I don't think I could do a single task for 80h/wk productively, but I could certainly do my primary job for 40-60h/wk productively and then spend 20h/wk doing meetings with users, conferences, etc.
Edit: This reminds me of a discussion a friend had with the partner at the white shoe firm where she worked at the time. The partner said "...friends, family, and outside interests are all important. But you have to decide between them and success here." Obviously a paraphrase; this was ~10 years ago.
"... increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output (as Henry Ford could have told them). Most modern-day managers assume there will be a direct one-to-one correlation between extra hours and extra output, but they’re almost always wrong about this. In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time."
From about 1/3 down in the "The Overtime Exception" section.
"... research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight."
Motivation to build what you really want to build is completely different from being motivated to work for a salary to avoid starvation and keep your family going.
I imagine it's a lot easier being a doctor who is actually helping individual people squeeze in one more patient, vs. spend overtime filling in paperwork. Same difference between working on an awesome product where you have total visibility into the whole process, vs. beng a cog in a much larger wheel.
I work at a small programming company where gratuitous overtime is the norm as a project closes. By the time things calm down again, we're so stressed out that our productivity probably falls by 50% or more for weeks to come. And the cumulative effect after years of this is even worse. I don't think the boss (also an overworked programmer) has yet to come to appreciate this daunting reality.
What people can do, and what employers are willing to pay for, are two very different things. Employers, by and large, have adopted a strategy of paying employees as little as possible, divorcing their compensation from the value of their work. Capitalism says that employers should receive as little work of as little value as possible in return.
Workers are paid based on supply and demand. If moving a pile of manure from one side of a parking lot to the other will net me $100,000,000, that doesn't mean the laborer I hire to move the manure will share in the value created by moving the manure. This is because the pool of laborers willing and able to do the job is roughly 4 billion people (or more accurately, tens of thousands of people in the immediate vicinity). Competition ensures that a laborer will be willing to move the manure for (roughly $15/hour here in Southern California), regardless of the ultimate value the work produces for me.
On the other hand, if a Steve Jobsian/Jony Ive figure creates a series of industry dominating products from whole cloth, he may get to share in a huge percentage of the value created by those products, simply because there are only a handful of people on the planet capable of creating those products, and thus the employer is willing to pay his $100,000,000 salary.
Like you said, there's nothing about capitalism that says it should do otherwise, but I think for me that shows how unethical capitalism is in how it treats the output of others.
By definition, free trade happens because each side believes they are receiving more value than they are paying. In my example, the manure owner who pays his laborer $15 an hour and the board of directors who pays the Steve Jobsian figure $500,000 an hour both believe that what they get in return is worth more than the money they pay. This is why they enter into the transaction.
>This accumulation of wealth is typically backed by hierarchy and authority structures that maintain that the employer continues to get more value out of someone's work than the employee(s) participating in that work.<
And from the other side, the laborer who exchanges his time for $15 per hour and the Steve Jobsian figure who exchanges his time for $500,000 an hour both "continue to get more value out of" the money the employer is paying them than they would otherwise get out of their other options. Again, this is why they agree to exchange their time for money.
Again, this all boils down to supply and demand (plus value). If there are millions of laborers that can perform any task, the price to perform that task will always be low, no matter how much value the task ultimately generates. (I say plus value because, even if you're the only person in the world that can do something, if nobody wants that thing done (i.e. no value is created) then no one will agree to transact.)
The lack of correlation is primarily due to inability to measure contributions vs. an effort by employers to selectively screw high achieving employees. If you had perfect visibility into the current and future contributions of employees, it actually would make sense to pay the 10x employee 10x more than the 1x employee (and arguably being able to make a team of 5 x 10x employees would be worth way more than the equivalent salaries of 50 regular employees, since a 50 person team would be so large as to have 2-3 layers of management, much higher support costs, etc., so just paying the smaller team 10x as much would be a bargain.)
For a variety of reasons this isn't really done directly with cash compensation (taxes, measurement, supply shortage, envy of other employees, politics with managers, etc.), but rather by the 10x teams being startups which may get purchased.
Although driving may also tap into it, the issue is mental burnout. Cleaning or eating doesn't take mental capacity, thinking does and that is in short supply (as the article notes, study show there's about 6h of good thinking per day in an average individual). Yeah might be able to "productively" work 80h/week if half that was cleaning the toilet... why?
> I could certainly do my primary job for 40-60h/wk productively and then spend 20h/wk doing meetings with users, conferences, etc.
No, you might think you do.
What experiments have you performed to validate this hypothesis?
The recreational activities I seem to seek out in the remaining time, even without any external pressure, are all startup related. I don't know which are considered in scope as "work" vs. "recreation". If I had a choice of watching TV or talking to people about their YC applications, I'd probably do the latter. If I had the choice of reading The Economist or a great startup post-mortem, the latter. Play Battlefield 3 vs. take apart a competitor's product.. Talk to someone about sporting events of the local team vs. talk to someone about what I'm working on...
I've never been able to do 80h/wk on a single task for more than 3 weeks without dramatically worse productivity and burnout, but the mixed time use works fine, at least for me.
I guess I could try working (in the most inclusive definition) for only 40h/wk. I did that for a while when living in a diving location, spending the rest of my time diving, and it didn't feel better; I missed having enough time to do things, but maybe I got more work done per hour.