Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

imageI originally wrote this on Qt3 but I think this might be helpful to others who are wondering about the effects of working long hours.

Here are my views on the matter:

I think with most people, 55 to 60 hours a week is about the maximum before they start to eat up stored health/sanity points. And even there, over time, you will start to suffer burn-out -- the rate depends on how much you enjoy what you’re working on. But sooner or later, it’ll catch up on you.

Up until last year, my typical work week was 60 hours. That's about 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and I'd take Sunday off for family/video games/etc. I would regularly push a beyond those hours because I was ignorant of the gradual effects of working beyond a healthy dose had on me.

I got my first real taste of working really long hours In 2009, when Demigod came out. It is a multiplayer-centric game with servers designed to help connect users. Like many Internet-centric games, its initial launch overwhelmed our infrastructure and we raced to fix/add to it. That event started a bad habit on my part of doing all-nighters. As a result, my normal schedule rose from 60 to 80 hours even after the 100 hour weeks of the Demigod effort subsided.

Less than a year later, still really not recovered from the work on Demigod and with Impulse really starting to take off, I returned to working on a PC game called War of Magic. It was at the tail end of development and our retail launch window had been set to August. My hours returned to being over 90 a week during the Summer – one all nighter a week.

Here is the part I want to emphasize though: I believed my disposition and work quality seemed just as good as it normally was.  I was wrong. From later talking to my coworkers, friends and family, later I realized that was not the case. According to them, I was like “a heroin addict, I looked strung out and was very difficult to be around.”  Since I regularly engage with the public, this would have significant consequences.

That August, things got even more pressing and I had to increase my work to over 100 hours a week (two-all nighters weekly).  During this time, I considered my disposition and the quality of my work to be just as good as it was at 40 hours a week. It’s like drinking alcohol– but without the pleasure. Winking smile

The point being, those who say that they can work 60 or 80 hours a week without it affecting them are dead wrong. I was one of those guys – for years.  Luckily (or unluckily) the consequences for this became too obvious to ignore and I changed my work habits.

These days, we avoid crunch times like the plague. We no longer take retail availability into consideration for our product cycles so that we have the flexibility of just pushing the release date back. That’s how big a deal we consider excessive hours to be. It costs us less to push a date back than it does to deal with the consequences of having people work long hours.

Comments (Page 1)
on Aug 20, 2012

The point being, those who say that they can work 60 or 80 hours a week without it affecting them are dead wrong.

The cut-off point for working on a drawing board  [thinking dimensions and in 3D] for me is about 6 hours......after which things go south quite fast.

But then I can always take a 'break' and keep an eye on the net..... 'til 2 am .....

Then the cycle repeats....

on Aug 20, 2012

I can attest to long working hours affecting the ability to judge your own work. It's downright painful to look over stuff I produced back when I was shoveling 84 shows a month. And it's not like I thought they were great, just good enough so I can call it a day, it was probably more of a case of just wanting to be done that clouded my judgment.

on Aug 20, 2012

I think I created more on-line detractors between May 1 and August 30 of that year than all the years prior.

on Aug 20, 2012

I remember some of that. My father used to work 70 hours a week until I started subconsciously manipulating him to take time off and go on vacations. The difference was massive. His company even flourished afterwards because his attitude and work quality were so much better. Working too much is a big problem. The stakanovite theory is full of terrible consequences and most people are too polite to warn you. 

A good work ethic means knowing when to take a break.

on Aug 20, 2012

Our hospital staff work 60-80 hour weeks a lot of the time, many work  three, four, or five 16 hour days in a row, working with dangerous mental patients, and are constantly being nit-picked about everything.  No cost of living increases and many with no benefits at all, and if they get attacked by a patient, they aren't allowed to go to the doctor until after their shift and only then if approved by the work comp doctor.   If they have to take worker's comp, the hospital will then look for grounds to fire them.  The staff become irritable, they make mistakes, they have to drive home exhausted in a land filled with deer (nature's suicide bombers).  

on Aug 20, 2012

Imho, all communication after 30-36 hours up just isn't worth it. People rarely remember what was said, and rarely is anything of worth spoken of. Meetings become about checking off everything on your internal list and making a few jokes to show you've still got the spirit.


on Aug 20, 2012

I hope I don't ruffle any feathers by saying this, but I think this sort of push for productivity at all costs, is a mind-set we have in the US, and I think it's costing us, as a nation, a price we aren't really seeing.  Productivity is at an all time high.  Because of the economy, people who have jobs are "just happy to have jobs" and they're working whatever amount of hours it takes to keep their jobs; and those who run their own business, like Brad, are pushing the amount of hours they put into a day to a ridiculous point.  I believe that part of the reason we have an obesity epidemic in this country is because of this work ethic.  There's stress eating going on, there's hitting up fast food places and cramming fuel into our mouths to keep pace with the amount of hours we're putting in, without putting any thought into HOW we're eating, not just what we're eating. 

