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July 14, 2009


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The list of caveats to this is huge.

I've worked plenty of jobs (and am working one right now) where it doesn't matter how hard or long I work, I'm not going anywhere. My only way up is to change careers. So why do more than 9-5?

If your boss hates you, you aren't going anywhere. I have friends in that position. And I've been there myself in the past. If this is the case you should work what's required and go home.

If you don't have the kind of personality that is receptive to 60-70 hours a week you'll only make yourself miserable despite overproduction. And that misery will show and make you less likely to be promoted.

IMHO schmoozing, politicking and socializing gets you farther faster than being a workhorse. Its not fair but its true.

And finally 50 hours a week does not necessarily equal 25% more output.

I have to disagree, as well. I just wrote an entire post in elaboration, but here's the gist:

The most successful people I've worked with could do 80% of the work of the average employee in 20% of the time. Working long hours is really only necessary if you're really late to the game.

Do it while you are young, but once you get a family, don't neglect the time with them.

I love Ryan's point about efficiency vs time spent.

I'll add by saying it's a good idea to stay at the office just long enough to make the boss happy. Past that, if you are an efficient worker, you don't need to bust out long hours.

Another point I'll add from personal observation is that the people who spend the most time talking about how long they work are the ones accomplishing the least. The most productive people I've met, get their work done and go home. Maybe they do it in 40 hours, maybe in 60. But they never waste their time talking about how much work they do.

How many people want written on their tombstone: His one regret was not spending more time at work?

rwh --

The same number of people who want "he died a poor man" written on theirs.

I know, you can do well without working a ton, but your snide remark and fact that you ignored the point in particular deserved it. :-)

I agree wholeheartedly with what vga said. I have busted out 90 hour weeks before, but probably could have done just as much work in 50 or 60 hours if I had actually been interested in what I was doing. Working long hours is not the same as working efficent, productive hours.

I think both FMF and the commenters points are valid.

And I think it comes down to efficiency and talent.

If you are better than others (some clearly are) you can go quite a ways in your career just working normal hours and getting either more done or more importantly, getting the "right" things done.

It's Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson. Both were great ball players. Both worked hard. Both Larry had to work his tail off. 10 hours in the gym every day for years. Magic worked the gym too, but not 10 hours per day, because he had more raw talent.

If you are Larry Bird, you are going to have to work your 10 hour days. If you are Magic, then you still need to work smart and efficient, you still can't be a bum, but you won't need to put in as many hours. Some of that is simply luck of the draw with your lot in life.

If you are Larry Bird and can find ways to be more efficient that can assist you but likely there will always be a disadvantage because some things just come down to raw talent giving Magic an advantage and you need to make up for that with hard work.

I had a boss comment to someone I was 'work friends' with after I had left (got all my work done and then some in 40 hours/week usually - I would stay if there was more that needed to be done), "He never stayed late," she said. He replied, "Did he get all of his work done?" And then she had nothing to say (he said she was stammering, wish I could have seen it), she valued staying late over getting the job done. Of course I pretty much knew that and it was part of the reason I no longer work there.

Some bosses have no clue how to value you even if you do a good job.

Just found this:

Interesting thoughts that pertain to our discussion here.

Working harder in your early years certainly can be a good investment in your career's future.

That does assume that working harder will get you anywhere. Most people are paid by the hour so working more hours doesn't really apply. Sometimes working more hours won't impress anyone. If there is no room for advancement then working lots of hours is a waste.

Sometimes you'd be better off putting that extra effort elsewhere. You might be better off taking night classes to get a degree. If you aren't efficient at your work, you'd be better off improving your efficiency.

I became self-employed and already knew what long hours were - and the money that could be made from a a short management career w/ Tandy/Radio Shack outa college in early 80's. So in '93 when I started my business, I began at an honest 65 hours a week, averaged 55-60 hours weekly thereafter (worked moost Saturdays and many Sunday PM's) and tailed off at 45 hoursby the middle of this decade, and then RETIRED at age 47 w/ more than enough money forever. OT can pay, especially IF you have a career thet can mean over $1K+ an hour for time spent. Was it worth it? If I live 5 or 50 more years w/o eer working again, I think so! But 3K++ hours a year, year after year, means being very organized, in shape, not sacrificing sleep and keeing your personal and family life HIGHLY organized!

From the very beginning, I worked very long hours. It started with my high school/college job at the grocery store. They pushed hard to get you to stay late and work for free. As I was in the management program, it was expected. I came in at 6 am or before and would leave around 8 or 9 pm. It was very rare to take a lunch break. Instead, I would be eating on the job while processing produce or loading the dairy case.

After first getting married, I started to hold a bit more normal hours, but things eventually changed again. After advancing through a couple positions, I ended up in a management role that pushed me into long hours. I worked nights and weekends, missed family events, skipped vacation time that was due to me, etc. This lasted about 10 years. I look back on that with great regret as I missed out on so many things as my two sons were growing up. I will never get that back.

