8's Enough 40's Plenty
Are you working over 40 hours a week while putting your personal life on hold?
That’s a common trap entrepreneurs, and executives often fall into while striving for success in their careers.
It’s also the fast track to sabotage your performance and drive yourself into burnout.
It’s time to re-evaluate your priorities and find a healthier balance.
Today, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson sit down to discuss why “8’s Enough, 40’s Plenty” from their book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.
Listen in as they walk us through how shutting down the laptop and disconnecting from work at the end of the day can actually help you prioritize your time.
Discover how incorporating an 8-8-8 formula and pursuing passions outside of the office will enhance your overall well being and boost your productivity and performance on the job.
[00:48] - Jason shares the tech problem of scope that leads to employee burnout.
[02:09] - David shares the American habit of working excessive hours, regardless of the impact on work quality.
[04:07] - The never-ending entrepreneurial competition to see who can work the most hours.
[06:12] - Taking a stand against the chew 'em up and spit 'em out “we’re at war” mentality in the tech industry.
[07:09] - You can have success, health, and family, just not all three; pick your two. Why we need to reexamine what being a successful entrepreneur means.
[10:15] - The simple 8-8-8 formula for a balanced life and a better performance at work.
[12:07] - David shares how setting a specific time to disconnect from work can help you prioritize your time.
[14:05] - 1 less hour of sleep=20% less cognitive function.
[16:00] - The role of sleep in maximizing long-term productivity.
[19:07] - The fastest drivers are those with the slowest hands, just like a calm (well-rested) company is the most productive.
[20:27] - Kimberly reveals her strategy to break her workaholic habits.
[21:50] - Setting boundaries with your clients can foster more realistic expectations and trust.
[22:59] - How to help your employees adopt a 40-hour work week.
[25:26] - Do you have a question for Jason and David or anyone at 37signals? Leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850, and we might answer it on an upcoming show.
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Kimberly (00:00): Welcome to Rework a podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. I’m your host Kimberly Rhodes. In their book, “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” co-authors Jason Fried and David Heinermeier Hansson write about maintaining a calm workplace. And unlike many founders, they put an incredible value on time and believe there’s no reason to pull all nighters, work weekends, or even clock in 50-, 60- or 70- hour weeks. They’ve written about this in a chapter called 8’s Enough, 40’s Plenty, and they’re here on the podcast to talk about it. Okay, so I just have to say, you guys know that this is really unheard of, right? Like especially I think in corporate world, America, in tech, like this concept of just eight hour work days is, is kind of abnormal.
Jason (00:48): It’s weird. Is that it’s, it’s, it’s not, in most businesses or most industries, most people kind of go to work and they leave at five and the parking lot’s empty. But yeah, in tech, especially not, not everywhere, but it, most places it’s still like that it, but tech is certainly not like that. Tech is certainly, you know, put in whatever it takes as long as it takes. Weekends and nights are are, you know, fair game basically. And weekend nights are fair game. Like it’s all fair game cuz there’s a mission and we gotta get it done, you know, I don’t know. It, it’s, it’s, you know, I don’t think it’s a time issue. It’s a scope issue I think is really what it is. That, that there’s companies try to bite off too much. They’re unwilling to cut back on things and you know, everyone struggles with this, we struggle with it as well.
(01:30): But you can’t just keep piling things on and then asking people to get it done, whatever it takes, cuz then you end up with this is, which is people burn out and people are exhausted and, and the work isn’t very good and there’s more errors and you have to work longer and you throw more people at the problem. All these things happen when you’re unwilling to cut scope and curb ambition. It, it’s not just a function of, well if we just spent more time on it, everything would, would be fine. I just don’t think that’s the case. So given that you’ve gotta draw some line somewhere and 40 hours, 40 ish, maybe it’s 45 one week, maybe it’s 50 one week, but it’s not about doing this, you know, perpetually because it’s unsustainable.
