Jason Fried has written recently about the misconceptions around working long hours, that it’s a sign of macho commitment to the cause:
One argument I hear a lot about working long hours is that when you’re just getting started, you have to give it everything you’ve got. I understand that feeling. And there’s certainly some truth to it.
But here’s what I see happen over and over: People don’t stop working that way. We’re creatures of habit. The things you do when you start doing something tend to be the things you continue to do. If you work long hours at the beginning, and that’s all you know, you can easily condition yourself to think this is the only way to operate. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs burn out following this pattern.
He goes on to stress the psychological impacts of chronic sleep shortages, and its impact on wellbeing.
Just to add a few factoids to the discussion, research has shown that the primary cause of ‘short sleeping’ is work.
As Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post learned from the American Time Use Survey, ‘short sleepers’ — those who sleep 6 hours or less a night — average 1.5 hours more work per day, as shown in his graphic above. As he noted,
They [the researchers] also found that for every hour work or class started later in the morning, respondents’ reported getting 20 minutes more sleep. More flexibility in work start times would thus help people naturally disposed to night-owl hours […]. Research suggests that this would lead not only to more productivity in the workplace, but also fewer instances of ethical lapses while on the clock.
The obvious solution to the negatives involved with short sleep is to push back when work starts. We should stop operating around the agricultural notion of getting up when the rooster crows, and readjust to modern life. And every one would win if we started work or school at 10am instead of earlier. Yes, we’d have to shift to working later, but maybe not by staying at the office longer: after all, many people work in the evening at home after dinner or when the kids are put to bed.
And of course we’d have less traffic accidents. Note that 80,000 car accidents every year are attributed to drowsy drivers in the U.S., and a possible 1,000 deaths.
When you add those numbers to the impacts of short sleeping — stress, increased rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and so on — it would be more than sensible to simply declare that work should start later.
As usual, though, I am certain that deeply ingrained business practices based on ‘the early bird catches the worm’, Calvinistic folklore will continue to be the norm, alas. We can hope for a scientific enlightenment to occur at long last in the world of business, but we better not hold our breath.