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EAs talk about having 80,000 hours in one's career, but working hours vary throughout time and geography. There are open questions about the typical "ideal" number of hours to work in a day for maximum productivity. A recent discussion here on the Forum discussed increasing one's working hours, which runs counter to the trend in recent years of 4-day workweeks or 30-hour workweeks. Sometimes disclosing how many hours one works can also elicit feelings of shame or feel like a competition, and we lose valuable insight as a result.

I'm wondering:
•How many hours is your standard workweek? Why do you work that many hours rather than fewer or greater?
•How do you stagger your working hours across a day or week?
•Of your working hours, how many do you feel are actually productive versus, say, time spent scrolling Twitter or getting more coffee?
•Does your employer have policies in place around how many hours you must work, the maximum number of hours you are permitted to work, and/or time tracking systems?
•How has this changed for you over time?

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Prior to EA, I worked as a software engineer. Nominally, the workday was 9-5 Monday-Friday In practice, I found that I achieved around 20-25 hours of productive work per week, with the rest being lunch, breaks, meetings, or simply unproductive time. After that, I worked from home at other non-EA positions and experimented with how little I needed to get my work done and went down to as few as 10 hours per week - I could have worked more, but I only cared about comfortably meeting expectations, not excelling. 

For the last few months I've been upskilling in AI alignment. Now that I've cared more about doing the best job I can, I've gone back up to around 20 hours per week of productive work, but the work itself is usually more difficult. I'll be working in an office in a team for the next couple of months on a job I care about maximising impact in, so it'll be interesting to see if that affects my work habits.

I don't work more hours because I find it difficult to make myself focus for longer in a week than this - in addition to having difficulty getting myself to start work, I seem to make less progress when I do. I don't work fewer hours because I do want to be as productive as possible in this field, and I'd like to be able to work more than I do. 

Despite the number of hours worked I'm actually pretty happy with the results I've achieved both in EA and outside of it. I'd love to be able to get 30-40 of deep focused work per week in to improve those results further, but I'm not sure how to manage that at this point. (I haven't really thought about how many hours I'd work per week if I could do as many focused hours as I wanted, to be honest.)

Also a software engineer, and this also is a pretty spot on description for me. 25 hours of productive work is about my limit before I start burning out and making dumb mistakes.

I generally work around 75 hours per week. I don’t work more hours than this (but have done before) because I’m not feeling super motivated right now despite suspecting that more hours would be a good trade on the current margin. I don’t work fewer hours because … work is my default thing to do and it’s (normally) impactful by my lights and fun.

I work from 0830 - 2230 mon - fri with 1 hour off for lunch, dinner and exercise each. Over the weekends I generally work around 8 hours but it varies substantially.

I spend approximately zero time scrolling through social media during work hours but still think my least productive hours are probably at least 5x less valuable than my most productive hours.

My employer doesn’t have any policies I find restrictive but time tracking is generally helpful for me.

Over time my total work hours has been trending upwards - mostly intentionally.

Huh, this comment is on -4 agree/disagree but I just reported my experience as directed by the question. It’s possible this was from people who work in the same office as me and don’t see me working this number of hours but I suspect people are using the agree/disagree feature incorrectly and don’t agree that this is a ‘good’ policy for others (which I didn’t claim in the comment).

If someone else has a hypothesis for why this is low agree/disagree I’d be interested in your take.

My experience both tracking my own productive time at a high level of granularity, and my experience from managing like 10-15 different people over the last few years is that almost no one (though not literally no one) actually "works" this much, and especially not for a prolonged period of time lasting many months. When I've broken down people's hours all kinds of time gets lost. People overestimate how reliably they start their work, how much time they spend on lunch, dinner, how much they get sidetracked by random non-work things and how much they work on weekends. 

I would take bets that if we actually broke down your schedule, we would find a number at least 20% lower, so my disagreement vote should be taken as a more straightforward "I disagree with your self-report".