David (02:09): I think it’s funny you say here in the U.S. Or in America because that is actually where it’s the worst. I mean I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Denmark and other places around the world and in Denmark in particular, it’s not like that. Even in tech, the norm is not to spend 60, 70, 80 hours a week. And I think there’s definitely not this glory element to it that seems to be unique, at least in the western world to the American experience. That it’s not just about, oh, what can we get done if we do all this stuff? It’s, look how great I am because I am willing to sacrifice all this stuff for the company. And now that of course starts at the top, but then it trickles down and this is where I think it gets really insidious when this performative notion that you have to put in all, all these hours trickles down into an organization where no one wants to leave before the boss does.
(03:05): No one wants to work less than that because there’s a sense, and perhaps it’s real in some places, that that’s the curve you’re being graded on. If you’re the one who is the first to leave, then there’s questions about that which really connects to the broader discussion we had during the pandemic was in this transition to remote work, are you able to evaluate the quality and the quantity of the work that’s coming out? Or are you only able to evaluate how much time people are putting in? And I think that unfortunately there’s a lot of managers who are only able to do the latter. They’re able to count butts in seats or little green dots early in the morning, little green dots late at night. And that’s their perception of who’s a good worker, which is just such a tragically flawed lens to look at productivity, look at who’s actually a good employee, who’s not a good employee in terms of productivity.
(04:07): Saying 40 is enough for us is a way to say, do you know what, we’re not gonna have a competition about who can work the most hours. We’re not gonna reward with little trophies, or gold stars, whoever stays at the office. The latest, the way we assess competence is by looking at the work. And that work might be five hours if, if it’s something spectacular. And then you call that out. So I think as Jason says, shifting this over to being a discussion about scope and then combining that with a discussion about competence, that’s where the discussion needs to go. It is not about how many hours you put in because that is always gonna be a sort of losing battle. If you’re an entrepreneur, there’s always another entrepreneur that’s gonna put in more hours than you. I remember when everyone thought like, oh, 80 hours, that’s the hardcore thing. Marissa Mayer comes out, oh yeah, 80 hours. What about 120? Boom, what are you gonna do now? I work 50% harder than you do.
Kimberly (05:09): I mean, it seems like that’s just not sustainable either the long term. I mean that’s just like a recipe for burnout.
Jason (05:14): It is, but you know, in, in a lot of tech companies that that doesn’t matter. Like burnout doesn’t matter. First of all, the company’s not gonna be around that long. Most companies aren’t so like they don’t care. There’s a fresh crop of freshmen waiting in the wings that will kind of take your job if you don’t put it in 70 hours, cuz that 21 year old will, that kind of thing. That’s the mentality, which I don’t agree with, but that, that’s where it’s coming from. And also there’s just this, this, this kind of war metaphor, which is like we’re, we’re at war. We’re at war. You don’t take a break when you’re at war. The other side isn’t, isn’t waiting around for you to, to get a good night’s sleep like they’re coming after you. There’s that whole thing too, which, which fuels it and it puts you in this mental mindset of, of of being a warrior. Warriors don’t have time to sleep. You know, that, that whole thing, it’s, it’s of course very toxic and unfortunate but also just unnecessary and but, but it is the norm you said in, in this industry unfortunately. And, and you know, we’re, we’re here to stand against that and go, you know, that doesn’t have to be the way you do it.
David (06:12): I think that norm is even more specific. When you look at tenure, the average tenure for a tech employee is 18 months. I mean, as Jason says, if that’s the average, clearly there are people who don’t even make it that long. Who cares, right? Just chew through him, spit him out onto the next one. But that’s at the, if you will, employee level or worker level. I find it so fascinating that this mythology has even waded into management. I mean there used to be a time when management was sort of all about like taking off Fridays early, going to the golf course or wherever people went, taking it easy. And that was sort of where the conflict lied. And now it’s like there’s a competition in certain areas of entrepreneurship and leadership that no, no, no, we’re gonna work even harder than the people we have working for us.
(07:09): And you just go like, where is, where’s that coming from? And part of where it’s coming from is that the, the boss, they’re not the boss, that there’s another boss, right? If you look at most tech companies, there’s the entrepreneurs, there’s the executives and you think like, oh, those, those are the ones in charge. No they’re not. There’s another layer on top of them. It’s the VCs, it’s the capital providers, right? They first of all are the ones on the golf course. So you see like where is the actual power here? Second of all, these are the people putting out the mythology that like, oh, you can have three things. You can have success, you can have health, you can have family – pick two. And you’re like, what? What? Why do I have to choose who, who’s going? Is it the family that’s going? Is it the health that’s going, what is going here?
(07:58): There’s a whole industry built around propping up this notion that actually being a successful entrepreneur, even after you’ve made it means working like I don’t know, a slave in ancient Rome and you go like, wait, this whole idea that you are at the top yet you also have to put in, if not 80 hours, then 120 hours. What is this reversion of power? When are you then supposed to, like you’ve reached the top of the pyramid, right? Like as we just said, it’s not actually at the top of the pyramid. You think it’s the top of the pyramid and you’re working the hardest at that top? When do you win, when do you win and what do you win up there, right? I think it’s really those pillars we have to reexamine and reexamine what being a successful entrepreneur actually means. And part of that means untangling this idea that if you are a really passionate about your business or about your domain, you simply can’t think of anything else.
(09:02): It is the only thing in your head 24/7. And that’s good. And I think both Jason and I have said like, no, no, it’s actually not good. First of all, you can be incredibly passionate and dedicated to what you’re working and say 40 is still enough. I wanna do the best damn job I can at 37signals programming whatever, writing whatever and 40, that’s the box, right? And then I believe, I think Jason shares this too, you actually become better at that if you have something else going on too. If you actually let your mind rest and recuperate and when it comes back after taking whatever time there is in between the 40 and, and the rest of it off and thinking of something else, going for a walk, actually having a family, actually exercising, having a hobby, reading books, doing something else that’s not just the grind. You get perspective and you get distance and you actually become a better entrepreneur. You actually become a better executive if you do it like that.
Kimberly (10:04): I think you guys have written about not work life balance, but work life, sleep balance. And I feel like when people are putting in more work, they’re not only sacrificing their life, but sleep too.
Jason (10:15): Yeah. We kind of have this like, you know, simple formula kind of, it’s like 8, 8, 8 basically eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, eight hours of, I hate to say life because life is all of it, of course, but you know, eight hours of time that’s not, not working at least. And, and you’re not sleeping. So waking time that’s, that’s just yours basically. Of course it’s never quite yours. If you have a family, you got obligations and responsibilities, but it’s not work time and it’s not sleep time. That that seems to be good. I think the other thing, I think we wrote this in Rework, although it could have been in It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. Eight hours is actually quite a long time. And if, if you don’t believe that, go jump on an airplane from, I think I said in the book is like Chicago to London, it’s about eight hours and just sit there.
(10:58): It’s long, it’s so long and like you’ll be looking at your watch, you’ll be like, are we there yet? Like, no, we’re only three hours and you have five hours to go. And you look at it again, it’s like still three hours to go, eight hours is plenty of time. I think one of the big problems of course is that most people don’t have eight hours to do their work. They have maybe three hours because the rest of the time is chunked up into smaller bits and meetings and they’re pulled into this and pulled into that and multitasking and all the stuff. And so they think eight hours is not enough. It’s actually plenty if you actually have eight hours to yourself in a given day. And that’s what we strive for here, is to make sure most people, almost everyone has an eight hour day roughly to themselves with very few obligations to anyone else but themselves and the team that they’re on.
(11:40): And that’s enough like that, with that you can get a lot done, but if you don’t have that in place, it’s, it’s also quite hard to do it. Which is why people work late and they work early is because that’s the only time where they’re not bothered. It’s not necessarily that like the work they’re doing requires more time, it’s that they don’t have enough time to do the work itself and so they have to find the time to do the work by hiding out in moments of the day or places where no one can reach them. That’s unfortunate.
