Eight Productive Hours

The key to working fewer hours is not to simply do less but to do what matters the most - Unknown

I’m a morning person. So I usually start around 8 AM from my home desk. The time was the same even when I worked from the office. Almost everyone starts after 9:30 or 10, giving me enough time for tasks that require strong concentration. I try to devote a part of this time to reading if my work schedule allows (which it doesn’t, generally). I expect some personal time in the evening so that I can take care of my health & family. Many people start late and take care of these things at the beginning of the day. In my opinion, both of the ways are fine. But I strongly emphasise on the fact that one must have a life outside work so that weekends and holidays aren’t boring.

Reading the post title, you might be thinking that I’m talking about a clear separation between personal and professional life but this is not exactly what I mean. In my opinion, there are times when you should be ready to take up work even in the middle of the night, while there are times when you should clearly say NO to things. The whole of my career, I’ve been part of startup culture only, and I’ve seen both scenarios. At the same time, I’ve seen people overworking and still barely delivering what’s expected from them. There are reasons why this happens, and I’ll try to list a few of them:

  1. Not owning your own time - If you are an old member of a small team (that grew somewhat large with time), there are a lot of dependencies on you. There are days when I get so much work from all possible directions that I feel like being driven by others. This is ok for a day or two, but should not happen regularly. You should have a list of things you are working on, and your personal deadlines to complete those. If you are someone who doesn’t have personal targets and are always driven by others, you can end up overworking almost regularly.

  2. Unstable projects - If there is some code that you wrote or you maintain, that frequently breaks (especially during odd hours), you might be overworking to support it at night. If this happens frequently, you might need to get your code and architecture reviewed by someone who understands these aspects better than you. Sometimes you don’t need a senior, but only a pair of fresh eyes to find peculiar issues.

  3. Glamorizing overworking - Overworking might reflect a hardworking person for once but is not good in the long term. It sets wrong expectations, and wrong culture, and makes you less ready for anything else. This is a cultural issue if many people in a team do this (or pretend to do this), but if this is an issue with you then please stop it right away. Find a hobby to pursue in your free time.

  4. Wrong Estimations - It’s okay to under-estimate as a junior developer, but if you are an SSE (or above) and are still making this mistake, you’ll end up overworking along with your team (if you manage one). This becomes a bigger problem if you are leading a team because this culture (of overworking) propagates to your team and some people might feel frustrated. Do learn this skill.

  5. Unrealistic deadlines - There are days when we get a feature requirement that will give us an edge over our competitors and everyone just gets excited to launch this ASAP. Projects that start with this mindset often fail to meet deadlines. They can even take 2x-3x time to deliver. Motivation just pushes people a little bit, it doesn’t always help us make good products.

  6. Ever-changing requirements (Thank you Product Managers!) - This is something that happens very frequently in startups. We start building something with a 15-day timeline in mind and deliver something else in 45 days (believe me, those numbers are real!). Product teams are expected to brainstorm all the possible cases before starting actual development. But there are some projects (urgent projects) where brainstorming happens along with product development. This causes everyone to continuously adapt to ever-changing requirements and change their architecture accordingly. Sadly, some projects get so many changes that they even fail to deliver.

Few of the above mentioned points are personal issues, while some of them are team issues. To work efficiently, you need to discover all these yellow flags and discuss with your team. The idea of this post is not to motivate you to avoid work outside working hours, but to ensure that those eight hours are enough to do everything you planned.

Thanks for reading this. I'd recommend reading a few more posts around productivity and asking good questions:

  1. Have you worked in a full-stack project and thought processes could be more optimized? Then this post is a must read.

  2. Exceptions are inevitable but we must know how to handle them.

  3. You must ask questions to learn about anything. Learn how to ask good questions.