When I younger, I prided myself on my tireless work ethic.
When I was in high school, I worked like a maniac to set a meaningless record for earning extra credit in my English classes. Trust me, I was already going to get an A+; all that extra credit was purely for ego purposes.
When I was at Stanford, I found a clever loophole in the registration software that let me take classes for fewer credits than they were worth. As a result, I was able to take the equivalent of 30 units of classes per quarter (the official limit was 20, and you were supposedly only allowed to go over if you applied for a special one-time dispensation). I did this my entire junior year (Stanford fixed the loophole my senior year) in addition to doing improv comedy and working as a peer counselor and writing tutor. I gleefully filled out my paper planner with endless boxes to tick off, and was pleased that I was constantly busy.
When I worked at D. E. Shaw & Co., L.P., I worked 70 hour weeks, and would go into the office on weekends regularly (it helped that it was air conditioned, full of snacks, equipped with high-speed Internet access, and 2 blocks from my apartment). I thrived on praise from my managers.
I mention all this to show that a) I’m not opposed to hard work, and b) that it’s possible to work insanely hard for long periods of time without negative consequences.
But, and this is a big but, all this happened before I met my wife. And way before I had my kids. 70 hour weeks worked for me because I enjoyed my work, and because I didn’t have anything better to do.
Once I did, I came to realize that while long hours can help your productivity, intense hours are a far better approach.
For far too many, long hours are a cargo cult approach to productivity. Just because you’re in your seat, doesn’t mean you’re productive. The constant Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, Tumblring, and other -ings are a continual distraction, as is checking your email.
I learned the power of focus when I was taking care of my kids in my office at work (an unusual but highly educational experience). Whenever Jason or Marissa went down for a nap, I went on a binge of productive work–thrilled to be able to type with both hands on the keyboard and both eyes on the screen. I thought I had been productive during my Stanford and D. E. Shaw days; I had no idea what per-minute productivity was until I became a primary childcare provider!
Working long hours makes people feel productive. But do you know what’s even better? Being productive.
P.S. For more on how I keep myself productive, check out my post on the Pomodoro technique:
P.P.S. This post was inspired by this Michael Simmons article in Forbes, which quotes my friends Rahim Fazal and Dave Kashen: