damn self.

Now I know I'm not alone in a random org having nominal amounts of technical debt before I got there, but if I don't work harder than average to function around it, it will end up bugging me an average amount and that's too much for me.

One of these days I'm definitely going to take your advice and quit.

If you're capable of 5x progress under such nonideal conditions imagine what you could do without such a dysfunctional org.

40 hours is a completely arbitrary number. It wasn't true a hundred year ago. It isn't true for everyone. It isn't true for the same person during different phases of their life. What is true is that overworking will only have diminishing return, however it is up to each individual to find their own threshold.

Grinding away may not be productive, and may be a sign of a poorly run company, but sometime a company has to do it anyway if it's the matter of survival. A dead company can't become a well run one.

40 hours a week is too many for any intellectual or creative work. It’s also true that if you’re management, you should model healthy and productive working models and that includes not working more than 40 hours a week.

> Grinding away may not be productive, and may be a sign of a poorly run company, but sometime a company has to do it anyway if it's the matter of survival. A dead company can't become a well run one.

I’d highly recommend quitting if you ever find yourself in a company like this.

Here's a relevant 2016 thread with JohnCarmack discussing the 40 hour work week.


The game industry has notoriously poor working conditions. It’s changed a bit since he said this but yeah, never work for someone who thinks like this. He’s wrong, it’s survivorship bias on his end.

This is where I’m at. I have no idea how to make friends as an adult.

A point that's often missed is: some people don't perceive certain types of work as work. I know it's a cliche, and if this sentence doesn't immediate resonate with you, you're probably not a part of that group I am referring to - and that's ok. Don't feel like you somehow are not as cool or special, quite to the contrary - you're probably more balanced and overall healthier.

But that doesn't change the fact that the group I am referring to does exist. In the first 20 years of my life, I couldn't really be motivated to do much. And then my college roommate invited me to start a company together. On day 3 or 4 into this venture, I remember being so excited by what was happening that I literally couldn't sleep and instead stayed up all night. Once the sun went up in the morning, I was looking at the fruits of my labor and had the type of endorphins flowing through my body that I had never experienced before.

I was genuinely shocked that I loved this project as much as I did. I had never thought about starting a business before, had never stayed up before for work, and never looked up to people who seemed to work really hard. In hindsight, the only sign of some type of an inclination towards entrepreneurship that I had exhibited before was a strange admiration for the characters in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. We read that book as a part of an English class, and most of the students were highly critical of the lifestyle described in the book. I too could tell that those characters were highly out of balance, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that I would have loved to be a part of that group.

20 years later, I am looking back on a successful entrepreneurial career, and can more accurately trace back that fascination with entrepreneurship to a personal trauma that I experienced as a child. As it turns out, that trauma caused a lot of discomfort in my development years, which led to this unhealthy obsession for entrepreneurship, which in turn gave me passion and motivation to push myself to the limit, and which somehow resulted in success that made the whole thing somehow... worthwhile. As I grew older, I did thankfully find a way to diversify my life and interests, and today you would describe me as fairly average in my work-life balance.

Just wanted to share this because PG's "How to work hard" essay caused a lot of discussion, and I think many people didn't take away from it one important bit: if that essay didn't resonate with you, it's ok - your life didn't include the same type of influences that shaped PG into becoming the person that he became. That might be a good or a bad thing, but it's a thing and let's all just realize that each one of us has to find a recipe that's authentic to us and fits the exact right formula of our individual lives.

I think you make some really good points here. I had a few experiences like the one you describe: I recall a small side project where I would wake, work for ~14hrs until I slept, then rinse and repeat for a few days until I got the work done.

It wasn't deliberate, I just really loved what I was doing.

> obsession for entrepreneurship, which in turn gave me passion and motivation to push myself to the limit, and which somehow resulted in success that made the whole thing somehow... worthwhile

If you haven't watched it, there was a Diary of a CEO episode the other week with Tom Blomfield. He mentions how he felt driven by a need for success and recognition, and how weird it was that after Monzo this seems to have disappeared.

I think those motivations are quite common, and expect you'd recognise a lot in that.


Fascinating podcast!

The thing is, if you’re an entrepreneur you’re also likely a manager and working more than 40 hours a week is bad management. You may enjoy it, but no one wants a boss who’s always working. It also suggests you’re not delegating or building scalable systems.

I found myself nodding along to almost everything in this article; Two comments:

> The problems pulled me in, and I’d get so involved I’d be unable to sleep until I solved a problem, sometimes escaping into my dreams if I hadn’t found a natural pause point.

I can relate to this, so much. It's an incrediblely productive time period when my brain is like this at 7/8/9pm, but inevitably I lose out on a day or two following it. It sounds cliched, but exercise + mindfulness are a hard requirement for me, and not doing either of those inevitably has my brain racing on whatever I'm working on at 4am.

> Grey found me at exactly 5pm and forced me to logoff.

Nobody ever told me to work late, but nobody ever told me to _stop_ working. If my boss/bosses boss/<etc> came up to me a once or twice and told me "hey, you shouldn't work past <x> PM", particularly in my first few days, _and most importantly_ they left too, that would have set an excellent example on how to have a work-life balance.

> Nobody ever told me to work late, but nobody ever told me to _stop_ working. If my boss/bosses boss/<etc> came up to me a once or twice and told me "hey, you shouldn't work past <x> PM", particularly in my first few days, _and most importantly_ they left too, that would have set an excellent example on how to have a work-life balance.

When I moved to Sweden my first manager did exactly that. I was on my 3rd day and working until 18:00, he came to me and asked why I was still at my desk, I should've left an hour ago. He always enjoyed his time off and allowed us to be flexible whenever needed, it was an amazing example to set right at the beginning.

Yep, this type of gesture speaks volumes. It's saying the company is expecting you to value your personal life and health alongside your work, and demonstrating that it's ok to work however works best for you.

As many others have commented, it's not useful or desirable to force people to distance themselves from work they're energised by and want to immerse themselves in. But it's important that the whole company is onboard with that being a choice, not an expectation.

> Nobody ever told me to work late, but nobody ever told me to _stop_ working. If my boss/bosses boss/<etc> came up to me a once or twice and told me "hey, you shouldn't work past <x> PM", particularly in my first few days, _and most importantly_ they left too, that would have set an excellent example on how to have a work-life balance.

I've had managers try to nanny my working hours like this. It wasn't fun. I know they thought it was a good gesture, but if I have a spare hour or two in the evening and a good idea I want to try out before bed, I don't want anyone telling me I can't work right now.

In fact, I don't want my manager policing my working hours at all, in either direction.

What works better is for managers to gather honest feedback about how long tasks took and how many excess hours were being worked during their 1:1s with employees. It's not hard to ask employees how their workload looks and adjust schedules or resource allocation to compensate.

> I've had managers try to nanny my working hours like this. It wasn't fun. I know they thought it was a good gesture, but if I have a spare hour or two in the evening and a good idea I want to try out before bed, I don't want anyone telling me I can't work right now.

Author here: I didn't make this clear, but Grey only forced me to go home once.

The important message was that I could, if I wanted, claim my own time back. I was free to clock off early, help a friend move out, whatever it might be that my life asked of me.

When I wanted to work hard I did, and was never forced not to. But provided I wasn't harming my team, I was free to pick and choose when I did that and disconnect past the hours I was strictly required to be available.

Definitely not nannying, in fact I think this is the most adult way you can treat your employees.

I thought I was clear that in my comment it particularly applies at the beginning of a job, and _most importantly_ they're not working after.

One of my previous coworkers who was senior said one day “I try to leave around 5pm. It sends a message that people don’t need to stick around.”

I had boss who pretty frequently would go around tellong everyone to leave and would make sure he's the last one there. I always really respected his position of forcing work/life balance.

Anything that suggests that work is the beginning, middle and end of life is utterly and completely misguided in my humble opinion.

As the great sages tend to say, you're not going to be on your deathbed wishing you'd signed that extra deal, you're going to be lying there thinking of your family, your love, the time with your kids.

Now that's not to say there aren't moments in your life when you're up for working hard. And your 20's can be a good time for this: you're full of energy, you're free of encumbrances like kids and mortgages, and it can feel pretty great to bust your balls doing something you enjoy.

But let's not forget that it also feels great busting your balls actually enjoying yourself properly, too. When you're in your 20's that can be sex or travelling or socialising or a million other things.

As a whole though, the ethic of "gotta work hard all through your life" troubles me. There aren't enough spaces for creativity, relaxation, debate, books, or simply doing nothing.

It's these things that make a life worth living, not (just) some meteoric rise through a career.

I think that only really applies if you're 'normal' though.

I'm what you might call an incel, though it's not so much the lack of sex as it is the lack of being able to bond emotionally. So unlike most people I've never been able to make friends beyond superficial politeness. Combined with the fact that 'family' has no happy connections for me; growing up time 'love' meant getting hit across the face because that's how you showed that you loved family. Wasn't until it was too late that I realized that might not be the case.

So friends has no meaning to me, and family has no happy meaning. I'm not good with hobbies; they just don't seem interesting to me.

So I'd say it's not misguided. Perhaps not applicable to you but to some of us, it's all we will ever have.

I genuinely don't mean this in a dismissive way, but have you considered therapy?

I do wonder if you may have prematurely foreclosed upon future possibilities ("it's all we will ever have") based on your current perspective; perhaps an effective therapist could help reframe some of your thoughts here.

If you find a good one, I think this is absolutely possible.

A few times in the past, but the net result was usually little else other then anti depressant prescriptions. I kind of got the impression that they weren't interested beyond peddling whatever RX that they happened to find interesting, but my social skills are limited to saw the least. Granted the last time tried was over 10 years ago but, but experience hasn't shown a a good track record in finding a 'good' therapist.