Since I've hit my 50s, I've been thinking more about how much I get out of each day, not just how much I've put into it.  There's a certain amount of my day I try to pay attention to my inner being, and enjoying the little moments of my life, not just pushing to pay for everything, being the best worker I can be so my employer will find me invaluable.  I think the heroin junkie analogy is very appropriate--I think we can get so involved in focusing on the outcome of our work, 'the reward,' that we forget we're alive right now, and we should be grateful for this present moment.

Thank you for the post, Brad.  It's very insightful.

on Aug 20, 2012

Although there is contention between scientists on this "rule" I find that as long as you make up 1/2 the time of the missed sleep, your body will function properly.

eg: If you are normally awake for 16 hours, and sleep 8, and then pull a 24 hours wakefulness cycle (because your boss is Draginol ), if you sleep 12 hours after that (you stayed awake for 8 extra hours, so need 4 hours of extra sleep) you should be again ready for battle.

Failing to heed this rule by even 1 hour will affect your performance.

Soooo... if you get 11 hours of sleep in the above scenario (because you can't stay asleep for 12 hours), you will function as if you only had 7 hours of sleep on a normal night. (so sleep an extra 1/2 hour on the next sleep cycle, and you should be again at 100%)

If you only get the normal 8 hours of sleep after pulling the awake for 24-hour all nighter. it would be like you only had 4 hours of sleep on a normal night (ouch).

You may not feel tired, but you are not functioning properly. So even missing 1 hour of normal sleep (happens to most people at least once a week) you are doing yourself a favor by taking that extra 1/2 hour the next day.

Of note:
People lose performance after about 20 hours of wakefulness, and break down after about 36 hours...

This means if you violate the above"rule" and accumulate 36 hours of deprivation, such as a 24 hour awake, 8 hour sleep, 24 awake, 8 sleep, and another 24 hour awake cycle (something I have found occurs in high-tech emergencies), you are actually in danger of rapidly developing a real problem such as insomnia, fatigue or depression if you continue shorting yourself on sleep after that point.

Disclaimer: This is the internet, I may be a professional ninja and not a doctor... the above should not be taken as medical advice, although you should make up for lost sleep.

on Aug 20, 2012

I really don't get this mindset of working so much.  I do my 40 and go home.  Cya, my time is *my* time.

on Aug 20, 2012

I think that if you have right motivation working long hours is not such a problem.


When I was a kid I needed cash and I needed it fast. For 3 months in a row I worked 370+ hours per month. 16h everyday 6 times a week. True I was in my early twenties and full of energy.

It wasn't problem at all until I reached my goal. It might be coincidence that it happened right after goal was achieved or it was long coming but my body gave up and consequences were me becoming sick with some sort of bug. 

But I do think that is was focus and my mind alone that was keeping me up working those crazy hours.

on Aug 20, 2012

Of course the young can handle more work. But even that wears them out sooner than if they had taken it slow and steady.

on Aug 20, 2012

This is so funny. Try being in the Army or Marines and see how much you sleep or should I say not sleep.  Try that for 20-30 years.  By the way, theres no making up for lost sleep.

on Aug 20, 2012

In the mid-1980's I was working for a company called Lear Siegler, now known as Lucas Aerospace ( a Military private contractor). I was a test engineer on the Convaire Program involved in target acquisition for the guidence system on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile. I was putting in some horrendous hours at that time, working 7 days a week and cramming in all the overtime I could possibly persuade the top brass to allow me. In the very first Gulf War, a total of 38 missiles failed in targeting parameters. It was a huge embarrasement for me personally, but oddly enough, not a word about it was mentioned inside the company. I carry that burden with me to this day, because I will never know what the cost was in terms of human lives for these failures. It taught me a life lesson and I've been much better at putting things in proper perspective when it comes to what is truelly important in ones life.     -- Ace --

on Aug 20, 2012

I have a daughter who was crying pretty much a full year from birth. Sleep deprivation sucked all creativity and energy from me. I could do routine tasks, but I was more or less like a zombie (looked like one too, pale and thin). You can get used to having little sleep, but there is a price to pay. Your performance will diminish...

on Aug 20, 2012

I used to live by the motto of "I'll sleep when I'm dead".  On several occasions I had close calls because I was sleep deprived and had I not had someone/thing watching over my shoulder, I would have found out how much sleep a dead person really gets to enjoy.  These days, I sleep as much as I need to.