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How many Hours of a Day Spent working?

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Data Engineer at Taro Communitya month ago

In an 8-hour workday, how much of it should be spent actually working? Caveat: I know this will vary for people. But what are the "bounds" if they exist?

I officially have a 1 hour lunch break. However, I like to add a half-hour walk in the afternoon and a half-hour nap. So now I'm only working for 6 hours.

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(10 comments)
  • 15
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    Thoughtful Tarodactyl
    Taro Community
    a month ago

    In my opinion as many hours as needed to "meet expectations" is the number of hours I strive to work for at minimum

  • 14
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    Team Lead (people manager) at Mistplay
    a month ago

    Exactly, impact i.e. value delivered to the user/client/company is what matters for meeting expectations and promotion.

    Echoing Alex’s feedback in another thread about a potential PIP: if you are working 80 hours a week and struggling, try working 40 with two full days off.

    The contra positive is if you are working ~40 and enjoying your career progress, do not work 80.

    A finance YouTuber I follow was also making a point about this: to make a lot of money/value in your career, work a job where time doesn’t matter but quality does. As a server in a restaurant the only way to make more money was to work more hours. Now as I’m looking to think about my day I don’t try to stay busy for X time per day. Rather if something is important and impactful I get it done well, if there are too many of those thing I prioritize for impact and say no to the others.

    Launching a side project app I also realize software is perfect for the YouTubers advice because in theory I could spend 1000000 hours building an app with 100 users or 100 hours with 1000000 users. So it’s really important that I think about using my hours effectively, not efficiently. (Where effectiveness is impact in the right direction, efficiency is doing whatever random tasks I am assigned or first think of in large volume quickly)

  • 1
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Taro Community
    a month ago

    Thanks @Tarodactly and @Ryan. I guess my question was what's normal for people? I realize there is no normal. Some folks can meet expectations working 2 hours a day. While some can't at 10. Ideally there would be a nice bar chart where I could see this broken out. I imagine hours worked would be much higher at the FAANGs. If either of you knows of a resource like that, would love to see it!

  • 3
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    Team Lead (people manager) at Mistplay
    a month ago

    Yeah there’s probably some distribution mostly between 4-12 hours. I definitely believe you could do great work and get promoted with the 6 hour schedule you’re talking about. It could help even to take a walk and come back to debug something instead of sitting there all day with out food or walking around. After working too many hours for months I feel myself doing worse

  • 18
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    There is actually science behind this. Here's one of the more academic resources I found: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6617405/. If you want something more "user friendly", there's no shortage of blogs and journalists that take the research, simplify it, and put it into an article.

    The core points:

    • The optimal upper bound is 40-50 hours of work per week
    • Working >55 hours per week greatly increases your chance of depression, alcohol/tobacco usage, heart problems, and a whole bunch of other very serious issues
    • Working >10 hours on an individual day is also bad for you
    • It is incredibly rare for productivity to go up after you cross the 50 hour/week and 60 hour/week thresholds. At that point, you are physically at your desk but not actually getting any work done. If you are creating something during that time (like code as a software engineer), it's likely so poor quality that it's useless

    In general, I've worked between 35-45 hours weeks across my career. As I got more mature and senior, I learned to get far more from my time and was even able to work 30-hour weeks while comfortably meeting expectations.

    I actually really dislike remote work (I love building relationships in-person), so after the pandemic happened, I was pretty burnt out and usually working 30-35 hour weeks at Meta and Robinhood. It took a while to get used to, but I was still able to be a high-performing tech lead during those times.

    I talk about all this in-depth in the advice here: [Taro Top 10] Work-Life Balance

  • 0
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Taro Community
    25 days ago

    Thanks @Alex!

  • 7
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    25 days ago

    I think of my work as cyclical. Structure helps, but only insofar as you can deviate from it as needed.

    For example, in the early stages of a project, much of your time may be in alignment and planning. I actually work longer hours in this phase, since the work day is taken up with coordination and meetings, and I spend extra time in evenings to get "real" work done.

    When the project gets into execution phase, I have more predictable hours, and I'll break up my day to go on walks or grab a meal with colleagues.

    Instead of starting with the time you're allocating for work, start with the job that needs to be done, and break it down into chunks that you can tackle in your day.

  • 0
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Taro Community
    25 days ago

    @Alex, does your point about there being a natural limit of 50 or 60 hours a week worked before negative returns set in apply only to software engineering or to other fields like medicine, law, consulting, finance, or entrepreneurship? Is software engineering unique in its nature in that regard?

  • 7
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    24 days ago

    @Alex, does your point about there being a natural limit of 50 or 60 hours a week worked before negative returns set in apply only to software engineering or to other fields like medicine, law, consulting, finance, or entrepreneurship? Is software engineering unique in its nature in that regard?

    It applies everywhere, but it's especially true for software engineering, particularly when you're operating at the highest levels (i.e. you are quite senior and on a team filled with diverse and challenging problems).

    In general, the effectiveness of throwing more hours at the problem goes down the more creative and higher-stakes your job is. In other words, overworking is more effective when your job consists of largely executing the exact same steps again and again and the damage from making a mistake are minimal.

    Take this example with 2 people in different jobs, both of whom are tired from working too many hours.

    • You make chairs - You improperly glue one of the legs to the chair. The chair falls down later on, causing one customer to have an injured bottom.
    • You are an SRE - You push a bad DNS change and take down your all of company's servers for several hours, hurting millions of users. This is actually an oversimplified version of what caused the infamous 2021 Meta outage (tens of millions of $$ in lost revenue): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Facebook_outage

    Tech in general is a field where you need to have your brain genuinely turned on pretty much all the time. Unlike most fields (even a doctor can only treat 1 patient at a time), the impact in tech is inherently multiplicative. Your success affects many people at a time, but so do your failures. Be careful.

  • 5
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer at Other
    23 days ago

    As a recovering workaholic who used to work on average 60-80 hours a week and thinking 100 hours wasn’t enough to meet my goals (everyone on the Obama campaign and us alumni of it are hardcore), was not only unsustainable and made me so unhappy, but also had long term effects on my burnout for years. Yes, I was more productive, I did more in 1.5 years than I had in 5, but I also suffered injury that lasted me 10+ years, and folks died on that job, and on my job after that.

    tl:dr: working more hours can make you more productive, but it won’t make you happy, it isn’t maintainable on term, and you can suffer the consequences to your health long-term.

    I don’t think I counted the exact number of hours doing my last startup per week (I was founder and CTO managing 4 ICs and then a bunch of other business stuffs/depts), but what I can say is that the scope of it was about 3-4 companies in one and I was burned out for 6 months. Oddly, I overrode my nervous system and had the audacity to think I could start another startup company or fund right away (right before I bled out and almost died from a bear death experience), and still wanted to do so afterward. I went into a dark place after that.

    What it means is: overwork can kill you, and literally, and it isn’t just the number of hours you put in, but the mental and physical taxation on the body and mind that does the number.

    Moving forward, outside of benefits like fertility and basic pay with stock options and healthcare, I look for somewhere that isn’t so friggin’ demanding that the work I do is not valued and takes up every waking minute of my life, whether or not it was for someone else’s company or my own.

    Rest is important and so is being realistic and manageable with expectations for yourself and the team around you to execute. I worked in what you called the most toxic cultures in various industries at the highest levels and while it taught me a lot about discipline, the values of efficiency and top world class performance and running everything literally like a military op by the nanosecond, it also taught me the ways I was treated less than human and that to expect everyone to operate like this long-term may not be the best. While this may sound like dedication and commitment and sacrifice, there is a borderline between insane and reasonable. Use your own judgement here, but even if you sleep 6-8 hours a night, eat healthy, workout, etc. and work 40 hours a week, it can still be a lot and that should be enough.

    3 Various Cultures of Work in Tech and the 'ideal outlier'

    1. The Cut # of Hours and hope it solves the problem approach: Other cultures of tech companies like Team Treehouse tried at 30 hours per week to be productive but I heard changed since then too.
    2. The scope it smaller so it doesn't hyperscale and need VC money so we run lean approach (the ideal method, but not necessarily the right option): I also heard similar stories of Basecamp with regard to scale of the company and that ultimately while everyone dreams of a work-life balance utopia for a big tech company or a startup, there is always a chance of overwork if it isn’t a lifestyle business. Still, some tech companies operate like a lifestyle business or consultancy and that can also burn you out as the primary owner not at scale.
    3. Work-Life Balance Ideal -- but you might not get promoted or make as much money - I also know folks close to me who achieve perfect work-life balance, with all the stock options and salary (but less pay for the last 9 years like thinks heir max was 100K), work less than 40 hours a week in tech, go on rock climbing and PTO for at least a quarter of the year, but are “always on” remote on Slack 24/7 almost so that is another thing to consider.

    What this means: know what value you are trading your time and energy for (money etc.). and choose accordingly.

    Ideal Outlier: While this can be seen as a false paradigm (the 3 above don't apply to you) and you can get paid $600K+ working less than 20 hrs a week. Comment// [I'm sure that exists SOMEWHERE, but find that it's reserved from very rare, high level, very senior ICs, and my friends who were all acqui-hires at their startup that sold it because they couldn't scale like FAANGMULA and get paid $1-2M/year at minimum and chill all day on their product they're working on integrating into a larger product from the acquiring company. Many of these people leave to eventually found their own companies again as serial entrepreneurs (and work hella hours again) or become VCs (Venture Capitalists), angel investors etc.].

    My bottom line: I personally wouldn’t overwork myself that ridiculously again, if anything if I did 60-80 hours a week it would be because the job required it and I was all in, or I had a side hustle and more grad school that totaled another 10-20 hours a week. I also have ex-Meta and ex-Amazon engineering friends who regularly work 60 hours a week and still volunteered for leadership roles for two non-profits (mine and another friend’s non-profit), but that didn’t last.

    AND if you still don't believe me and have been an indie dev consultant, you can read Jonathan Stark's great list-serve against all hourly billing (for independent contractors) and think about the value you provide, so your work is not valued based by the number of hours you bill, and how you bill varies by project and measured by value. This is different for FTE (Full Time Employees) at various tech companies and then it's just about 'are you getting the job done' balance with health and money exchange. https://jonathanstark.com/