Lately I’ve run across some posts (here and here, for example) based on the idea that for grad students and academics, working 40 hours per week is a good thing. Of course if this makes people happy then great — but I dislike the idea strongly. Most of the time, a week in which I work 40 hours sucks. If I’m working on interesting things, 40 hours is not enough. If I’m working on boring things, 40 hours is far too many. Either way, not so fun. 40 hours is a compromise week in which I don’t actually get a lot of work done, but I’m probably stuck in the office a lot.
On the other hand, here are some weeks that make me happy:
- A week spent with family. Hours worked: 0.
- A week spent outdoors. Hours worked: 0.
- A video game spree, when I was younger. Hours worked: 0.
- A hacking spree, back in grad school. Hours worked: 90.
- A hacking or writing spree now. Hours worked: 60.
These weeks are great because they are focused and uncompromising. Instead of context switching, there is flow. The point is: whatever you’re doing, it’s better to just do it, even if this violates some arbitrary ideal time management scheme. People who hate their jobs often work 40 hours weeks, why be one of them?
This piece is related to my earlier one on pointy people.
Update from Friday 10/28: Lots of good discussion on hacker news. A few random clarifications:
- This piece isn’t criticizing the 40 hour week as an idea, but rather it’s criticizing the 40 hour week as an ideal, if that makes sense.
- As a commenter noted, I’m married and have kids, which is why 60 hours is about the most I can realistically manage now. That’s a regular 40 hour week plus 3 hours every night after the kids are in bed. This isn’t that bad.
- My personality is fairly obsessive and I average about six hours of sleep per night. At some level I’d like to sleep more, but when I try this, the extra time is spent lying awake — which I hate.
- My job, tenured professor, gives a lot of flexibility in when and where I work.
- My core responsibilities — teaching and meetings, mostly — require probably 20 hours a week, averaged over the whole year. Thus, if I want to be a “full-time” researcher too, I’m suddenly working 60 hours.
In summary, commenter xarien at HN hit the nail on the head:
“I see a lot of posts disagreeing with the OP in one form or another and I think I know why. It takes a bit of OCD and a dash of perfectionism to emphasize with the OP. Unfortunately, I know exactly how the OP feels.”