Even then I'm not sure what it is the end result. I'm already a dangerously elevated risk of attacking an intimate partner, based on statistics. Maybe friends but I honestly don't know what being a friend is supposed to be like so... yeah.

Hey, I would echo @alexpetralia here - seeking some support might be really positive. It definitely takes some time and maybe a few tries to find the right person you can talk to, but I'd recommend persevering. I have had some very positive moments in therapy which have changed my outlook completely; and then meditation / mindfulness down the line. This sounds trite, and it isn't supposed to - but don't give up on this stuff, you have it in you, you just need to find it.

And yet, focusing on one facet of life for most of your personal fulfillment isn't entirely healthy, be it work, a significant other, a social clique that gives you your identity or anything else.

Although i am also pretty introverted and it has definitely affected my social life so far, i also try to make an effort to explore a variety of the things life can offer me and i'd urge most people to do the same, even if it means exiting your comfort zone for a bit. None of those necessarily need to be persistent hobbies, but i'd argue that it can also be a good way to find one that you like.

In the past month, i've:

  - learnt Ruby on Rails for my personal homepage, outside of work; while this is still a technical pursuit, learning new technologies is pretty useful, to expand one's knowledge
  - been listening to some episodes of the Complete Developer Podcast, just to hear others' experiences both in the industry and outside of it: https://completedeveloperpodcast.com/
  - have practiced doing some 3D modelling and animation, since i'd like to either make video games at some point, or at least continue making interactive visualizations outside of work
  - been blogging about some tech related topics, as well as writing fiction in private, to improve my skills in that regard
  - decided to drop a bit of weight, so i've been tracking how many calories i eat and have kept exercising daily; while i can't say i've enjoyed the actual process, the health benefits are not to be underestimated
  - have done a bit of DIY stuff outside, as well as just chores around the farm (like mowing the grass with a tractor and then promptly fixing it, once the belts came off)
  - have smoked some meat outside, which also meant a healthy bit of chopping wood for it, seeing as we have a wood burning smokehouse
  - have practiced some 3D printing stuff; i guess this could be a hobby, but in my case i made a VESA mount for my monitors out of PVC and some PLA, as well as monitor support stands
  - have been reading some books, like the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown and will read the Neuromancer books by William Gibson next
  - have also played the occasional video game (most recently Elite: Dangerous) for a bit of nice escapism
  - have set up a Wi-Fi repeater in the home out of an old router with WDS
That said, i haven't been awfully successful at most of those things, and that's okay. For example, will i ever be as good at applying maths to something like generating planets (for the aforementioned games/visualizations) like Sebastian Lague ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lctXaT9pxA0 )? Probably not! but that doesn't mean that i shouldn't try exploring what i can and cannot do!

Not even trying to do that makes me feel like perhaps you're somewhat depressed, which i've gone through in my life as well. That would probably be the first thing to address, if you can. Of course, my apologies if i'm assuming too much, since i'm really not sure about your particular circumstances. Regardless, best of luck!

This is great, and covers aspects of work balance/integration/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that I haven't seen talked about as much.

A big problem I see on an ongoing basis is the confusion between time spent working and work produced. After ~10 years in this field, I feel like a pitcher who loses their fastball sometimes, and have learned when to sense that and pull myself from the game (stop working). I feel for people who don't see or sense their performance deteriorating in a way that just calling it a day and coming back with fresh eyes could improve.

Should you just plow through sometimes? Definitely. But if I find myself needing to consider that for more than about a week a quarter, someone probably planned poorly or is taking advantage of the fact that I care about completing my work.

There are other comments about work vs personal/skills development - the latter I do not consider work, personally, even if they're inter-related at times. I have actually noticed a big difference between my previous employer and current employer. I had enough slack at my previous employer to pack in quite a bit of high value personal/skills development after I finished my work and on weekends. Ironically, its this slack that gave me the time to learn skills that I was eventually hired for at my current employer - however, I have none of this mental bandwidth or time at my current employer. I can't figure out how much of that is pandemic-related, new child related (had a baby while at the new employer), or new employer culture/balance issues with how I work best. I guess it's just hard to track the true cause when the world goes into a blender while one's life changes significantly too.

Author of the post here: what you say about pulling yourself away and recovering really resonates with me.

What I'm working on is absolutely a factor in my interest, and how much energy I'm able to give- equally, how much the work pulls me in.

But I've noticed I increasingly work in ebbs and flows, probably as I become more aware of my energy levels and how I want to commit my time. It doesn't help that my calendar has become terrible for engineering work over the last year, and I actively schedule weeks of "get properly involved in the building" alongside all the other responsibilities my role entails.

Personally, I find the flexibility to distance yourself like this is really important. It helps me recover my energy and make sure I'm properly there when it matters.

> new child related

On this note, I think you might have found your smoking gun. This is hard enough by itself, but alongside all those others changes- I hope you're holding up!

