A few weeks ago, I set out to work a 100 hour work week. Not 100 hours at the office, but 100 hours working on programming work for Code Connect.
Nick Winter and Bethany Soule have both posted about their experiences doing similar things. Nick clocked an astonishing 120 hours and Bethany worked for an impressive 87.
These two strike me as demi-gods of productivity. Nick has self-published a book on motivation and Bethany co-founded Beeminder, a company dedicated to keeping people motivated and on track for their goals.
I, on the other hand, haven’t done much self-examination on motivation beyond the usual “I should probably procrastinate less…”
Also, as I use Windows I had to build my own (much worse) version of Nick Winter’s Telepath Logger. Mine is absolute garbage and randomly breaks down all the time. (I suspect some jabs at Windows might be made, but they should probably be aimed at me, if anything).
Here’s a time-lapse video of my attempt:
In total, I clocked about 95 hours of productive time. I completely fell apart on the final day, when I got frustrated with a task and quit at 6:00 pm at my friends’ encouragement (More on that later). If I had kept going until 2:00 am, I would have met my 100 hour goal.
Here’s a look at my time-per-day.
Some thoughts on the whole experience:
1. The video was a huge motivator.
The idea that someone might see me cheating helped me resist the urge to go off task. I’ve always been a big believe in internal motivation and that it trumps extrinsic motivation ten times out of ten. This experiment changed my opinion on that a little bit. Perhaps certain external motivators can work together with internal motivators. Perhaps, certain external motivators are different than others and research has yet to distinguish between the two?
2. Have a well-defined goal at all points
The work that was easiest to do, was well-defined and relatively straightforward. When I say straightforward, I don’t mean simple and without thought. But at the same time, certain difficult architecture decisions seemed to almost paralyze me and stall productivity.
A big chunk of my time (Wednesday to Sunday) was spent trying to reverse-engineer how Visual Studio’s Intellisense worked. Occasionally I would get blocked, and not know where to look next. This instantly killed any “Flow” I had and left me frustrated. Perhaps tasks like this are not suited to be worked on for long periods of time.
3. Block everything distracting
Like Bethany, I compiled a list of distracting sites (Reddit, HackerNews etc.) and dumped them in my hosts file to redirect to 127.0.0.1. I’ve developed an awful habit, where I’ll open up a new tab, hit “R” or “H” and press enter and instantly be brought to Reddit or HackerNews. Blocking these sites helped prevent this. I knew that I could easily unblock the websites, but that forced it to be a conscious decision on my part, something I could more easily think through.
4. WARNING: YOUR FRIENDS ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS
The points at which this week was the hardest was when my friends would try to convince me to take a break. Imagine all the excuses you tell yourself, coming at you from text, email and in-person.
“You’ve worked hard enough today, just come out”
“You need to take a break, no one could sustain this pace”
“Just take a break for a couple hours”
Ultimately, they won out and in a bout of frustration and nagging from friends, I gave up early. I hope to do this again, and next time I’ll completely get rid of my phone. I’m typically not distracted by it (I don’t text much and don’t get too much email) but it was absolutely the biggest distraction during this week.
I can’t blame them, though. I’d probably do the same thing to them.
5. It was not the happiest week I’ve had.
Nick Winter mentioned that his 120-hour work week was the happiest he’d been since he began quantifying his happiness. I’ve never quantified mine, but I’m 100% positive it was not my happiest week. There were points in each day at which I was downright miserable and wanted nothing more than to give up. I love programming and do it almost every day, but this was exhausting.
Nick also mentioned that it was easy for him. It was not easy for me. It was extremely hard. I missed exercise, I missed talking to friends and I missed doing things other than programming.
It was a pretty good week overall. I felt like I learned a lot about myself, my motivations and how to improve. In terms of technical progress, I knocked off most of my Git issues and now have a pretty intimate knowledge of Visual Studio’s Intellisense.
I need a second screen. I work entirely on a 13 inch ultrabook screen, which makes it a lot more difficult to look at different parts of large systems. Watching the other maniac week videos left me feeling extremely jealous.
If you want to see what I was building check out the demo video at: http://codeconnect.io
P.S. FOR ANY MICROSOFT DEVS: I still haven’t figured out how to embed Intellisense within a Projection Buffer. If you know how, or know someone who might: Please contact me on Twitter @ThisIsJoshVarty.
4 thoughts on “The 95 Hour Work Week (And why it should have been more…)”
Why would you want to work a 100 hour work week? Why would you make that a goal? Why would you give up on sleep, socialization, and relaxation? You keep doing this and you’re going to burn out.
A big part of it for me was just to answer the question “Could I do this?”
At the time, I was also under a deadline I’d set for myself and wanted to meet. It’s certainly not a regular occurrence for me.
Hey Josh, thanks so much for writing this up! To answer Taylor’s question, the idea is to get deeply absorbed in work like writing or coding where concentration is paramount. You put in a 100-hour week and then you slack off the next week, so you’re still averaging 40 hours/week but, if you do it right, it can be way more efficient.