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May 13 2013

Why Working More Is Not The Answer

At 7 PM on a recent Monday, I was asked why MojoTech’s offices were empty.

“Slow time of year for you guys?”

Actually, we’re busier than ever.

Somehow, “I've been coding for 12 hours straight” has become a badge of honor, and “you look like shit” is the new pat on the back as your designer leaves the office at midnight.

This is an easy trap to fall into, but in reality these epic pushes are not helping anyone.

As developers and designers, we’re certainly not helping ourselves; late nights, Red Bull binges and time away from family and friends do not a healthy lifestyle make.

But we’re also not helping our clients, or doing justice to the products we’re building.

I’ll start off with an honest disclaimer: I work a lot. A lot more than what I ask of my employees, and more than what most people who preach the “work smarter, not harder” cliché would probably think is advisable.

But here’s the thing: for me, that’s a sustainable pace. Being a CEO requires wearing many different hats, and the constant variety (and getting to choose what I actually work on) keeps me energized. It helps that I absolutely love what I do.

This doesn’t make me an exception. On the contrary, it shows that sustainable pace is a highly personal concept, dependent on a number of variables, including your own capacity, but more importantly, the tasks you’re performing. If I spend an hour or two each on five unrelated projects, I can start each one with a reasonably fresh mindset. If I tried to spend ten hours at a time on a single task (for example, coding or designing), the return on my productivity starts to diminish fast after just a few hours.

That’s where this begins to apply to design and development.

Developers And Designers Are Not Factory Workers

If apps were widgets and we built them on assembly lines, we could reasonably extrapolate that if it takes one hour to build five widgets, than in two hours we could build ten, and in ten hours we could build fifty.

But they’re not. Development and design are creative pursuits, and they don’t scale like an assembly line would. Maybe if your metric is Source Lines Of Code (though it really, really shouldn’t be), you can maintain some semblance of pace, but quality of code will degrade. Mistakes will be made, and more time will be wasted correcting them. I’ve seen it happen countless times, and I’m not alone.

Overtime is a Lazy Solution

Solving problems by throwing more hours at them is almost always the worst approach. As developers, we understand this innately — that’s why we love automation so much. But for whatever reason, we don’t grasp that there are better ways to get projects done on time than burning the midnight oil.

Have you done everything in your power to improve your efficiency? Have you reconsidered the way you approach project scoping and planning? These are important steps that can drive massive long-term benefits long after this one overdue project is finished.

Creative Solutions Need Space (And Constraints)

The biggest value any developer or designer can bring to our clients is our ability to solve their problems. For many of us, being able to come up with creative solutions requires time spent away from the problem at hand.

But even more so, time is a constraint. Constraints help us frame our thinking around creative problem solving. If we know that we only have until five o’clock, we’re going to think about the most efficient path to a solution. If we assume that we’ll be working through the night, it simply becomes a matter of banging away at the keyboard until the problem is fixed.

One Caveat

If you’re scrambling to finish at the end of the project, one of two things happened: some event happened outside of your control that forced you to unexpectedly accelerate the project in its final stages, or, far more likely, there was a failure somewhere along the line. A failure in planning, a failure in setting client expectations, a failure in revisiting and realigning your plan with the reality of the progress. Failure isn’t bad, as long as you learn from it. Stick to the commitment you made and finish the project, but identify where things went wrong, and fix them next time. Don’t let failure become the way you do business.

If you’re working at a sustainable pace, you’ll have the ability to respond to these rare failures by putting in the extra hours without burning out.

And keeping those failures rare through working at a sustainable pace is how our business has grown.

Overworked Developers/Designers: escape the grind and come work for MojoTech! We’re looking for talented people in Providence, RI and New York. And yes, you really can work at a sustainable pace.

—Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)

Nick Kishfy