Working too much is bad for both long-term productivity and health. But there are periods where you legitimately have to work more than usual (eg. when you’re close to crunch time). Here are some strategies people who work 80+ hours a week use.
People famous for putting long work hours
Although the classic workweek usually counts 40 hours, some people put in much more than that. – namely, a number of successful people are famous for putting in long hours every week.
- Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is famed for his time blocking technique and working 120 hours per week.
- Indra Nooyi, the now former CEO of PepsiCo, was famed for getting up at 4AM, and focusing most of her day on work – she’d work until midnight everyday.
- Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, used to spend 12 hours a day working, during the first days of Amazon.
- Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo, claimed to work 130 hours per week during her time as CEO.
Their work week seems packed, yet these entrepreneurs manage to helm successful companies, and still lead a life with their spouses and children.
So how do they do it?
The math behind the 80+ hours equation
There are 168 hours in a week – that’s 24 hours per 7 days you have at your disposal:
- If you work for at least 80 hours per week, you have 88 hours for other activities.
- You have roughly 12,5 hours of free time everyday.
- If you aim to sleep at least 7 hours per day, you are left with 5,5 hours for other activities: meals, socializing, hobbies, and other.
The more you work, the less free time you’ll have per day:
- if you work 100 hours per week, you’ll have a little more than 9,5 hours free
- if you work 120 hours, you’ll have a few minutes short of 7 hours free.
The raw numbers say that working at least 80 hours per week is a manageable feat -but, the likelihood decreases as the number of working hours increases.
Let’s see how high achievers actually manage to work this much, and still get the most out of the leftover time.
Staying healthy in an 80+ work routine
Putting in long hours every day almost guarantees a burnout – so, it’s vital that you take care of your health.
Make sure you always leave enough time for meals, and sleep – they are your biggest allies in staying productive, considering you cannot properly work when hungry, or sleep deprived.
Always make sure you make the most out of the time you have free.
You likely won’t have time to cook, so it’s best that you think about your meals in advance:
- opt for healthy snacks – always keep them at hand, in case you get hungry, but don’t want to leave your desk. Low carbs, such as nuts, are a great choice, but you can also try almonds and grapefruits – they ‘ll help you feel full longer, so you’ll be able to work longer.
- prepare meals in advance – cooking each day is time consuming, so it’s best that you batch cook, and freeze leftover food for the other days of the week. Just make sure it’s all properly packed and stored in your freezer.
- Order everything you can online – many stores allow you to order your groceries, but also other supplies, online.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day – Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up. When you feel a dip in your energy, drink a glass of water, and you’ll feel instantly refreshed. The number of glasses you should drink varies, but drinking 4 to 6 cups is one recommendation.
A good sleep is probably your most important non-work activity – after all, if you’re drowsy, you won’t be able to concentrate, so it’s best that you don’t take time away from your sleep.
You should nap whenever you get the chance – during commutes, or when you have a longer break in your schedule. You don’t necessarily have to hit 7-8 hours of sleep in continuity every day – just make sure you do sleep 7-8 hours during 24 hours.
If you’re aiming to work more than 80 hours per week, you’ll be even more pressed for sleep, – if you have only about 5 hours for sleep, make the most of this time:
- don’t nap in a chair or sofa – sleep will be best if you sleep in your bed, the place which you have come to associate with rest.
- avoid sleeping in the office, and avoid working in your bed – sleeping where you work and working where you sleep is a red herring that only confuses you. It’s best that you associate your work desk with work alone, and your bed with rest alone.
- in the evenings, avoid foods and drinks that will make falling asleep more difficult– caffeine and nicotine will likely keep you from falling asleep at the designated time, so avoid coffee and cigarettes at night. The same goes for alcohol – it blocks you from entering the REM phase of your sleep, which is a vital phase for your rest.
You may want to work 80+ hours per week, because you’re facing a deadline, or you’re simply catching up on some loose ends in your most immediate project. Or, maybe you’re aiming to streamline your work routine.
In order to manage this, you’ll have to consider the following points:
Keep in mind your priorities
Having a packed week means you’ll rarely have time (or be in the mood) to tackle additional tasks – so make sure that you dedicate the majority of your time to the right tasks.
For example, you have 10 bugs in your program – and it’s an urgent matter that will likely take away a lot of your time.
Out of the 10, you have 8 bugs you can easily fix, but you also have 2 demanding bugs that, if solved, would get rid of 80% of your program’s problems.
Of course, it would be great to be able to cross out 8 bugs from your list – after all, it will look like you’ve achieved outstanding progress if you cross off 8 items in your to-do list at the end of the day.
