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40 Hour Work Weeks Suck (regehr.org)
184 points by wglb 2154 days ago | hide | past | web | 62 comments | favorite

I work 40 hour weeks. Nine to five. I got into the habit when I started my PhD, because I knew that if I didn't force myself to work to a certain schedule, I'd probably slack off.

If I only worked when I felt like it, on what I felt like working on, I would never have finished my thesis because, heck, who wants to do proofreading when you could be at the beach? And if I ate whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like eating it, I'd weigh three hundred pounds.

Anyway, the point of the story: if someone forced me to work nine to five, I'd probably hate it. But since I get to pick my own hours, I've picked nine to five.

Totally agree. Another thing is that your task is not always creative and flaring. Yes you've completed the proof of concept for the task everybody thought undoable, whooray, but now you have to cleanup the mess in the code, refactor everything and deliver something to the client or your boss. And this task involves doing some routine job like writing logs in exceptional cases, making application fool proof and etc.

Have you ever tried going earlier? If you want to do eight hours, try out 4:30AM to 12:30PM sometime. It's hard to stick on it (you've got to be disciplined about going to bed early), but it's great for getting things done while it's still super quiet and peaceful out, and it's awesome having completed the workday at lunchtime.

That's a good schedule for someone who doesn't really want to do things when other people do them. I think it would be like if there was a such thing as being a time-vegan.

Yeah, I periodically try to shift it a bit earlier -- 8 'til 4 is nice.

Not sure I could cope with quite that early though. For one thing, it would destroy my morning go-get-coffee ritual if there were no cafes open when I get up.

That was the same schedule of Alan Kay around his time at XEROX PARC.

How did you come up with that idea? I also hate doing anything outside of those hours.

Yea, reminds me of the "Professionalism vs Passion" HN submission. In fact, I think the two topics are closely related.

Some people don't like completing work for the week in 14 hours and having to be physically present yet doing nothing but reading on the web the other 26. Do more work? Nope, gotta wait for the clients, the devs, the managers, etc.

I think I am done with HN.

Given that your account appears to be eighteen minutes old... wow, that was fast!

"Nom Nom Nom", says the troll.

And then you see a signpost up ahead, plainly stating "do not feed trolls."

"People who hate their jobs often work 40 hours weeks, why be one of them?"

Working 40 hours doesn't make you one of them. It's not even a symptom of the real problem.

I work 40 hours weeks, and love my job. And I loved my last job. And I liked all the jobs before that. That's because I have pride in doing my job well, I've worked for people who appreciate it (even if that sometimes means the customer, and not my boss), and general have a good disposition towards getting things done.

There are things I dislike, like red tape, but in general, I accept them as part of the process so that I can get to the good stuff, like coding the backend of a complicated system.

"People who hate their jobs often work 40 hours weeks, why be one of them?"

The quote smacks of truisim. Most people work roughly 40 hour weeks, so it sounds to me like saying "Most people who hate their jobs have jobs. Ergo, don't have a job".

You'll find plenty of part-time workers who hate their jobs as well - lots of hospitality workers, for a start.

"There are things I dislike, like red tape, but in general, I accept them as part of the process"

I'm having a hard time accepting it. I find it frustrating to wade through the red tape. So by the time I get to the interesting bit, it feels like a chore.

My Solution: I secretly write dev-tools and unleash it to the group just so I can by pass the red tape that comes with starting a new project. I do collect feedback after the release and fix stuff. But the initial release is based entirely on my design decisions which in turn are based on what I've observed.

> I work 40 hours weeks, and love my job.

Do you work exactly 40 hours? As in, start and 9am, leave at 5pm and never arrive early or leave late? Never a week of 41 hours? Because if I worked at a job I absolutely loved - as you describe - I would probably choose to work 50 or 60 hours. I think that the assumption here is that if you work 40 hours, you're probably doing it because that's what is expected of you and you're not willing to put in more.

It seems unlikely that most people who like their jobs so much would actually stop at 40 hours.

I very much think this is a question of personality and not a question of which one is better.

Personally, I'm like you -- if there's something really interesting to work on, I like to dive in and really attack it until I'm done. Even if that means 14 hour days for a stretch.

But other people I've worked with work differently -- they like routines. Go to work, have 5 things to accomplish that day, accomplish them, then go home. Then it's time for the daily walk in the park, or maybe on Tuesdays it's time to mow the front lawn, or whatever other things they slot into their time that make up their lives. Lots of people love having a life like this. And it doesn't mean they don't care about their jobs or take pride in their work the way people like us do, it just means they're different.