I consider that ebb and flow a totally acceptable part of human reality - as long as you find yourself not self-destructively procrastinating in the lower energy times, it seems sustainable to go at 75% (making up a number) sometimes and 125% later when the time or energy is available to you! I like feeling like it's my choice to go at 125% though - personal agency has always been key to keeping myself invested too.

The behavior modeling you describe in your post most resonated with me at the present moment - as I become more of a senior employee, I feel pressure to perform from management, but also pressure to model sustainable behaviors. The Netflix culture book covered some of this with respect to time off. Top-down is important for culture setting.

I am holding up well, thank you! But ~6 months at the new company, I wasn't holding up great and needed to seriously rethink my time management (hence a lot of this being fresh in my brain). I'm fortunate to have been able to fix this to the best of my ability before my son arrived - but at a company with a pride for startupiness (read: at times a total lack of planning), the balance I have needs pretty regular maintenance.

Kinda depends on what you mean by work. Early on in my career I'd read books on the weekend, and after work. Relevant books like "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator" and that genre. I wouldn't say it was work, but it definitely helped with work. Likewise, coding things on the weekend helped develop some skills that were useful for my work as well.

The thing is, it didn't feel like a struggle, in the way that writing an assigned essay might feel. It was just a number of work related things that added a bit of context to what I was doing, giving my work meaning. It also provides the links to all the adjacent topics in a field, giving you the keywords/hooks for further learning.

There are of course jobs where you literally are working, doing the same things that you do during the week, in the same office. That kid of thing leads to burnout, and if you're thinking about that perhaps gather some more experiences before you decide.

This post really resonates with me, specially this line

> Just keep in mind the cost you’re paying, and be extremely cautious if you ever find yourself resenting your downtime.

Currently this is happening to me. Downtime is not an enjoyable experience anymore, the pandemic has just made it worse since I am not even forced to have social interactions. I have feelings of guilt whenever I am not working. And just like the author mentions, it is a hard habit to break. What is worse, I am in my mid twenties; I cannot imagine how hard/impossible it is to break that habit when you have been at it for 30 years.

> Downtime is not an enjoyable experience anymore

This sounds more like a lack of anything to do than downtime.

If you prefer to be doing something and you hate when you're doing nothing, you need to identify more somethings to fill your time with. If the only "something" you have in your life is work, then you're going to gravitate back to that by default.

Flip it around and start identifying the things you enjoy, then make an effort to do those things in your non-work time.

Downtime doesn't literally have to mean sitting around, doing nothing productive. If you're the kind of person who must be active, then you need to become the kind of person who picks activities you enjoy and makes a point to do them.

I really empathise with your experience of lockdown- Covid has taken a big toll on a lot of people, myself included.

Especially at the start of lockdown, I developed a habit of working on a side project at the weekend. I found myself slipping into this 'discomfort', and after some reflection decided it wasn't helping me. I work hard enough during the week, if I'm working outside my normal hours it needs to be because I want to, not because I'm pushing myself into it.

Don't worry too much though- lots of things will change up as Covid eases, and you'll get a load of opportunities to reset yourself. You have an advantage here, in that you built the habit in an artificial environment- the return to normality should help you shake it, if you want to!

I built my side project during the weekends since the start of the pandemic, shipped it and then decided I didn’t have the energy to actually run it. Still glad I did it and I could pick it up again if I wanted but at this stage between work and family, side projects need to take a back seat.

I think the disconnect here between those who advocate hard work and those who are opposed to it, is really about who the beneficiaries of that hard work are. If you are a founder or a sole-proprietor like myself, the economic surplus of all that hard work accrues to you. You still need to pace yourself to avoid burnout (there is a danger of working too hard -- even for yourself), but for the most part, the output of your work belongs to you.

The situation is much more complicated when you are working for someone else. Then you'll need to make a careful assessment of whether working harder is a net economic benefit for your (vs. doing other things in the time that would be freed up and the cost of any long term damage you might do to your health if you worked too hard.) For example it would entirely consistent for you to put in a 40 hr week for your employer, and spend all other discretionary time on your own project. It is also okay if you make the finding that your employer sponsored work is your primary long term goal and work on that even during weekends. E.g. this how many academics see their work. For most startups, as an employee, you need to be very careful with your calculation. Much of the value you create in a startup or a large tech company will not be captured by you! You need to make the calculation as to whether or working harder has a strategic benefit for you. It might or it might not. So the real issue is not 'working hard' but working hard on what?

Why do we believe people when they say they work hard or used to work hard?

Most successful people I've observed at close quarters box clever and definitely never fully switch off with respect to their interests. But work hard as in slogging on something where there is no proportional reward? Never seen that.

Of course they all say they work so hard, or that they once in the mists of time worked very hard. But what evidence is there? Usually none.

