Longer Work Hours vs Shorter Work Hours

November 12, 2016   

Lately I’ve been thinking about a few things about time:

It’s really common in Japan to say that you should be working at 100% horsepower with only 3 hours of sleep a day. And as a matter of fact, it seems many successful people do operate and even insist on such sleep schedules.

It seems that a lot of Japanese workers try to maximize the amount of output they produce, as well as the time they put in producing that output. The basic idea is simple: Maximum output per time unit multiplied by maximum time put in work yields maximum results.

On the other hand, I do agree with the thoughts of DHH and Jason Fried on how you should try to maximize your working hours, not necessarily try to enlong it. Jason Fried’s argument in “Rework” was that most people’s working hours are shitty hours and that you only need short bursts of concetrated work time to get things done.

His argument is that maximum output can only be achieved for limited amounts of time throughout the day. Instead of trying to spend more time with diluted quality, his argument is to spend less time working, but with 100% quality. So quality over quantity.

Tim Ferris’s famous Four-Hour Work Week also proposed a similar theme - effectiveness and efficiency are two different things. It doesn’t matter if you are efficient if you are working on the wrong things.

I’ve found that personally as an individual that works in a rather creative field, the latter argument is more convincing and is more practical. I’m sure science can back it up as well.

  • When I’m tired I tend to produce sloppy output. It might seem great at the time because of the adrenaline, but when I look at it with fresh eyes, it tends to be subpar quality.
  • If I’m focused on being productive 100% of the time, I end up not prioritizing. I feel that because I am determined to be productive 100% of the time, I have more time, thus I don’t feel the need to prioritize.
  • I find it impossible to maximize productivity when my brain is fried. (I think that is where the “Maximum output per time unit multiplied by maximum time put in work equals maximum results.” forumla may be flawed)
  • I make worse decisions when my brain is fried

If one is engaged in only simple tasks throughout the day, maximizing work time and trying to stretch the output per time unit might work to some extent.

On the other hand, if you’re in a creative field, that won’t really work - your creative mind is what will get the job done. Frying your creative mind definitely won’t do the job.

The problem is that for people like me, I like to work. I love to code and I would do it all day long. I always think that the key to improving is to code more, read more, experiment more - even if it means sacrificing a few hours of sleep.

Lately, I’ve been following these internal guidelines, which seem to be practical for people like me:

  • I allow myself to binge code a few times a month
  • When I start working on something new, I lock myself up and allow myself to lose a few hours of sleep to get in the state of flow
  • When I start feeling tired/burnt out, I take it easy for a few days until I feel fresh again
  • Before starting anything, I try to be super clear about what I’m going to try to accomplish

For people like me who want to maximize output, it seems that the key is realizing that maximizing output can be achieved far better by sleeping more, prioritizing, and trying to work more quality hours.