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Overtime Considered Harmful

Posted in Getting to Done, Technology, Workhacks and High Tech Life by engtech on October 29, 2007

(or I’m Too Lazy to Think of a Better Title)

Time Management

In the past month I’ve worked over 100 hours of overtime to ensure that a project deadline was met when unforeseen issues put the entire project at risk. When you’re a high tech worker then this can happen often enough that it feels like a way of life. What I find strange is that I’ve caught myself bragging about the hours I’ve spent tied to my job. In what sick world should living off of food from Styrofoam containers and an intravenous espresso drip be considered an admirable accomplishment?

If anything it’s a sign of monumental failure in project scheduling, design, delegation or personal time management. Spending two thirds of my waking hours at work isn’t a sign of dedication, it’s a sign of screwed up priorities where I’m willing to push everything else in my life to the side to satisfy the SNAFU I find myself in. The sensible decision would be to get my resume in order and find a way out of this mess.

But like bad movies and bad relationships there’s a sickening desire to stick it out until the end. The sunk cost of time invested seems more valuable than the future cost of staying in this downward spiral. Despite having a university education with a strong background in numbers I can’t do the math and see that the grindstone of a doomed project damages my health and completely destroys my ability to respond to new opportunities. If I’m going to spend a significant portion of my life on work, shouldn’t it be something where that time has a chance at being rewarded?

If the project success depends on a Hail Mary pass to the end zone then chances are slim that things will turn out well for the project in the end. There is no room for heroes on large multi-team projects. For large projects success comes from putting in consistent effort over time and crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. One last hard push to get it out the door isn’t a valid project management strategy. There is no doctor waiting in the sidelines with a chemical cocktail to induce labour.

I’m lucky that I don’t have children, because this isn’t a life blueprint I’d want to pass on to them. Success that comes from time stolen from the other aspects of your life isn’t success at all.

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  1. The Gene Pool » Blog Archive » Overtime said, on October 29, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    […] wrote about Overtime in a way that i fully agree on. In the past month I’ve worked over 100 hours of overtime to […]

  2. Webomatica said, on October 29, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    One question – are you paid for all that overtime or are you salaried?

    I hear you thought – ultimately work / life balance is what so many people are striving for.

  3. Jason said, on October 29, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I feel for you. I’ve had to pick up slack when my boss left unexpectedly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked “What’s the point?”

    My job is very busy right now. And my biggest fear is that it will be that busy forever. I don’t think I have that kind of energy.

    What’s it gonna be like for you when this project’s done? Will it be a good place for the long haul?

  4. Tim Howland said, on October 29, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    What a well written piece. A successful dev for 12 years -but children the whole time- I agree with you 100%. My URL is to high-quality/high-impact photos of my children. I’d be a pro photographer if I wasn’t afraid of not making the same money (and immediately – I don’t have time to moonlight :-(

    Say, I found your site through Facebook. The developer of the app “Are You Normal” pointed me to your FB settings page. I really like your site, and will be back.

    -Tim Howland (spelled Timothée on FB – there, we’ll test your UTF-8)

  5. bjorn said, on October 30, 2007 at 2:14 am

    Great post! .. I think most programmers can relate :-)

  6. jeremy said, on October 30, 2007 at 11:10 am

    “Success that comes from time stolen from the other aspects of your life isn’t success at all.” This is a great quote.

    Take it from someone who’s been there. It will affect your health sooner than you think. To me it just came randomly during vacation, my body just quit telling me “every thing’s fine”.

  7. prashant said, on October 31, 2007 at 12:13 am


    Good post and i can compare myself with your situation.

    Prashant Jalasutram

  8. Jacques Ledoux said, on October 31, 2007 at 7:03 am

    The fact that you go out of your way to get a poor managed project done on time will bring you nothing. On the other hand, the project managers will get the credit and will keep doing the same thing over and over as long as you are going to go out of your way to make them successful.

    Someone from head office (far away) lately asked me “Why I don’t have photos of my wife and children on my desk?”. I answered: “We have a new concept here (far away from HO), we actually go out of the office every night and have dinner with them, actually see them in person and talk to them….it’s great”.

    Great post…


  9. kelly said, on October 31, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I’ve found it’s a matter of training project managers about what to expect. If you go the extra mile and crank out work quickly by spending extra hours at work, you’ll get rewarded, all right… With more work, and even more hours at work. My approach is to work reasonable hours, and get as much done as is reasonable to expect within those hours. Once that expectation is set, assuming your work is of good quality, PMs I’m acquainted with are pretty reasonable about respecting it. I’ve never seen different, but if I did, I would take it as a clear indication that I should be moving on. Spending 60-80 hours per week at work is not something I’m going to do with my life. The only possible exception to that policy would be the time I would put in on behalf of my own company, and I would hope to only do that for a limited time.