I learned that working hard isn't the ticket to wealth. It's knowing people and putting on a good show that you work hard. I used to work hard and never really got "respect" for it (like promotions or whatnot). While I got shit done, it didn't give me what I wanted. Eventually I started coasting and chatting with coworkers more. I didn't sweat making mistakes either. It was literally the moment in Office Space where the guy just "doesn't care anymore." Like I really had no fear of losing my job, reprisal, or anything. Obviously being a single guy I could afford that, but it was frighteningly one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. I don't have some philosophical belief on life that I think others should follow, but playing pretend and winging things with confidence has done me far greater wonders to my career than being blatantly honest about everything and working very hard.

Exactly. One of the biggest things I keep in mind these days is that most people, myself included, are bad at knowing what's most important to get done. It may seems that more code is more work is good, but the banter with colleagues improves communication and cohesion which can have a much higher impact than writing that additional code. If a higher up tells you to do something, you can be pretty sure it's important (at least to your report chain), otherwise it can be tough to identify relative importance of work activities.

Even letting a higher up down is expected. You have to feel it out though if the certain thing is one of those. But if you know it can't be done or you got time, one of the best things you can do is abandon ship. It's really absurd and kind of a bad thing to lace your coworkers with, but if you've got references elsewhere and people within whom you're on good relations with, it won't affect your career one bit. Not only will you not get the blame for it when things aren't done presently, but you don't have to deal with the impossible task management gives you! Which in the grand scheme, if you can stick it out long enough before they fire you and get a job elsewhere, on paper, you never failed! You always achieved your goals.

The entire Gervais Principle goes into detail on this and it's a fun read. A lot of it sounds like just general office politics written in a funny way, but there are some nuggets that a lot of people who aren't in the "sociopath" category (the authors words), aren't willing to do. It's kind of like "the best time to be looking for a new job is now" philosophy in work.

A less cynical approach is that you are paid based on the value you create (or the perception thereof).

Besides, I think people just want to put in their hours and get paid. As long as you don't make their 40 hours a week more unpleasant, you'll do just fine.

Otherwise, I completely agree with your comment.

Phrases like "Working Hard" and "Success" are relative. To some people, working continuous 40 hour week is working hard. To some, they don't look at the time. Pros and cons to both.

As someone who runs a business, I can tell you that I don't particularly like working on weekends that much but I do find some time (3-4 hours ) to work weekends and catch up on few things that are harder for me on weekdays. So I couldn't care less how many hours I put in. Sometimes it's an entire Saturday. It is my choice and I am doing it because I want to.

So find your balance on whatever works for you. I do however think that it is not easy to build a business just working 40 hour weeks but if you want to be an employee, that can work well.

> When I first started my career, I worked a lot. The problems pulled me in, and I’d get so involved I’d be unable to sleep until I solved a problem, sometimes escaping into my dreams if I hadn’t found a natural pause point.

Heck this still happens, and I've been tecching for decades.

I am not a fan of "This one thing applies to everyone" statements.

Also, I think that we develop a blind evaluation of success factors.

For example, a person, hailed as a genius, always writes his/her notes in pencil, on a small pad, they take with them, because inspiration may strike at any time.

They use a pencil, because they may need to add corrections.

So everyone assumes that having a pad and a pencil with them at all times will give them the same success as said genius.

So...how's that working out? Solved FTL yet?

I have also met people that fit the whole "genius" description that are absolutely rigorous about stopping work at certain times, getting sleep, and taking long sabbaticals with no tech nearby. They won't even think about stuff, until they are back on the clock.

Myself, I ain't no gienieyouss, but I manage to get stuff done. I tend to work all the time; mostly because I really like to. I don't need to do it, anymore, but I do.

I work with folks that can't work the same way that I do, but deliver great results. I've learned not to project my own workflows onto others.

I'm chronically unemployed at 34, and I really feel incapable of competing in the labor market when I see how people consent to overwork.

I don't have anything against workers, but I really resent that some people believe I deserve to die alone and poor while they consent to overtime without taking a step back.

Some people want to participate in society not for money, status or because they like to work, but just to exist for 5min.

Competition becomes an horrible side of society.

Yes, you should work more than others - weekends, holidays, evenings, etc. And, no, you should not work more for others.

People should spend their time working for themselves. That could be building new skills, developing your personal brand, starting projects/businesses, etc.

Bonus points for aligning personal benefit projects with your career, so you can develop yourself while being a team player and an esteemed colleague.

It is not that cut and dry. A lot of times even working for others, you are building skills for yourself that you could utilize in the future. If you are entry level programmer and you work weekends to finish a project for your employer while learning a lot, it is still something that will help YOU in the future. You are just doing it faster than others who are working the bare minimum. It really matters how you look at things. You can say "why should I work for my employer on weekends" or you can say "I am going to do this on the weekend to learn faster and get things for my employer as well". It is all about how you look at things.

To get ahead in life, the important thing is to constantly learn things and early on in your career, you can do that working for others as well. Not everyone can start a side project or business at 22. Those who can, power to them of course.

> A lot of times even working for others, you are building skills for yourself that you could utilize in the future.

Exactly. Building experience, skills, reputation, a network, rapport, discipline.