But, it’s always best to tackle the 2 more difficult, but also more meaningful bugs – this practice is based on the Pareto principle, which stipulates that 20% of the right efforts bring 80% of your results. Once you’re done with the 2 most difficult bugs and improved your program by 80%, it’ll no problem to tackle the 8 remaining, easy bugs.
Keep in mind your goals
It’s vital that you consider your main goals, and why you’re dedicating 80+ hours in your work – are you working hard in order to promote your business to the right people, in an effort to work less later on in life?
Or, are you working two jobs to save money for school?
Whatever your goal may be, having it in mind is more than sufficient to provide you with motivation to keep going – just make sure you’re aiming at the right goal.
Once important lesson in keeping true to your goals is learning to say “No” to projects and tasks that have no real value for you – they’ll only take away from the time you could be focusing on more important, goal-oriented activities.
Leisure time and breaks
The way you spend your leisure time has an important impact on how productive you can be during work hours :
- If you’re in a good mood after a quick lunch out with friends, you’ll likely be more productive once you resume work, because happiness helps productivity.
- Or, if you have just taken a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood park, you’ll likely clear your mind and be able to solve pressing issues once you return to your office.
Always account for your breaks and leisure time, as they will help you power through your work.
Short breaks help you charge your batteries – make it a habit to implement breaks during your work routine.
If you’ve already re-filled your cup of coffee during break 1, went to the bathroom during break 2, you can use break 3 to plan the leisure time you’ll have during the week – nothing motivates better than knowing that rewards are awaiting you in the future, so keep them in mind.
You should spend more time on your leisure activities than you do on regular in-between-work breaks. And, in regards to that, your reward-activities should last longer, and be more elaborate – you work a lot, so you deserve quality downtime.
These activities can be anything you enjoy:
- a long walk
- a dinner out with your family
- going out to catch the latest 3D installment with your friends
- going to a football or basketball match
During this time, simply unwind – don’t think about your projects, or the work that awaits you tomorrow.
Schedule your days
It’s important that you create a straightforward schedule for your work days, and stick to it – if you have everything written on paper, you likely won’t stray away from your target hours.
Make sure to create to-do lists, identify your priorities among the to-do list items, and block specific time of day for them – set general or specific goals you’ll want to accomplish with a task, or group of tasks.
The difference between a schedule for a regular work week, and a work week that lasts at least 80 hours, is that you should aim to schedule everything:
- most important work assignments
- accompanying tasks
- time off with friends and family
- miscellaneous other activities
Keeping to the math is crucial with a busy work week, because it’s the only way for you to stay on track.
Example of a schedule
So, you have a deadline for a project closing in, and you want to work 80 hours within a week, to finish everything on time.
Even if you’re planning to work for 12 hours, bare in mind that not all the work you’ll do will be priority, meaningful work – you’ll likely spend a certain amount of time of priority tasks, and a certain amount of time on accompanying tasks.
Here is an example 24-hours breakdown, for a 12-ish hour workday:
6AM – Make sure to get up early, to get a head start on your day.
6:10PM-6:20AM – Exercise to ease into the day refreshed and alert.
6:20AM-6:30AM – Take a shower, preferably a colder one, to make sure you’re fully awake.
6:30AM-7:00AM – Don’t skip breakfast – it’ll provide you with the initial boost of energy you need to start your work day right. It’s best that you prepare your breakfast the night before (use ingredients that can last through the night in the refrigerator). Or, opt a nutritious meal you can make quickly, such as a protein shake, or a yogurt and fruit parfait.
7:00AM-7:30AM – If you commute to work, use this time to pre-start your work day – for example, answer your most important emails, or go through some client contracts and proposals.
7:30AM-7:40AM – Go through your schedule and consider your priorities for the day – this may be the negotiation with a potential big client, or finalizing an important project proposal.
Either way, you’ll want to block most of your work hours for these tasks – 3-4 hours per block is the optimal amount of time for you to fully focus and perform deep work, which is similar to being “in the zone”. If you ever feel tired during this dedicated work time, take a five minute break.
7:40AM-11:40AM – Once you get to the office, start working on your priority tasks – if you practice your deep work capabilities, you’ll eventually be able to spend 3-4 hours of pure, uninterrupted work time. Make sure you parse the task that requires deep work, into smaller sub-tasks – if you’ve parsed it into 4 sub-tasks, allocate an hour to each task. Then, track time you spend on these sub-tasks – watching the timer count up will encourage and motivate you to fully focus.
11:40AM-12:00AM – Use this time to answer some more important work emails, or conduct some client calls – these activities are great for you to ease out of your “zone” before lunch.