David (12:07): And I think that lens of having a boundary, the 40, it’s plenty and 40, that’s the number we’re not going to just let it balloon into that actually instills a real sense of discipline. A lot of entrepreneurs have diluted themselves into thinking that discipline is working all the awaken hours that they have that is sloppy, that is absolutely sloppy work habits when you just let it all bleed in. When are you doing your prioritization? When are you picking what’s actually worth working on? What’s worth spending my time on? I find this over and over again seeing these entrepreneurs bragging about all these hours that they’re working. And then if you look at what that plate is full with, it’s full of junk, it’s full of junk meeting, it’s full of junk information, it’s full of junk participation, it’s full of junk. And as Jason says, if you take that junk away, eight hours is a feast of a time.
(13:04): And I think for us, this is particularly true because we were born in less than 40 hours. This is so funny. Whenever we tell or extol the virtues of just working 40 hours a week, we always get the come back. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You say that now. It’s easy now, but in the beginning I bet you were working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, right? And we’re like, no, it was exactly the opposite. When we started Basecamp, I was working 10 hours a week, that was the amount of billable hours. I was invoicing 37signals while I was doing my studies and while we were doing other things and for 37signals at the time, Basecamp was a side project. So we saw how much you can actually accomplish and not just 40 hours, but 10 hours of 15 hours. It is amazing how much time or how much progress you can make when you start by just doing the most important things first.
(14:05): And you realize, I certainly realize most weeks by the time I hit the count 40, I’ve spent 40 hours of working. I’m, I’m into the weeds, like the last five of those. It’s pretty rare that those are really the ones that just were had a big bang for the buck. I can’t even imagine what kind of crap lays at the other end of 70 hours or 80 hours. You know? It is just junk. It is just junk. And as Jason says about the the sleep thing, it’s not like something we came up with. There has been a million studies on the virtues of getting enough sleep and for most people that means seven or eight hours. I actually wear this thing called the Aura ring. It tracks your sleep and it doesn’t just give your account of how many hours your sleep. It also gives you sort of sentiment of the quality of sleep, which is a really good way of, of comparing it to this because I find if I somehow mistakenly check the internet late into the evening, I can see that on the Aura ring stats when I wake up in the morning, that the quality of that sleep was just less.
(15:13): And because it’s sort of gamified in this way, I take pride in getting not just eight hours but like eight and a half. That’s actually my preference. Eight and a half, right? And the payback for getting enough to me is most evident when I just get one hour too little. When I get like seven or six hours, 50 minutes, I swear 20% of my effectiveness and my brain power is just lobbed off. And if you take that like I lose 20% over the eight hours, that’s a lot more, that’s a lot more hours. Like I gained one because I slept an hour or less, but I lost several more just due to inefficiency. And I think that this is the thing, entrepreneurs so often squander, right? They think, ah, I can sleep a little less or I can work a little later. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
(16:00): But what are you getting out at the rest? You’re diminishing all the other hours, you’re making them smaller, less efficient less energy dense. It’s like you’re pouring like 75 octane into a fucking Ferrari that’s just gonna ruin the goddamn engine. It’s not gonna work very long. You might be able to get a hundred miles but then the engine is all gunk ed up and this car is not gonna make it till the end of its life. And this comes all back to what is your horizon? Are you only gonna live for the next two years? Okay, fine sleep six hours do no, not fine, right? But also, no, you’re not just gonna live for the next two years, right? You should look at your career as certainly if you’re in your thirties or forties, like you might have another 20, 30, 40 years left. Isn’t the game then to make sure that over the long run, if you take an entire working life that might be 50 or 60 years that you get the absolute maximum out of all of those years. That’s at least how I like to look at it.
Kimberly (16:59): Well, let me ask you this because you said David, that you guys always started this way, like started with limited hours and not, you know, working these crazy hours for someone who’s listening, a small business owner who’s like, oh yeah, that’s nice, but I’m, I’m already down that path. Like how do I go backwards? Like do you have any tips? Like how do you rip the cord and go to what is a manageable, sustainable kind of work/life/ sleep balance if you don’t currently have that?
David (17:25): I think to some extent going cold t urkey is not a bad idea. Like setting an actual alarm where just shut your laptop. Whenever you start, maybe that’s five o’clock, maybe it’s 5:30, you just shut the damn laptop and that’s gonna be abrupt the first couple of times you do it, right? It’s gonna be abrupt for like three times. By the fourth time when you start that day you go like, do you know what? I better start with the important stuff first. I better kick that meeting I don’t actually want to attend off my calendar, and then by 5:30, I might actually get there and be happy about the laptop shutting if you work on a computer all day rather than dismay that I don’t get to everything. Because as we’ve talked about, I think what you’ll find is that all the work is not divided equal and there’s an unlimited amount anyway.
(18:14): You could literally work 24 hours a day on the thing and there’d still be a potential 60 more hours in that day. And this is where all this “there’s not enough hours in the day.” Yeah, no, there’s an unlimited amount of work. That’s what there is. And your job as a entrepreneur and executive as if really anyone is to look at all the work you possibly could do and then just take a slice that’s the most important. And when you slice that for eight, you’ll find, oh man, that’s enough. And you’ll actually maybe possibly even find you’re making faster progress. There’s this saying in racing that , I just had this internal GIF of George Bush going like, there’s sayin’ in in Texas or in Tennessee. fool me, fool me once and I’ll fool you again. I’ll fool you twice. , I just about to launch into one more.
(19:07): Be like, this is such a simple saying, I should have it at the tip of my tongue and I don’t , but it’s basically like to go fast, you gotta go slow. That the fastest drivers are the ones with the slowest hands, that this measured approach, that you don’t go faster by just wriggling the wheel, making the tires squeal. And that’s what a lot of our entrepreneurs look like when they are, there’s all in, they’re totally frazzled and you hear them or you see their tweets or whatever and you go like, whoa dude, you’re, you’re going awfully fast in your mode of being for someone making a remarkably little amount of progress. Do you know what, that’s the whole premise of the book, right? A calm company is a fast company. A calm company is a productive company, a well slept worker, executive or owner is an effective and productive worker, executive, owner. That this is not a trade off where as you say, the small business owner like, ah, what if I can’t? No, no, no, don’t think about it like that. Don’t think about you’re giving something up. Don’t think about it as though you’re giving up what you’re capable of or your ambition for all the things you want to do. No, think about it as though you’re investing in exactly those things in a sustainable way. They’ll carry you on for more than just the next whatever few months or few years before your brain just goes pop.
Kimberly (20:27): In your just like close the laptop, one thing I used to do because I, I have a tendency I can be a workaholic. I have embraced the 40 hour work week since coming here and honestly it’s something that drew me here, but I used to have to take my laptop from the office and leave my charging cord, like leave the the power cord at the office so I could only work until my computer died. Like I could not work another eight hours at home cuz my laptop would literally die before then. So I had to like force myself, the only way I was gonna stop working is if literally my computer shut itself down. So dunno if that little tip helps anybody.
David (21:04): Apple’s spoiled that with the new computers, didn’t they? Now they freaking last for 12 or 14 hours of a battery. But yeah, I think that’s actually a good point. I tried to do something similar, like for the longest time I would primarily work on an iMac and the benefit of the iMac was that it didn’t move and then I would have a separate laptop but it wouldn’t have all the latest stuff. So it would not be nearly as tempted to do the same things because I just, I couldn’t and then it was a hassle and then as soon as it’s a hassle, you build in a little bit of friction in that process of taking it with you. Right? And and it’s easier then to stick to your principles.