Technically you could build all of these things on your own through freelancing, but freelancing is far harder than it sounds when people talk about it online. Especially when you're a junior without a strong network or reputation.

Working for others isn't inherently bad, especially if you're learning a lot in the process. No one should avoid working for a company on principle alone, as working for a strong company with strong peers is one of the fastest and most accessible ways to improve yourself early in your career.

It's not just about the paychecks. Likewise, a lack of paychecks doesn't make the project more valuable to your career. It's much easier to ramp up on a technology by pairing up with an experienced mentor and developer than it is by poking around on side projects that never get finished. Shipping real products to real customers is a powerful forcing function for learning how to deliver results in the real world.

> If you are entry level programmer and you work weekends to finish a project for your employer while learning a lot

I think that's what I meant by aligning personal projects with career ones. I have no problem with this type of work.

I just wanted to bring up the point of making sure you're not being taken advantage of.

> Not everyone can start a side project or business at 22.

It depends on the project. There is no need for it to be a new business or a groundbreaking open source project. You can be a junior web developer that learns more about SQL and the PostgreSQL internals. Or packages your app with Docker, improves CI pipelines and/or runs it in k8s. Those types of projects get you hugely successful at your job while raising your programmer market value.

Balance is extremely important, and can usually only be appreciated with hindsight which makes it hard to judge when you're in the moment.

I'm in the same boat as the author as far as working too hard, but I've never done it on my salaried work, only on my own projects. Most of them went nowhere and a few gave something useful, but in the end I learned a lot. And it's easy to just drop whatever you're working on when it's just for you.

I can't say if it's out of principe or out of spite, but I actually despise the very idea of doing unpaid work for my employer. If they want more work they can pay me for it, or more likely hire someone else to soak the extra efforts. I work as hard as anyone else during my work hours, and I stay up to date so what more do they want of me. I've actually had managers, who were good managers otherwise, subtly told me I was not doing much (unpaid) overtime compared to other people during my annual review. Funny how things work out, I found another job right after that paid me 50% more and didn't care about my after hours work.

Someone said we should take a break from our work one day a week.

Someone said we should enjoy our wealth and health while we can.

Someone said we shouldn't store all our wealth for a later date which we may not see.

I think the availability of technology has confused us. It has blurred the lines between work and constant activity. There is a big world out there beyond the pixels we should be enjoying beyond work.

I think it makes sense to work 60 to 120 hours a week when you work for your dreams.

There is no sense working that many hours to fulfill someone else's dream.

It makes sense to work ~40 hours a week (or less) on something you love, because to work more means degrading your performance especially in software development, especially over time. If what you are working on is growing that fast to suck up that much of your time, hire and learn to delegate. That’s also good leadership.

Hiring and delegating, although necessary, can also be a recipe for frustration, transforming something you love into something that's not really yours anymore (everyone wants to put their stamp on your thing). If you enjoy doing, delegating won't help... Maybe automating is a better fit? Or using some SaaS thing with as low friction as possible...

If you want no employees, sure. As soon as you hire one, your job is leadership.

Let me ask you a question: if you had the choice between drinking 4 espressos or 1 cappuccino, what would you choose if you wanted to sleep well at night?

If you follow PGs logic, it shouldn't matter because 1 cappuccino is the same amount of liquid than 4 espressos, but we all know it does, right?

Same goes for working on weekends. If all you need to do is solving a super-interesting engineering problem then go for it. If you are firefighting customer escalations in four failed IT projects at the same time, then I'd recommend to take a break.

This touched on a productivity hack I used when I was younger which really bites me now:

> Paul advocates cultivating a sense of “discomfort” when you’re not working. I’m not going to question it’s efficacy- this is an extremely effective way of compelling yourself into a variety of habits- but this advice extends beyond that.


> Doing this might help you work more, but it may permanently impact your ability to enjoy yourself outside of work. This type of mental trick is addictive, and it alters your perception of normal, developing a need to work that is disconnected from your personal goals.

To finish even my boring or tough studies, I oriented myself in such a way that every problem or sub-problem is a puzzle, and every solution is an endorphin hit.

Now I'm so addicted to this hit that my work can reliably give me, that it's extremely hard to stop work and be in the moment in the rest of my life.

American culture is so obsessed with work to unbelievable levels. We have one life and we are only getting older. A lot of people will regret working on weekends. A lot of money or a good position won’t make you happy in life without the right balance. People need to learn how to enjoy different aspects of life.

Worked as hard as I could, for 20+ years, until I couldn't anymore. No attempt at balance at all; life was arranged to make the job easier; I was doing just what I wanted and that was great. then not so great but nothing lasts forever. People honestly thought I didn't sleep most of that time.

Now I've had 15 years and running of family life and being the home maker and that's great too. I wish I had some of the physical fortitude I spent earlier but I'm sure that'd be the case regardless.

Have I achieved "work-life balance"? I didn't get rich when I was working, but I got to do things that made me happy and I can argue made the world better, in some small way. Since then, pretty much the same.