12PM-12:30PM – Lunch break – it’s best that you order in a healthy meal to your office, or bring a pre-prepared one from home. You’ll save time you’d otherwise spend going out for lunch.
12:30PM – 4:00PM – another time block for your most important work tasks. You can make this time block less about pure work, and implement longer breaks. Science shows that our brains experience cycles of 90 minutes of high frequency activities, followed by 20 minutes of low frequency activities – you can aim to work for 90 minutes, and then rest for 20.
If you find this break-time to be too long, you can try out the famed Pomodoro technique, and work in 25/5 cycles, in which you work for 25 minutes, and take breaks for 5 minutes.
4:00PM-5:00PM – Depending on your usual set of assignments, use this time to work on tasks that are less immediate, but still vital for progress:
- call up a team brainstorming session
- attend a meeting
- schedule an international conference call
These activities are great to make you ease out of your working day.
5:00PM-5:30PM – While commuting home, check your inbox again – use this time to answer any additional inquiries and questions you get by email.
You can also use this time to order in some groceries and missing supplies directly to your house.
Or, if you’ll have to catch up on more work at home, use this time to take a nap.
5:30PM-6:00PM – Make and eat your dinner.
6:00PM-7:30PM – This is the time you can spend on leftover tasks, if you find that you have any – maybe you didn’t have the time to tackle some important matters while at the office, such as planning for a launch event, or going through your business goals for the next quarter.
7:30PM-7:45PM – Plan your work day for tomorrow – write up a to-do list, and put priority task at the top of your list.
You can create a template schedule and fill it out each day – your morning routine, meal times, and leisure time will likely remain the same, as well as the time you block for your most important activities, whatever they may be.
Your conference calls, meetings and other client-related activities will likely be a wild card – but, you can block your less busy hours at work, or some of your time at home, for any unexpected activities.
7:45PM-9:30PM – Time reserved for leisure time meant to help you unwind from work, as well as socialize with friends and family. You can go out for a quick drink, watch a movie, or simply chat with loved ones.
9:30PM-10:00PM – Start getting ready for bed – take a shower, read a chapter of your favorite book in bed, or listen to some soothing music, to help you fall asleep faster.
10:00PM-10:30PM – Try to go to bed at this time – you’ll get between 7-8 hours of sleep until it’s time to wake up at 6AM tomorrow.
Closing remarks for this example schedule
This schedule shows that you’ve spent:
- about 7,5 hours on deep work activities
- almost 4 hours on accompanying activities
- and about 25 minutes on polishing your schedule
Although that’s not something you’d expect from a strenuous work day, you’ve also managed to
- work out
- eat three meals (including the often-skipped breakfast)
- go to bed at a reasonable time to get 7-8 hours of sleep
- spend some leisure time with family and friends, or maybe even on a hobby
You’ve gone through a significant amount of work, and you’ve managed to stay healthy while doing it.
Although eating right, sleeping enough, and practicing your deep work capabilities are the crucial elements to consider for long workweeks, there are extra tips that can help you along the way:
- “If it’s fun, it’s not work” – When you work on something you enjoy you’re able to work longer – if you’re planning to be a high achiever, make sure you’re pursuing a career in something you enjoy.
- Set timers and alarms for most of your activities – you’ll stay on track, and won’t get carried away by just one type of activity.
- Commutes – If you didn’t have time to work out, take a walk to work instead of riding a bus or taxi. It may seem counterproductive, but it actually helps you ease into the day the way a regular workout would.
- Prioritize socialization – you likely won’t have time for casual get-togethers with friends everyday, but leaving time for a big social event, say a birthday or anniversary dinner, is something worth reshuffling your work for.
- Don’t just sit in your office – rather, alternate between siting and standing, for different tasks. For example, you’ll probably need to sit while writing a project proposal. But, when taking a phone call, there’s no reason why you can’t stand, or walk around the office. If you do this, you’ll get some exercise while working, but also, break the monotony of sitting in one place the entire day.
In the end, do you really need to work 80+ hours per week?
Working for 80+ hours is extreme, and not recommended as an everyday practice – but, if you stick to a strict routine and block your time, it is possible.
If you find that you’re able to eat enough, sleep enough and be happy despite working long hours, it’s fine for you to go for it. Just, refrain from working 80+ hours all-year-round. Pursuing such a schedule for 2 or 3 week in a row is enough -in the long run, working less is usually sufficient for staying productive with your work.
The most important part in managing to work 80+ hours per week is taking care of your health. Eat when you’re hungry, take a nap when you’re drowsy, go out for a walk when you find you can no longer stare at your computer – take care of you, so you can take care of your time.