Working Less

On overcoming superman syndrome

4 minute read

The past few days you may have seen this image floating around the tweetosphere of Apple’s Planet of the Apps, where a developer is boasting about not seeing his kids and giving it his all.

The romantic ideal

A lot of people -I think rightfully- took offence to that ad because of this industries inherent enabling of workaholism. Being in development -especially in a position where a lot depends on you- can be pretty daunting. You can do something that not many people can, so questions that are supposed to get more productivity out of you are a dime a dozen.

Luckily we see a new class of developers rise up in protest to romanticizing 80-hour work weeks. They’re argueing that for you to be better at your work, you should be well-rested and comfortable. Before you read the next paragraphs, let me be clear and say that I couldn’t agree more with that.

Feeling like superman

As a guy who repeatedly fell into the trap of working too much I can tell you that working less is -sadly- easier said than done. It’s hard because that romantic image of the “pirate” Apple engineer sleeping at his desk to finish the first Macintosh is hardwired in our collective consciousness. We’ve all had those moments where you’re able to run a workweek of about 60 to 70 hours and still manage to get stuff done around the house, keep your appointments and get your inbox to zero.


It’s like a drug. You feel a bit like superman thinking: “I’m getting so much more done than the average person! I must be amazing”.

Yeah, you’re not.

Because this might go alright for a week… maybe two, but eventually the crash sets in. Work becomes sloppier, e-mail starts piling up, partners get upset because laundry isn’t being done. I’ve been there and sadly I still get to that place from time to time.

Turning it around

I don’t have a clear-cut answer for you as to how you can turn that around. But what I can tell you is what brought my hours from an average of 60 to about 38 a week:

1. Get a time-tracker My hours this week I’ve been using Timi for three years now and let me tell you: insights into how much you’re working is everything! This got the ball rolling for me. This got me to admit that I had a problem. I’m happy to recommend Timi to anyone by the way, but they’re a Dutch startup and I don’t think they offer an English version yet.

In any case; the UI of Timi rocks. It’s super easy: just like filling in a log since it’s all just a textarea with very smart text interpretation. The lesson? Make sure your time-tracker is super easy to use. Don’t let bad UI get in your way of creating a new habit.

Logging hours

2. Define a goal

I officially started working less in 2015. My goal was to go from an average of 57 hours a week to 45. A goal in which I didn’t succeed in the first year; I got to an average of 36. I didn’t understand at first (it felt like a lot more) until I remembered to subtract my vacation and weekends (days that you’re actually -and ought to be- free). Once I factored those in I got to about 48 hours a week.

In 2016 I managed to bring that down to an average of 42 hours a week and my current average for 2017 is 38. So yeah; it took me 2,5 years to get at an exceptable number. Make sure you don’t underestimate how hard this is.

What’s next

Are you working on -or going to work on- reducing your work hours and getting over workaholism? I’d love to hear your methods / struggles in the comments. We need to have a far more open discussion about this stuff because, as the Apple-ad shows, workaholism in tech is still very much alive in 2017.

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