> There is a risk of losing your ability to be present and enjoy your life when you’re not at a desk making ‘progress’. Years after when you want to rid yourself of this itch, you may find it far more difficult to shake than it was to acquire.

Apart from the salary, this is the thing I enjoy the most about having a job as opposed to being a University student. When I was a student I wasn't all that organized, so I often felt guilty about spending time on other activities than studying. But now that I have a job, I can get my 8 hours of work done during the day and then feel guilt-free about spending my evenings and weekends on whatever I want.

Weird question, but did anyone felt the urge to start smoking when extremely overworked?

i can say that i've felt the urge and i've never smoked before. i think the urge is your brain/body trying to tell you that you're nearing a breaking point. i try to force myself to go for a short walk but its difficult as i know there will still be work to do and that if i skip lunch, stay an hour later, that i might somehow catch up. problem is that i'm well paid in tech and the feeling falling behind weighs on me so i forgo my personal well being to try and maintain and do more

Start smoking or start smoking again?

I think my brain is working hardest either in the shower or in the early morning just before waking up.

Why? Because my best ideas for work(!) typically appears at these ‘non-working’ times.

How to balance this - I don’t know… The ideas ‘just’ arrive at that time, likely because the mind is relaxed and ‘subconsciously’ is working harder than while ‘actively’ working.

The ideas are then refined and implemented during normal business hours.

PS.: There’s a lot of positive talk about the so-called ‘four day work week’.

I have tried burning the midnight oil, it’s only feasible for short periods of time, so I do not believe that hard work === many hours!

Have you tried extending those shower thinking sessions a bit?

Walking or riding a bicycle for a while without headphones usually do the trick for me. I also like to sit on my balcony and just... think. Things that need thinking about naturally float to the top, as long as your mind isn't stimulated 100% of the time.

It's easier said than done in a world full of feeds and notifications, and although I struggle to maintain this habit, I find it really rewarding.

I can resent the nannying of how much I should work to prevent my burnout.

If I'm driven intrinsically by what I'm doing, leave me alone already. I'll naturally take breaks as my intrinsic motivation waxes and wanes.

If I'm driven extrinsically to do something not fun, and I keep pushing on it, I'll burn out rather easily. In this case, tell me something is important/useful, but also let up to give me the encouragement to take breaks.

All jobs have a mix of both. But my preferred job has more intrinsically motivating work. If I'm gate kept from it, its only annoying to me...

You don't work in a bubble, and if you are a more senior person on a team the juniors will see what you're doing and follow by example. And when you're a junior, it's equally as important to be told by your superiors to stop, so that it's crystal clear that it's not expected or even encouraged.

Yes I get that. My annoyance isn’t the only factor in play.

Though with remote work, employees with different time zones, and pandemic parenting, it’s hard to see someone working and say “oh they’re working too much”

Yeah agreed. I think the signals in that case are the same people doing things like showing they're taking a Thursday afternoon off to take their kid to football, or actually taking a lunch break. At a certain point we are all adults, and have to be trusted but setting a good example has always been a sign of a good manager in my experience

One caveat is that it sets expectations that my be hard to keep up with when your motivation wanes. People might see what workloads you handle, and think you'll consistently handle the same.

Another caveat is that balance is good even if you're enjoying work. You still need to eat, exercise, socialise and whatnot.

When I was younger, single and more foolish, I did work late and I did have personal projects that I was interested in. However, if I had a social or family thing to go to, I'd drop what I was doing to have some fun.

There was a period when I was at a startup and I put aside my social life for work and that's when I burnt out.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" really is true.

I guess a lot of this should be driven by leadership team. On the contrary I see leaders themselves staying late in office, scheduling late evening status update meetings. And the developers also contribute to this. They stay up late, send status updates past midnight and then in the next company all-hands they are lionized for this. No one even bothers to retrospect what inefficiencies are causing everyone to work crazy hours. And that how can someone remain productive with this.

I've been lucky to have a number of great role models in my career, some of which shaped my opinion on hard work and how to find balance. I know the concept of "hard work" has come up recently, so figured I'd share my experience and some of the advice I received.

This is a polarising topic, and I won't be surprised if a lot of people disagree. These opinions are shaped by my experience, my context, and I'd be shocked if everyone found them equally applicable.

Makes me wonder if extreme toxic competetion kills creativity that there was once in an individual.

A lot of these things are easier to reason about when you look at the full picture: budget over your lifetime. You want to match your gear ratio to your situation.

Balance, or the lack thereof, is one of the most common pain points for the juniors I've worked with.

New college grads can really struggle with finding balance after transitioning out of college. The undergrad environment has well defined start and end points for each class and everyone gets the same or similar workloads, so it's possible to calibrate off of peers and consult with advisors or mentors who have gone through the same system.

Not so with the working world, where there are always more objectives than time and you can't always look to peers to calibrate your progress. Ambitious juniors often see this and decide to go all-in, working as hard as possible on as much as possible for as long as possible.