Yeah, some of us just don't fit in the modern world though. I can't focus on any one thing for 40 hours in any week. I get bored and lose interest. I can put 14 hours of high speed hacking in one day. But the next day I'll be lucky to get two hours of focus on code. On the other hand, I could easily put 8 hours of back breaking labor into the garden that next day. On the third day I won't be able to garden or focus on code, but I might be able to write a great blog article or work on that book I've been chewing on.

There is currently no space for someone like me in the work world. Jobs just aren't designed for generalists who need so much variety. So I'm stuck as a 40 hours a week programmer and struggling with it, because no matter how I try, I'm lucky if I can find 20 hours of real focus on programming a week.


I love my job but I also love other things. I get all my tasks done in the 40 hours (usually). I take the rest of my time to do other things I love.

I have a family and many hobbies. I love to travel and take time off whenever I can just to go and have fun.

That is why I stop at 40 hours.

>Do you work exactly 40 hours? As in, start and 9am, leave at 5pm and never arrive early or leave late? Never a week of 41 hours? Because if I worked at a job I absolutely loved - as you describe - I would probably choose to work 50 or 60 hours. I think that the assumption here is that if you work 40 hours, you're probably doing it because that's what is expected of you and you're not willing to put in more.

Either that or you've put in anywhere between 50 and 80 hours in the past, burned out, and learned your lesson. Sometimes, I have to force myself to stop and go home after eight hours. In the moment, it feels horrible, as if I'm "quitting" or "giving up". I have to remind myself that I'm not quitting, but instead am forcing myself into a sustainable pace.

The marathoners learned this ages ago. If you allow yourself to take a fast pace right away, you'll burn out towards the end and won't have enough energy to finish. Debugging a subtle bug or implementing major new functionality is like a marathon. Even after you've accomplished the main effort, there are lots of little things that need to be done in order to go from "done" to "usable". Forcing a 40 hour work week ensures that you save some of your energy for the polishing and don't flame out after building the skeleton of the solution.

If you're talking about working for yourself (that is, working for customers), then sure, that makes sense.

If you're working for someone else who is paying you specifically to work 40 hours, then there's no reason to work more than that unless you consider your time worthless.

I frequently put in extra time on projects without compensation. I care more about doing the job right than I do about squaring up a timesheet. It's not about my time being worthless, it's about my life being worthwhile.

If you equate worth with money, in that case you are correct. Hopefully there is a lot more than money to your job or, no matter how many hours, you'll likely not enjoy that work week.

That's the difference between really liking your job and really liking the money your job provides.

I can really like my job and really like my family, hobbies and down time even more...

I love sweets but that does not mean I fill my plate with them.

I really love my job, and when I am working on 'the good parts' of it, I find it very hard to stop at 40 hours (ok, honestly, usually it's a little bit more like 45). I do force myself to stop, in large part because I have a family at home who deserve to know me. But I've also found that when I not working, filling my time with some other things than work really does enrich my life, and I feel that my performance at work does increase, or at least is more consistent because of that.

In any case, I see very clearly, also in people around me, that loving your job and working extremely long days are not the same thing.

What is it that you do for a living?

I'm sad that people voted you down for saying that.

Yes, I work pretty close to 40 hours each week. Honestly, I tend to come in too early, and leave a little early from the schedule I told them I'd work. In the end, it probably is more like 41 hours.

The way it worked for me--during a summer job--was that days when I had something cool going I'd stay as long as I felt; if I was bored or unoccupied, I just left early. As far as I could tell, almost all of the developers worked this way.

In practice, I'd average maybe 45 hours a week. However, this was mostly because I didn't wake up early and, since I was biking, tried to leave before dark as often as possible (although sometimes I was too occupied to notice).

Overall, I think that was basically a perfect schedule for me.

This seems like the perspective of someone without spouse and kids. Which is fine, and I don't even disagree. But there are people for whom (and phases of life in which) a steady pace is not a bad thing at all, and not necessarily indicative of hating your job.

He is a professor at the University of Utah, married with two kids. I think his post represents a set of people who work hard and play hard.

When you are passionate about your work, it's very hard to keep it within 40hrs/week. So your weeks look like periodic bursts of intense work interleaved with excursions and vacations.

You don't have to be single without kids to have that lifestyle.

You do have to have a spouse willing to pick up the slack for you (kids don't function in burst mode - especially in the early years they need the familiarity of a regular routine). Although it is possible if you work a regular 9-5 and then continue working for a few more hours after the kids are sleeping.

I completely agree, but passion isn't the only way to experience joy in your work, and obsession isn't the only way to express passion.

Exactly. Try telling your three-year-old that you can't play this week (!) because you want to hack on a cool idea. It's bad enough to be late picking him up because work ran long.