4
calebp
1y
I feel like I’ve already made that adjustment. I have tracked my hours on and off for a few months at a time and use a bunch of tools to do passive time tracking. When I first started time tracking I found that I was working something like 35% less than work hours number I would have quoted in this situation. I do take breaks (around 5-10 minutes per hour) that could be take off the number off work hours and would explain some of the difference though I personally feel fine including this in my work hours. I also have something like 1 hour of meetings/calls per day which can feel less intense. I feel like using things like complice where others can see your screen and check in with your regularly makes it pretty clear to yourself how much work you’re doing.
4
calebp
1y
Oh yeah I’d be excited about making a bet on this if there’s a way to operationalise it that doesn’t get in the way of my work e.g. you can work with me on complice all day. The passive time tracking hours probably won’t resolve a bet here as it just says things like 8 hours in Google docs. I already go through my schedule quickly most days and then do weekly reviews so I’d be somewhat surprised if going through it with you made me update down on work hits but maybe you had something else in mind?
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simeon_c
1y
Can you share the passive time tracking tools you're using?
6
calebp
1y
I use rescue time (pro?) for passive time tracking and think it’s pretty great - though I haven’t configured it as well as I’d like yet. Cold Turkey and news feed eradicator keep me from using social media during work hours + being on a call where I share my screen and video with someone who is happy to tell me off if I slack off.
5
Quadratic Reciprocity
1y
My quick alternative hypotheses: they could also be using disagree vote to mean "I don't work this many hours / this isn't normal for me" or "I don't seriously think you get that many hours of actual work done".  Besides that, I also think there's a tendency for people to feel more comfortable reading answers to this question that are on the lower side.   
3
Jay Bailey
1y
Similar to Quadratic Reciprocity, I think people are using "disagree" to mean "I don't think this is a good idea for people to do", and not to mean "I think this comment is factually wrong".

Does your work involve things that require deep focus (eg: substantial programming, research, writing for long periods of time etc.)?

4
calebp
1y
Maybe … I think a lot of deep work tasks are on a spectrum but maybe something like 50% of my work benefits from programming/long form writing type conditions.

I don't want to answer all of these but I'll give a partial reply to increase the visibility of people in similar situations.

I work around 20-25 hours per week.

I can't work any more than that because I suffer from a chronic illness, and dealing with it takes most of the rest of my time. Even this amount takes a toll, but I don't work less because it'd be hard to find work that would allow this and pay enough.

I'm probably "on the clock" about 45 hours per week - I try to do about 8 hours a day but I go over more often than not. But maybe only about 25-35 hours of that is focused work, using a relatively loose sense of "focused" (not doing something blatantly non-work, like reading Twitter or walking around outside). I think my work output is constrained by energy levels, not clock time, so I don't really worry about working longer hours or trying to stay more focused, but I do try to optimize work tasks and non-work errands to reduce their mental burdens.

Not really answers to your questions, but related musings:

It might be good to have an anonymous form for this, because lots of people (including me) are ashamed or embarrassed about how much they work, or they might worry about being punished by their employer if they actually work fewer hours than they're contracted to, or than the employer expects. 

 I feel extremely confused about how to think about working hours. When I've done relatively independent writing/research-y work (my current writing work, my PhD), I've always felt like I wasn't working enough, and felt bad about this. But also, I'm reasonably productive in terms of output? Until I burnt out, I met all my PhD deadlines and the expectations of my committee; I don't really know how my writing output compares to other people doing similar things, but I don't think I do ridiculously little. I guess a takeaway is that it's not just hours that matter, but output and quality.

I think i can do more work total if I'm doing different types of work, because these deplete different buckets of energy. For example, if I'm doing research + teaching, I can do more total work than if I was doing just research or just teaching. I also think mindless household chores don't usually meaningfully trade off against focussed intellectual work (which is why I'm a bit sceptical about some EA rhetoric of 'spending money to buy time which you then use on your research job' - for me anyway, time's not really the constraint). 

David Maciver claims that almost no-one really works a 40-hour work week. I don't know whether to believe this. Certainly lots of people report only being able to do <20 hours of focussed think-y work a week. I do think there's no reason to assume that 40 hours would be optimal for all types of work, and from the point of view of the worker (vs the employer, whose interests are different). 

Lots of people (including in this thread) report working extremely long hours. I don't know whether this is theoretically possible for most people if they're physically and mentally healthy and have the right 'hacks'/ structure/motivation/work that's a good fit, or whether only a few outliers can do this and the rest of us will burn out if we try, or something in between (e.g. it's possible for a minority, but more people than are currently doing it). A separate question is 'assuming it's possible sustainably, should we all want to do that, or are we obligated to?' (I'd say not necessarily, because you're allowed to have other goals in life). 









 

Just to reiterate how risky it might feel for people to accurately report working low hours here: I just had the thought 'oh shit, I'm considering applying for [EA job], what if they read this comment and assume I'm a slacker and don't hire me'.