This leads to burnout in some, though not all, of the people who get swept away in it. We read so many articles about burnout and recovery from burnout that the topic of hard work evokes strong reactions online, as evidenced by this article and the comments section. However, as the author points out there are multiple sides to this story. Hard work isn't always bad, especially if you find yourself enjoying it and learning a lot.

If I'm being totally honest, working hard in my early career paid off significantly down the road. Not necessarily in immediate dollars paid out by my employers at the time, but the network, reputation, and skillset I built along the way are extremely valuable to this day. I didn't even hate the hard work or long hours at the time, because I made a point to surround myself with peers I liked and work I enjoyed. I also made an effort to get plenty of exercise and social activity, which can't be neglected.

In my opinion, too many online discussions around burnout are centered on the idea that work is inherently bad and something that should be minimized as much as possible. An understandable reaction from authors who might be burned out, but framing everything this way has an unintended side effect: It normalizes the idea that work is inherently bad, and that hating your work is natural. This mindset tends to trap people in jobs they hate at companies they dislike with peers they can't stand, all because they've been led to believe that this is the normal state of affairs. They focus too much on trying to tolerate it and manage their borderline burnout instead of trying to move their career in a direction where they can find a job they like.

In my opinion, we need to stop framing this as a debate about whether work is good or work is bad, and start talking more about finding a healthy balance and working toward jobs we like. No job is going to be fun all of the time, but if you're hating every hour of work and counting down the hours to the end of the day every day then you're probably in a below average job.

> New college grads can really struggle with finding balance after transitioning out of college > Ambitious juniors often see this and decide to go all-in

The most common issue I see with dedicated juniors is when work is, by a large margin, the biggest thing in their life.

When work is your thing, it only takes one thing to go badly at work for it to impact your happiness. Given how much can go wrong in a career that is entirely outside your control, no matter how good you may be you'll inevitably hit a bump, and that can be really painful.

I was lucky in that when I started work, I always had a large piece of my life that was outside of it. At first this was rowing crew, eventually it turned into cycling and crossfit.

Finding hobbies like this, where your results are almost entirely within your own power, I found to be a powerful hedge against negative factors at work. It takes a while to figure this out, though, and I don't blame anyone for whom this hasn't clicked or didn't quite work.

> It normalizes the idea that work is inherently bad, and that hating your work is natural

Yes! I have a real problem with this positioning, especially because I don't think a solution to not enjoying work is to suck it up and do a bit less- I'd love more people to aim for work that excites them, and gives them energy.

> No job is going to be fun all of the time, but if you're hating every hour of work and counting down the hours to the end of the day every day then you're probably in a below average job.

Absolutely true. When I first joined my current company, we were 35 people in size, now we're ~650. That growth means I've worked on so many different things, in several different environments.

Sometimes it was great, other times it sucked. Sometimes it sucked even while it was great- finishing an infrastructure migration into Google Cloud was an awesome achievement, but after a 18 month migration, I was fairly exhausted.

If you get the balance right, there's an amount of flexibility and distance you and afford with your work that helps you get through the difficult parts, and maximise what you get from the good.

> The most common issue I see with dedicated juniors is when work is, by a large margin, the biggest thing in their life.

Great point. The transition from college to work is a shocking experience for many. Modern colleges are excellent at keeping people socialized, entertained, and surrounding them with activities to do and people to meet.

Then they enter the working world and suddenly it's not so easy. They need to make an effort to socialize, meet new people, and schedule activities. They need to plan ahead to find something to do on the weekend and coordinate with others to find people to do it with.

I think many of them gravitate toward work because they think it will fill the void left when they left the ultra-social college environment. It takes time and effort to re-learn how to add activities and friends to your life when they're not falling into your lap.

I actually found the opposite with regard to college, work. and socialising.

At college I had few friends, and spent most of my time with computers, studying mostly things outside what I was supposed to, and staying up far too late by myself or with one or two friends in the computer room. We did good things, but I wouldn't say that time was particularly sociable.

At my first job after college, that's when I started to get a decent social life. The people around me were more rounded and better connected than those at college, and I was invited to things like house parties and outdoor activities much more than at college. Perhaps it helped that I could also finally afford the costs of socialising.

This was at a games company - low pay relative to other programming work, and a reputation for not exactly rounded people (I certainly wasn't one), but many of them were fun and interesting people.

Fast forward a decade, and in my 30s I found the best social avenues ever were through people who ran regular house parties, regular enough that substantial communities formed around them. That was even better than in my 20s at work.

Fast forward another decade, and even ignoring the pandemic, unfortunately it's much harder to meet people in a sociable way. I enjoyed technical Meetups prior to the pandemic but that doesn't lead to the same kinds of social relationships as house parties with hot tubs do.

> The most common issue I see with dedicated juniors is when work is, by a large margin, the biggest thing in their life.

How could it not be, at 8 hours/day, 5 days/week?

Me to my boss: yes sir, right away sir.

Me in reality: in the pool with my daughter, will get to it soon.

Define "work".

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