This article does not take into account that what happens after that weeek. A week of spent with family, outdoors, video game spree, hacking spree with no distractions all sound great, but when did the author come back to doing the same thing again, over and over again? For instance, when did he/she feel like spending another full, uninterrupted week with family/on the beach? Also, how long can you keep repeating the @ 90 hr week?

Yea binging works, only when it is a once in a while thing. But if you have a business, and customers, and a code base, and a team - shit is ongoing, you just can't get things over with.

Think of it like food. Can you eat a week's worth of food and not come back? If you have a child (a company is like a baby always keen to hurt itself), can you dress them up once for the rest of the year?

This post seems to be missing the point. When people say they work 80 hours a week, they don't mean 80 hours one week, then 0 the next. They mean 80 hours, then 80 hours, then 80 hours, then 80 hours... That is primarily what the linked posts seem to be talking about avoiding.

Since I think we all agree the post is kind of missing the point, let me ask it like this: He said he liked working a 90 hour week hacking away when he was in grad school. Is it possible to have a hacking spree that is only 40 hours a week and get the best of both worlds; spending the other 40 hours outdoors or with your family?

I guess maybe this guy is the type of person who is all or nothing. We know everyone's different in this way. But to really be devoted to a project and getting it out the door, do you have to work 80 hours a week for 3 months so you can ship, or can you work 40 hours a week for 6 months?

I have some thoughts, but I'm curious as to what others think.

Saying that 20 hour and 60 hour weeks, depending on the situation, are better than 40 hour weeks ignores one very common and important case: when the work is boring but important. The author seems to assume that 20 hour weeks can solve all boring work, but they can only really solve boring and unimportant work. If it's important and boring, you'll probably need to spend more than 20 hours a week on it. I'll stereotype a little here and guess that the author might be like a lot of professors I know, in that he assumes that boring work is the definition of unimportant work.

But sometimes you need to get some boring thing done and it just takes a while. It may not be fun, but in those cases it really helps to have the rock solid habits and discipline that come with a regular work schedule (whatever it is) to fall back on.

Or you could try to minimize, delegate and automate the boring work away as much as possible.

Of course, this really depends on what exactly you're working on and what you find boring, but I think there are almost always alternatives to most boring work in professions like programming.

I might think this just because I find almost every facet of development interesting now--I like designing and programming, but I also usually enjoy testing, debugging, polishing and sometimes even just maintaining/refactoring. And because I'm probably not nearly as disciplined as you so I grab at any excuse to not do boring work ;)

I feel like these types of articles where the author attempts a deft explanation as to why work isn't work when you enoy it, are just annoying.

Surely as engineers, hackers, tech-minded people, we all know what the definition of work is. Nowhere in the definition of work does emotion come into play (unless your job description is to achieve a specific emotion).

This reminds me of a high school teacher of mine who used to heckle the football players asking them why they lifted weights and would say they're not actually accomplishing work(unless you're deadlifting, I guess). Most of them didn't understand which made it even more amusing.

I'd imagine most high-school level physics teachers make those kind of jokes, I know mine did. I never really liked them, or things like this: http://xkcd.com/123/ Regarding the jocks, they're still struggling with the fact that words don't have meanings, as properties of the words themselves; let alone the secondary problem of the same word having drastically different meanings.

I know this is utterly mad, but, maybe some people enjoy working 40 hours per week, and some people don't.

My personal rule of thumb has always been: "When it stops being fun and starts being work, it's time to find something new." I try to keep my count at "zero" hours as much as possible.

A rather confusing post: does the author want to work only 20 hours? Or work 40 hours but be rewarded the same as someone who works 60 hours? Or work 60 hours doing something they love all the time? All of these seem quite unrealistic but for different reasons.

The 40 hour week was brought to America in 1938, brought about primarily by unions - the word 'weekend' didn't even exist until the 1870s. Enjoy the freedom that so many worked so hard to provide you.

I don't know how you found that post confusing. It's pretty clear: a fixed-length work-week for any type of creative, rewarding or challenging job isn't ideal. (I added the creative, rewarding and challenging part, because I'm sure it's implied).

The op's point is that the freedom you think we ought to enjoy, isn't freedom...it's a rigid pre-defined template. Real freedom, when it comes to work-life balance, is working the amount of hours in a week which you want and is appropriate.

I enjoy intense working binges followed by days of slacking off as much as anyone, but aside from a handful of jobs you can't get much done that way. 40 hours a week gives you eight hours of rest, eight of work and eight to live the rest of your life every workday with two days to recharge. That's probably a fairly sustainable rate.

It's an interesting question what jobs can be done that way. I don't think many programming jobs can--startups don't seem to allow for the slacking, and working for someone else probably doesn't have that much flexibility either. I guess the old days of desktop software were somewhat like that, with intense crunch periods up to release followed by long stretches of time off after release. But now that software is released continuously that's gone away.

