Output Over Hours


Fred Perrotta

It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.

-Henry Ford, 1926

Time is the wrong unit of measurement for knowledge work.

Only results matter. And results are not a function of time spent. Working on the right things is more important than how long you spend working on them. You might have a breakthrough immediately or you may struggle with a problem for weeks. Getting to the breakthrough faster is good, but you can't get there by chaining yourself to your desk.

In fact, time spent away from your desk is helpful. Your subconscious is often the one to solve a problem when you aren't even trying.

When you're tired or your attention wanes, you need a break, not to keep sitting at your desk, presenting the illusion of work, while really just logging ass-in-seat time.

The Industrial Work Day

The 40-hour workweek and the 9-to-5 workday are outdated. Humans have unique rhythms. Our energy and focus wax and wane throughout the day. Unlike machines, we aren't meant to operate at one speed indefinitely until we break down. The eight-straight-hours day doesn't make sense.

I'm most productive in the morning. I front-load my important work, writing, and 1:1s then. After a focused morning work block, I take a long break to eat lunch and go to the gym. In the afternoons, I handle my low intensity tasks like emails, admin work, and routine analysis. This schedule works for me. I don't impose it on anyone else at Tortuga.

We have both larks (early risers) and (night) owls on our team. We don't force everyone into a 9-5 schedule, which wouldn't be ideal for anyone. Instead, each person manages his or her own schedule. You can work early or late. You can work in 25-minute Pomodoro sprints or two-hour intensive blocks.

Work/Life [Fill in the Blank]

The emailing at midnight, calling while you're on vacation, always-on workplaces are unhealthy and unsustainable.

The only thing they accomplish is burning out and churning through team members. They focus only on what's urgent (or presented as such), never on what is important. If everything is urgent, nothing is. Ask Michael Scott.

Remote teams work best asynchronously. If you commit to a culture of non-urgency, you can promote peace of mind within your team and avoid the peer pressure that leads to the "always on" mentality. This takes a group commitment and continued reinforcement from leadership.

If you set the wrong example or reward team members for always being on, you'll lose your authority on the subject and backslide into a culture of burnout. If I say that I don't work late but respond to Garrett's 11pm email within 5 minutes, my actions are setting a different expectation than my words. The actions will win.

I used the headline "Work/Life [Fill in the Blank]" above because people like to manage their time differently.

Some prefer work/life balance or work/life separation where each fits into a neat little box and time is segmented. When you're working, you're working. When work hours are over, you snooze your Slack notifications and don't check email.

Jenn prefers work/life integration where the two are virtually intertwined. As the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga and an advocate for remote work, I'm in this category too.

Neither option is better or worse. Like everything else in this post, the point is that people are unique and should choose the schedule that works best for them and for the company. This is a mutual decision rather than a top-down edict on work hours.

Further Reading

For more on the subject of working hours and work/life balance, read the Work Life Balance posts on Signal v. Noise, Basecamp's Medium publication.