Jason (21:39): By the way. Can I, can I just add something there? I remember this is something Kimberly, I know you were, you were kind of doing in a sense client work previous right to here like doing event planning and whatnot.
Kimberly (21:48): Right? Those were my bosses
Jason (21:50): . Right? I totally hear that. There’s this expectation though I remember cause I was, we weren’t in the same business but in a similar thing we have clients and there’s this feeling like clients expect me to be available 24/7. They expect me to be able to return an email at 10:30 PM like that is on, I think you and me and whoever’s in the business to say no, that I, I understand that’s what you expect. I am not, that’s not who I am. That’s not what I can do. I will be there at 8:00 AM for you, I’ll be there all day for you until 5:30, 6:00. But I have a life too and like I have to create some separation. And now some people go, well then you’re gonna lose clients. I go, I don’t actually think that’s what happens. I don’t ever recall that ever actually happening.
(22:29): People are reasonable for the most part and they understand that, look, if you email me at 10, I’ll get that first thing in the morning. I’ll be, you know, that’s when I’ll take care of it. That’s a reasonable expectation. So I think sometimes entrepreneurs put it on themselves to feel like they must impress and be available 24/7 to their clients because their clients are paying them, but that’s not what they’re paying them for. So I think you just need to draw some boundaries and draw some lines and you’ll be surprised that people are reasonable. They’ll understand.
Kimberly (22:56): Yeah. I love that. One last thing.
(22:58): I get that it’s hard.
(22:59): No it is, it is hard. But also it’s like, it’s probably harder on the business owner than it is on the client. You know, we’ve built it up that they have these expectations Yes. That they may actually not have. Question for you guys. When you have a new employee coming into your environment where this is kind of not the norm, do you find it hard to get them into this, eight hours is all you need to work, you don’t need to put in the extra hours?
Jason (23:24): Yeah, it, it can definitely be hard. I mean people come, whenever someone comes to a job, they come with their employment history, employment experience, history with them of course. And so if they’re used to working a certain way, this is definitely in transition. I think it’s on, it’s on the manager it’s on the leadership, it’s on the teammates to, to remind someone if they’re working on the weekend or something. Like you don’t need to need to do that. Not only do you not need to, you shouldn’t be, I actually always come away a bit horrified when I hear stories like that cuz that does happen here occasionally. That someone like put on time on the weekend. Now sometimes it’s because they took a day off during the week, that’s fine, but it can’t be because they worked the whole week and there’s more work to do.
(24:01): And I, I actually feel like deeply, I’m embarrassed actually when that happens. Like, how did this get, how do we get to the place where this is happening? This is not who we we’re, we’re supposed to be and not who we want to be. So it doesn’t happen that frequently, but when I hear it, I, I feel bad. And then you just talk to someone and go, you don’t have to do that. You just, that’s not an option actually. The option is, the not an option is you do not work on the weekends. It’s not an option to do that. Don’t do that unless you’re again, taking time off during the week and you’re gonna make up some time. That’s a different story. But, so you just have to remind people and set the example.
David (24:33): I think even just starting at not rewarding people for that, that’s usually what happens, right? Oh, thank you so much. You’re such a hero because you put on this other, here’s like a virtual trophy or even a real one for this effort that you put in. Now the exception as always, is there an emergency? Is the thing actually on fire? Okay, fine, but emergency in that word should be embedded rare. If you have emergencies every weekend, that’s not an emergency. That’s just the job and you’ve designed it wrong. Redesign it, treat it as a failure mode of the organization that someone feels or has to work every, every weekend and get back to emergency being actually rare. And then be grateful when someone steps up and really solves an emergency. And then the rest of the time going, not only is that not necessary, it’s not helpful.
Kimberly (25:26): I like that. Well, we’re gonna wrap. We have other work to do in our 40 hours, but thanks for being here. Rework is a production of 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website at 37signals.com/ podcast. And as always, if you have a specific question for Jason or David about a better way to work and run your business, leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 and we just might answer it on an upcoming show.