It's interesting to think of what jobs you can get done that way, though. Off the top of my head, grad students without assistantship obligations, filmmakers (in fact, anyone in the filmmaking process), writers, in-demand freelancers, proprietors of fairly undemanding online businesses, and actual rock stars all work that way.

Great post. I worked 30 hours of the last two days, slept 9 hours total, and spent the other 9 hours in deep relaxation (2 hours getting massage, 2 hours walking, 2 hours having relaxed nice meals, 3 hours hanging out with my friends who have a cute newborn baby).

It's been an awesome couple days. Being able to gear up and gear down on workload is one of the nicest things about running your own show.

I work in a very ad-hoc sort of way, but I find the idea of an n-hour work week very useful. If I work _n+d_ hours and feel exhausted, or I work _n-d_ hours and miss a deadline, I have an immediate and intuitive insight into what the problem is (the sign) and how big it is (the delta). Essentially it's a metric that I don't have to think too hard about.

I don't work rigid hours. My n-hours approach is a patch for the otherwise vague system in which I do stuff. And I (at least theoretically) don't beat myself up if d gets too large in either direction; if I'm overworking it's a sign that my planning process is out of whack, and if I'm underworking it's a sign that I need to find a way to get motivated or get out.

I view these "do x" blog posts as interesting things to try based on other people's life experience. It might not work for everyone, but I wouldn't pull the "x sucks" card because it's a pretty subjective problem.

Measuring work in terms of hours is fine for some jobs, but not others like programming. But the main problem is that most of them are using fear-based top-down command and control and treating people as dumb automata, which is basically suitable only for industrial manufacturing (the term "corporate drone" was created for a reason).

Once you start to have more of a personal/family life, the 40 hour (or slightly more) work week becomes a lot more essential.

Kids need more consistent time from you, they can't take 20 hours one week and zero hours the next. Same with spouses/significant others.

> If I’m working on interesting things, 40 hours is not enough. If I’m working on boring things, 40 hours is far too many.

If you like you can always work more. You enjoy it after all. Hopefully you work in a place where that will be noticed and will be rewarded with promotions and bonuses.

If you _consistently_ work on boring things, then it might be a sign that something else is wrong and you need to find a new project, new company.

Some companies have 40 hours but they are flexible, can come in anytime, work from home if needed. It is good though to have core hours when most people are in (say 11 to 3 or something like that).

> If you like you can always work more.

This is what I came here to mention.

I could quite easily coast along and pull the bare minimum in 40 hour work weeks, but I thoroughly enjoy what I do, and 50 hour weeks are the norm for me now, out of choice.

40 hour work week was a reaction on the employers with too much power. They pushed their employers to work beyond their physical health limits. As a rule, a more balanced work structure was introduced that protected both partys on the long run.

There have been a lot of research about most productive work rythm. But it differs a lot depending on the kind of work. But 40 hours is a general avarage for most people.

The end conclusion is, depending on the work and your personal context, you have to find a balanced life where.

There's always a point where we all feel bored about a job - even if we love the job. I think the challenge is trying to find things that you love within your current job and it helps guide towards something you feel more passionate about. Bad job or good job - I think there's always something you can learn about yourself. A job is just something that you do that helps you figure out yourself.

A lot of this comes down to personal preference.

But for me, it really resonates. I'd really like to try a job where I worked, say, 60 hours one week, and zero the next. (Yeah, that's not quite a full-time average.) And, let's say, every 5th month worked every week, and took the next month as vacation.

I think I could actually be really productive this way, but I've never had the chance to try it.

I recall reading someplace recently that it isn't about working only eight hours a day before rushing home, but rather about doing as much as you can in eight hours before devoting the remainder of your time to other pursuits you may find meaningful.

There are so many interesting things in the world; how can you shut yourself out to all of them but one?

it's not about amount of time, it's circumstance. When doing independent projects I regularly put in 80 hours a week. That's fine, it's my own schedule and decision. 40 hours having a supervisor breathing down your neck sucks, but 5 hours of having a supervisor breathing down your neck does too. The amount of time is irrelevant.

That's true. Also i don't understand how a week with family or a week outdoors never gets boring.

I see a lot of posts disagreeing with the OP in one form or another and I think I know why. It takes a bit of OCD and a dash of perfectionism to emphasize with the OP. Unfortunately, I know exactly how the OP feels.

My ideal work week is 1-2 hours a week!

Seriously though, 40 hours doesn't have to mean 9-5. It could be 6pm to midnight, 7 days a week.

40 hours a week sounds great!

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