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Ask HN: Working Hours of Actual Startups?
6 points by dstorrs 2159 days ago | 7 comments
The lore of the startup is 100+ hours a week, always-on, check your family at the door. There are plenty of blog entries (including PG's) and books to support this. Lately, I'm even starting to see items about people using Provigil (aka Modafinil) to increase their available work hours.

On the other hand, I also see a (smaller) number of counterarguments, e.g. that the decisions you make are more important than the hours you work.

I tend to be in the first camp myself (I certainly was at my last startup), but this has me curious. I'm sure HN is full of current and former entrepreneurs--what are your experiences?




Very variable, depending upon the startup. I've been at one startup where the engineering staff basically lived at the office and slept under their desk. I've also been at one where basically everyone worked fairly standard 8-9 hour days, no weekends. The second was more successful than the first, though neither were huge hits.

What seems to work for me: I usually have about 3 periods of useful productivity a day. 10 AM to about 1 PM is when I get anything that needs intense concentration done, then I've got 2 other productive blocks, roughly from 4 PM to 6:30 PM and 11 PM to 1 AM. I'm pretty much useless after lunch, and by early evening I can't really concentrate. I've found myself falling into this pattern at many different employers, plus when self-employed - the difference is that all 3 blocks were devoted to my startup then, while now the 2 daytime blocks are devoted to my employer and the nighttime one is for side projects (or occasionally 20% stuff).

I do agree that the decisions you make are more important than the hours you work. You should work as hard as you can to still make good decisions, but no harder. The cost of one poor judgment call made when you're fatigued and worn out can easily undo a year of solid effort.

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> The cost of one poor judgment call made when you're fatigued and worn out can easily undo a year of solid effort.

And understanding that is worth at least one MBA possibly two.

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There are similarly many blogs/books about working a "normal" work week or day (and some about less than "normal").

http://www.caterina.net/archive/001196.html

http://37signals.com/svn/posts/893-workplace-experiments

http://www.amazon.com/4-Hour-Workweek-Escape-Live-Anywhere/d...

But, I think that having passion and drive for your cause is more important than counting hours. Most people will and do burn out from long hours, they lose interest, etc... which obviously isn't good in the long run.

If you're thinking about using aids (Modafinil), you're probably comparing yourself to others in an attempt to catch up or keep up or something rather than shooting for personal success.

As for me, I'm more concerned about constant and continual self-improvement (and if possible, aiding others in their own self-improvement). If you continue on a route like that, you'd be better off finding what you're really after ;-).

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> If you're thinking about using aids (Modafinil), you're > probably comparing yourself to others in an attempt to > catch up or keep up[....]

There's a certain amount of that behind this question. I'm 38. The talk on the news and YC pages about 18-24 year old founders being the norm, and 28 year olds who have already founded four or five successful startups--those don't help either. Then I start seeing these things about Modafinil and it's hard not to hear that little shoulder-demon whispering "you're past it...give up!" I don't intend to listen to him, but it's still daunting. I figured I'd get a reality check by asking here.

I've been very successful at a number of jobs because I'm smart, able to focus well and learn quickly, and willing to work as hard as needed. When I was 25, 100 hour weeks weren't a problem. But I'm 38 now, and I literally can't do that any more. I need to "work smarter" as they say; it's a hard and uncomfortable process to learn, since the old way has been so successful (and, honestly, so much fun).

>[...] constant and continual self-improvement [...]

Yep; been doing that for years. To mangle an adage: "Today in the workplace: the team of Age and Experience beat Youth and Endurance 5-0 in straight sets."

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Oh and...just to be clear: part of the initial reason for this post was because I was horrified at the Modafinil thing. Caffeine and sugar are one thing...they are well understood, they provide only a temporary boost, and they are commodities (i.e., equally available to everyone who wants them). Modafinil is a brand-new prescription-only drug. Although it's FDA approved, that's only for limited classes of medical treatment. There is little to know understanding of the effects from using it as a "competitive edge" drug. I don't want to possibly wreck myself being the guinea pig, and I don't want to have to compete against people who are burning shorter-but-longer (to paraphrase Blade Runner).

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Of course, I talk about that but I'm awake coding on the east coast at 2 a.m. ^_^

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Our startup has 6 people and an office. Office hours are pretty traditional (9am-6pm)

A regular weekday:

- Wake up at ~9am

- Walk to work at ~930am (2 blocks)

- 30 min lunch at ~2pm

- Leave work at ~6pm

- Dinner and relax with gf a bit till 8pm

- Work from 8pm till around 2-230am

Most my daytime is managing our devs, emails, meetings, user support, and some coding.

At night I work on coding prototypes, working on the next release, and specing out new features.

I've tried all sorts of schedules (all nighters at the office, 6am wakeup, etc). But I find my current schedule very productive and the important stuff doesn't get interrupted by phone calls and meetings during the day.

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