I agree with this post as it is consistent with my own experience. You work hard and long early in your career and that will pay huge dividends later on. Many of the comments to the contrary are valid given the circumstances they describe. Many others, though, seem to be excuses for not putting in the time (e.g. My boss hates me, one has to kiss rear to progress, I am so talented I can do twice as much in half the time but still no one notices...)

Working more hours probably does pay off in certain cases, but in my past jobs, it may have only led to an extra percent or two raise per year. That's not worth it to me and figures to be a bad return on investment. I'm quite sure that it would not have led to faster advancement where I worked. Switching jobs is what gets you more money and loyalty to a company should only go so far. Companies are rarely loyal to their employees and when they force you to work more for free, you are basically telling them you don’t value your own time.

Working smarter is better than working too much, but most companies have antiquated management ideals in which they believe that face time equals more production. I am an expert with MS Office software and typing so I'm sure I'm faster at getting things done than most of the people who work with me. Employers have been squeezing employees for a long time now by reducing headcount as work increases. White collar people don't often have unions so we have to fight back by pushing back when we are expected to work too much. I always say it's good to manage upward. If everybody did it, companies would be more reasonable in their expectations.

Also, it is not right to say that single people should be happy to work more. That bias is prevalent in our society. I live alone and have nobody to help me with anything around the house when I’m at work. Also, since I do live alone, I need to be more active to get social interaction outside of work. People who have a family can spend time at home and be fulfilled socially. I understand that children take a lot of work and that parents have more to do than I do, but that doesn’t mean that my life outside of work is less important. My pursuits in dating to find a spouse to start a family are just as important as a married person's pursuits to maintain a family and spend time with them. I also need time to spend with my existing immediate family.

I know people are going to criticize me for this comment and they might think that I'm lazy and don't want to work, but it's not true. I do work hard. I've accomplished quite a bit in my career and am doing well. When my father passed away, I realized that I was happier that he was home for dinner instead of him coming home late each night to make an extra $20,000 per year to buy us more stuff. And it was nice to know that he was more loyal to us than he was to companies that laid him off and showed little appreciation for his efforts.

In my field, you work 60 to 80 hour weeks to earn the right to work...60 to 80 hour weeks. It's not a very attractive prospect, long-term, for singles *or* families (just because I don't have a spouse doesn't mean I don't have plenty of interests and concerns of my own that need my time an attention!).

(I should add that in my field, when you're busy, there is always, always more work you could be doing. It's not a question of efficiency at all.)

The extra 10 hours a week early in a career, or with the start of a new position, should be spent determining how to improve the other hours spent at work. Once the boss knows you work harder (even if you are not actually) you will have learned to work smarter. This increases productivity and usually pay.

Work smarter not harder.

You need three things:

1. Develop the ability to be a workhorse at need. You don't always need to be one, but you need to be able to do it when it's necessary.
2. Figure out what work "matters" versus work that doesn't. You only do this by working hard early in your career. I agree with working smarter versus harder, but you don't know what "smarter" means until you've worked awhile and figured it out. Some things that seem tedious are hugely important, while other stuff that seems highly important is actually meaningless, but you don't know which is which until you've lived some.
3. Make sure people know what you did. Don't think that hard work will be noticed by itself, especially if you _aren't_ in an area where objective results are easily tied to particular workers (ie, engineering versus sales). You do have to toot your own horn.

I really like the basic premise of this post. I think, when you are young in your career, you need to work harder and smarter (keep learning about your company, go above and beyond to contribute). This is also the time to take risks with your career, by this I mean shop yourself around and use different moves to build your titles, experience and base salary. This is exactly how I got to running a $50 million dollar a year business by the age of 33 considering I started working with a Masters at age 23....

I'd recommend that people focus not just on time spent, but also look at the value gained for the time spent. This could either by improving your personal 'brand' as seen by your co-workers or actually delivering a valuable contribution to the company.

So I agree with FMF as well as Ryan on this. Individual mileage will vary.


There's some truth to this. By working harder I'm making $20k more than other people my age and have more responsibility. I'm 26 and I'm already at the level of colleagues in their mid-thirties. In my case the answer was more hours, but the trick was doing work in shorter amounts of time and using the other time to learn more. Since I make more now rather than making less if I performed averagely, my retirement savings will be higher.

As far as brownie points go, my previous bosses have been more impressed with getting into the office earlier instead of later.

I'm not sure where this story came from, but I think it's a great example. On the plains in Africa, every day the slowest gazelle has to be just faster than the fastest lion in order to survive. Every day the slowest lion has to be faster than the slowest gazelle in order to survive. The moral of the story is that no matter if you're a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up you better be running!

I think this is too general a statement to make. For one thing, isn't quality of life more important than salary? For another, I think there are much better ways to impress at work than working crazy hours: track your accomplishments, reach out for new projects, offer creative ideas and solutions, improve communications with your boss, focus on what's important, etc etc ad nauseum.

I also think that putting in 60-70 hours per week, as you recommend, is just asking for burnout. There's a reason most lawyers are miserable and wish they hadn't become lawyers.

In any case, this was a thought-provoking article, and you've inspired an idea for a post on my own blog. Thanks!

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