130 Hours a Week? — Part 1

Marissa Meyer tells us we definitely can work 130 hours a week

In a Bloomberg Business Week interview with Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo tells us that they way she measures the potential success of the start-ups that are run out of the "co-working office in San Francisco" that her "husband [the venture capital investor Zachary Bogue] runs" and that "other startups cycle through" is by what she sees happening over the weekend: "...if you go in on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what they do. Being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success, mostly because these companies just don’t happen. They happen because of really hard work."

It's an Interesting way to gauge the potential success of start-ups.

Ms. Meyer also tells us that "...the other piece that gets overlooked in the Google story (in 1999, Ms. Meyer joined Google as its 20th employee) is the value of hard work. When reporters write about Google, they write about it as if it was inevitable. The actual experience was more like, 'Could you work 130 hours in a week?' The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom."

So I suppose Ms. Meyer's assertion is that this extreme level of work -- 130 hours a week, or triple the so-called standard 40 hour week -- is not only achievable, but often quite desirable, and that demonstrating you can routinely work this much is an excellent measure of what needs to be done to make extremely successful companies extremely successful.

But is 130 Hours a Week Really Such A Brilliant Idea?

Sara Robinson's Article in Salon includes a subheadline stating that "150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees."  This statement seems a bit extreme in the opposite direction of Ms. Meyer's 130 hours of work per week, but Ms. Robinson backs up her assertion that "every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul" with extensive research. She states that "the most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision."   Ms. Robinson buttresses this argument by further noting that "by 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result."

A Software Engineer named Evan Robinson (as Ms. Robinson discloses their common last name is not a coincidence; I suppose they share common interests) in an article entitled Why Crunch Modes Doesn't Work: Six Lessons gathered a compendium of really, really interesting research on hours of work.  For example:

More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks


Working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.

The research Mr. Robinson's article brings to light includes several reputable sources, including a fascinating study entitled Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Human Performance in Continuous Operations authored by Colonel Gregory Belenky (Director, Division of Neuropsychiatry) at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In this research paper, Mr. Belenky reiterates Mr. Robinson's central assertion that sleep deprivation and significant, continuous work without rest negatively impact task performance. Mr. Belenky also states that "while we know that sleep deprivation impairs performance and adequate sleep restores performance to normal, we are only beginning to understand the brain events that underlie these phenomena."

So how about 130 hours week, folks? Are you sold on the concept of no more than 40 hours per week? Because, I am not yet, while I certainly can't think of anything to minimize my overall productivity (and perhaps my health) more than consistently working 130 hours a week.

Some Entrepreneurial Thoughts on Hours of Work

There seems to be a wide spectrum of views on how to handle Hours Of Work among entrepreneurs. Maybe they just don't understand what they are doing, but I think that would be a very hard case to make. Here is a sampling of this spectrum of views as reported in the Blog Post 19 Entrepreneurs Share What Hours They Work:

“My work days are usually split into two shifts – 11 am-5 pm, then 9 pm-3 am. In between those shifts, I like to hit the Crossfit gym.” – Justin Zhu, CEO and cofounder of Iterable

“I work 9-6 most days. I never work weekends, and extra hours are generally confined to travel or when we’re at a trade show.” – John Peebles, CEO of Administrate

“As of today, we are an eight-person team that often works remotely and internationally. I’m based in Shanghai, but have team members in San Diego, upstate New York, New York City, and Paris. In terms of the hours worked, I personally put in around 10-12 hours a day separated into 2- or 3-hour chunks beginning as early as 7 am and ending as late as 1 am." – Brett DeColyse, cofounder and CFO of Embark.org

So, in conclusion, I don't really don't know what to conclude. It's clear to me that what Ms. Meyer espouses is not the ideal path to work effectiveness, no matter how important the start-up seems to be to all of those involved, but I am not sure a regiment of ONLY 40 hour weeks works for many of us either.

There is clearly more to learn and more to discuss on this topic. Please join me for Part 2 of this topic next Monday.