Love the questions! I'll give it a go because I love discussions on productivity and workload like these.

  • How many hours is your standard workweek? Why do you work that many hours rather than fewer or greater?
    • I work around 60 to 80 hour workweeks, depending on social events, my sleep quality, and the weather. I only reach 80 hours on crunch time with certain projects I want to prioritize at work.
    • I love the work I do and the people I work with so much so that it doesn't feel like "work" for me. I wouldn't work fewer because I wouldn't know what to do with the free time that would give me as much pleasure or sense of accomplishment as it does.
       
  • How do you stagger your working hours across a day or week?
    • I use Pomodoro apps/extensions at 2 hour intervals, with 15 to 30 minute breaks in-between. My shorter breaks involve snacking, watching youtube, chatting with friends. Longer breaks include taking a walk outside (which helps me think about my tasks for the day), or watching a show on Netflix.
    • I take a 1 hour lunch break and 1 hour dinner break, and usually pass out on 12 on-the-dot and give myself 30 minutes of sleep opportunity, usually getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep.
    • I'll take at least one day a week completely off and do something entirely different from work, such as volunteering somewhere for the day or practicing playing music or some other skill.
       
  • Of your working hours, how many do you feel are actually productive versus, say, time spent scrolling Twitter or getting more coffee?
    • I block most apps and have a focus mode on my computer and phone, so this helps me stay productive - but I'd say I'm only truly productive about 70% of the time, where the other 30% I'm still productive, but the speed of my work decreases. My productivity and focus are very much attached to how well I slept, and if there's sunshine out (I have seasonal affective disorder which requires me to travel a lot if I want to maintain productivity and just general mental health).
       
  • Does your employer have policies in place around how many hours you must work, the maximum number of hours you are permitted to work, and/or time tracking systems?
    • I set my own hours/tracking systems, thankfully!
       
  • How has this changed for you over time?
    • Productivity is a skill that I'm constantly honing and improving, the minute I think I have a system down, I find a new and better way. I think productivity isn't just tied to your ability to do direct work, but also your ability to automate tasks, delegate tasks to others, and choose the tasks that bring the most value for buck.
      • 3 years ago I worked around 30-40 hours a week, and I've slowly over time increased that through the above.
    • I read books, blogs, watch videos, and constantly experiment with new tools, apps, extensions.
    • I'd say the two largest changes over time for me was when I used to separate work from both my social and romantic life.
      • People told me that as a general rule of life, you require balance between social groups, and that I needed to separate my social life and work social life— this I've found later to be completely untrue, at least for myself. I've increased my productivity at minimum 3x from combining.
      • Most say that dating anyone you work with can be messy. I actually do find that to be true, that there is a much larger potential for conflict in work. That said, I do think that the benefits of dating people that you also work with is greatly undervalued because most are not willing to take on the effort to maintain healthy boundaries and communication during work, or lack the ability to separate it.
        • Note: This doesn't mean I think you should be hitting on your co-workers, in-fact, the very opposite, please don't— this is only for very specific circumstances.

I would generally never recommend working more than 60 hours, let alone 80. I think the conditions for me as an individual line up well, but for most, do not— and the burnout can be catastrophic. For example:

  • My social life is my work life. Social lives separated from work have the potential to take a lot of time out of your day, not just physical time, but also mentally. Mine is all the same, and so we tend to chat about work, which makes me more productive and focused.
  • You have to have optimal health and sleep. Working long hours will take a toll on your mental and physical health. Good, consistent and deep sleep will do wonders on your mental health and ability to work throughout the day. Good exercise and nutrition will give you the physical and mental energy to take on tasks as-well.
  • I truly love my work, and I'm truly passionate about it. The old trope "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." rings very true for myself and I suspect it will for others. It takes less energy away from you if you want to do something, or feel satisfaction from your work, and thus you can work more.
    • Bonus points if the work you do gives you a sense of belonging to a community, meaning to your life, and impact on others.

Anyways, those are my thoughts! Keen to see what other people post or think about this. I agree that we should be more open to talk about this, and to not make this a shame or competition— we all have different brains, mental and physical health, and external factors that can change how productive we are, or even what we consider productive.