  10. Top Posts « WordPress.com said, on October 31, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    […] Overtime Considered Harmful (or I’m Too Lazy to Think of a Better Title) [image] In the past month I’ve worked over 100 hours of […] […]

  11. Danilo said, on November 01, 2007 at 12:25 am

    “Vienna…waits for you!” from the book “Peopleware”, I think you need to read it, ASAP!
    Thanks for your wrong example!

  12. RobM said, on November 01, 2007 at 3:03 am

    Good piece.
    I think, as someone else said, it’s a matter of training people on what is “fair” to expect from you.

    When I’m at work, I don’t usually start before my scheduled time. I don’t skip lunch, and I’m out the door at my posted quitting time. If there’s an operational emergency or a need for a one-off “sprint” I’ll do that, but that’s it.

    If people say “but what about the amount of work we have to do?” I shrug at them and suggest planning it in more manageable chunks or staffing the department/project better.

    On my side of the bargain, when I’m at work, I’m _all_ at work. It’s rare to non-existent for me to bring in a problem from home and deal with it at work, I don’t make or receive that many personal calls during working hours, and so-on. It’s a two way street isn’t it?

    You might wonder if that attitude hurts my career. Well who knows, but I know I’ve been with my current employer for 9 years, I’m our most senior engineer so I can’t be doing that badly with it.

  13. […] Overtime Considered Harmful « Internet Duct Tape.  Couldn’t agree with this more… […]

  14. di Mario said, on November 02, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Bloody Hell.
    In my opinion, you are being seriously exploited. Flee to the Netherlands as a political refugee, and I will sponsor your citizenship.

    di Mario

  15. OMGPonies said, on November 02, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Ah, the imminent Burnout and addiction.

    Fear not, young Padawan!

    I assure you, those cocktails – _albeit considered harmful_ – are an overall, accepted part of our batshit lives. YMMV.

  16. prof kienstra said, on November 05, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    great post, and definitely something i agree on.
    The quote “f anything it’s a sign of monumental failure in project scheduling, design, delegation or personal time management.” is so true… too bad there are too many people out there that think overtime is the way to show loyalty or whatever they may want to show to their bosses and co-workers.

  17. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    @prof kienstra:

    What’s sad is that it works. It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault the shit hit the fan in the first place. If you appear to be working crazy hours to handle the problem then you’ll get the handshakes and the nods.

  18. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:52 pm


    That’s a great attitude to have at work — only be there when you have to be, but be THERE.

    I think there’s a lot to be said that the problem isn’t necessarily the amount of work, but how it’s tackled. A 37.5 hour work week is enough time to get some of the biggest tasks done — provided you don’t run yourself in circles, you don’t waste all your time processing the latest interrupt instead of focusing on your most important tasks, and you aren’t in meetings all day.

    I’m finally over the overtime, and it’s been fun seeing my task list drop to almost nothing as I cull everything that built up while I was busy.

  19. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:53 pm


    What’s funny is I have a copy of Peopleware, just haven’t read it yet.

  20. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    @Jacques Ledoux:

    I love that anecdote about “we don’t have photos because we SEE our families”.

    It’s a much healthier way to be.

  21. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:57 pm


    I got so sick once I finally had to stop putting in the extra hours.

    It’s amazing how being stressed out can keep a cold in hibernation. I’m finally starting to feel like a normal person again now.

  22. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    @Tim Howland:

    That’s another side of the coin — being afraid to follow your passions.

    I have one friend who gave up his CompSci degree to follow his artistic talents. He works part time as a graphics designer for video games, but I always have the utmost respect for making that jump.

  23. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 6:03 pm


    I know I’d be out of that job ASAP if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m switching roles now that this project is done. I’m getting to mentor from someone who I respect, and I’m going to get to learn some skills that I know I’ll find interesting, like learning Ruby on Rails. It might be an opportunity to bridge from hardware engineering to programming, so I’m going to take it.

  24. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 6:04 pm


    I’m salaried but I get paid for a bit more than half of my overtime because the owners aren’t jackasses. I really should work out to how much more that adds to my salary — but I think it probably doesn’t amount to the same as benefits/bonus packages that other companies I’ve worked for had.

  25. […] first task coming back from my work stress blogging hiatus is to finally fix problems with Akismet Auntie Spam that Lorelle reported over a month ago — […]

  26. […] that I wasted about 2.5 hrs on personal tasks at work that week. There may be a correlation between working too much overtime and goofing off. Because I know where I’ve spent my time, I know what I can stop doing to […]

  27. dan said, on December 07, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    it is kind of important to know how you are paid. if you were an hourly employee, score! if you are salaried-exempt or salaried non-exempt, that would be horrible.

  28. Neil Pedersen said, on December 31, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Very good article at a time when I am evaluating if all of the hours put in are worth it.

  29. Buck Roberts said, on January 28, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Wow you are totally right.

  30. […] language. Obviously, the internet is a gateway drug. I tried out Ruby mainly as a way of increasing my own job satisfaction after I had heard so many good things about […]

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