For anyone interested, here's a great blog post (from one of our own here) Marius Hobbhahn titled "Guide for Productivity" that I think is a fantastic guide for anyone looking to increase their hours without burning out. For those wondering how sleeping more can actually give you more hours in the day to work, check out Matthew Walker's "Why We Sleep". Lastly, Atomic Habbits is a life-changing book for productivity trill seekers.

I would also suggest that if you can work less hours but increase your productivity, to go for it. Hours ≠ productivity. Cheers!

A blog that recommends both atomic habits and the replacing guilt series? 👀👀👀 Will check that out!

1
David van Beveren
1y
It's one of my favorites by far! 

I work every day from about 9:30am to 1am with about 3h off on average and 30 min of walk which helps me brainstorming. Technically this is ~12*7=84h. The main reason is that 1) I want that we don't die and 2) think that there are increasing marginal returns on working hours in a lot of situation, mostly due to the fact that in a lot of domains, winner takes all even if he's only 10% better than others, and because you accumulate in a single person more expertise/knowledge which gives access to more and more rare skills

Among that, I would say that I lose about 15h in unproductive or very little productive work (e.g Twitter or working on stuff which is not on my To Do list). I also spend about 10 to 15h a week in calls.
The rest of it (from 50 to 60h) is productive work.

My productivity (& thus productive work time) has been hugely increasing over the past 3 months (my first three months where I can fully decide the allocation of my time). The total amount of hours I work increased a bit (like +1h/day) in the last 3 months, mostly thanks to optimizations of my sleep & schedule.

beeeee careful! One minute you're asking "how can we be more productive", the next you're dosed up on amphetamines, your risk tolerance is shot to shit, and you've stolen $8 billion of customer funds. The EA cult of productivity is a dangerous thing!

Lizka
1yModerator Comment11
6
9

As a moderator, I find this comment (especially along with another comment) concerning. I think it's unhelpful (I don't think anyone reading this will genuinely be more careful about erring in a dangerous direction, as it's not written in a productive tone and is not very specific), somewhat off-topic, and not quite civil, which adds to my overall sense that the comment is counterproductive. See the Forum norms

The comments alone wouldn't merit a ban or the like, in my opinion, but a pattern of further engagement like this might. Moreover, Sabs has been banned before, so we have a slightly higher standard here.

I think the comment makes a good point about what has been more politely called the "demandingness" of EA by several critics, and how it can lead to very harmful places. I think its cynical manner and hyperbole are legitimate choices of presentation.

6
Nathan Young
1y
I don't like the notion of unhelpful without breaking rules. It's already very downvoted, that seems punishment enough. Sabs is sometimes useful and often flippant/pugnacious. I'm not sure I see a broad movement towards this and there is already a downvote system so I wouldn't individually moderate here. (I did mention this to Charles, so it's a bit funny our comments are so similar but not that funny)
5
Charles Dillon
1y
I think banning someone for a pattern of comments like this would be overly heavy handed and reflect badly on the forum, especially when many of Sabs' comments are fairly productive (I just glanced through recent comments and the majority had positive karma and made decent points IMO). To be concrete about it, I think a somewhat rude person with good points to make, coming here and giving their perspective, mostly constructively, is something we should want more of rather than less at the current margin. It's not like the EA forum is in any short term danger of becoming a haven for trolling and rudeness, and if there are concerns it is heading in that direction at any point it should be possible to course correct.
8
Sabs
1y
Thanks for the support, but can I ask a genuine question: how on earth is this comment rude? It does not personally attack the OP, or indeed anyone at all. Indeed it doesn't even criticize OP or their post! It simply gives a warning with a jokey but also sincere reference to the FTX scandal, where I genuinely think that it's quite likely that amphetamine abuse played a fairly important role in what went wrong - both from my own personal information that I've received and from what's been written up on e.g Milkyeggs. I do think the EA cult of productivity is a dangerous thing, or at least it can be! A lot of other people feel the same! 
6
Charles Dillon
1y
I didn't really think it was rude, more a somewhat aggravating tone, which may or may not be a different thing, depending on who you ask. I just took that it was for the sake of not having to litigate the point.
Comments3
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:26 AM

I think it'd be better to turn this into a form?

Fwiw I personally wouldn’t have filled in a form probably for bad reasons.

You write:

Sometimes disclosing how many hours one works can also elicit feelings of shame or feel like a competition, and we lose valuable insight as a result.

Did you take any precaution against the risk that writing or reading answers to your Question would "elicit feelings of shame or feel like a competition"?

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