I find these “shorter work weeks are just as effective” articles to be nonsense, at least for knowledge workers with some tactical discretion. I can imagine productivity at an assembly line job having a peak such that overworking grinds someone down to the point that they become a liability, but people that claim working nine hours in a day instead of eight gives no (or negative) additional benefit are either being disingenuous or just have terrible work habits. Even in menial jobs, it is sort of insulting – “Hey you, working three jobs to feed your family! Half of the time you are working is actually of negative value so you don’t deserve to be paid for it!”

If you only have seven good hours a day in you, does that mean the rest of the day that you spend with your family, reading, exercising at the gym, or whatever other virtuous activity you would be spending your time on, are all done poorly? No, it just means that focusing on a single thing for an extended period of time is challenging.

Whatever the grand strategy for success is, it gets broken down into lots of smaller tasks. When you hit a wall on one task, you could say “that’s it, I’m done for the day” and head home, or you could switch over to something else that has a different rhythm and get more accomplished. Even when you are clearly not at your peak, there is always plenty to do that doesn’t require your best, and it would actually be a waste to spend your best time on it. You can also “go to the gym” for your work by studying, exploring, and experimenting, spending more hours in service to the goal.

I think most people excited by these articles are confusing not being aligned with their job’s goals with questions of effectiveness. If you don’t want to work, and don’t really care about your work, less hours for the same pay sounds great! If you personally care about what you are doing, you don’t stop at 40 hours a week because you think it is optimal for the work, but rather because you are balancing it against something else that you find equally important. Which is fine.

Given two equally talented people, the one that pursues a goal obsessively, for well over 40 hours a week, is going to achieve more. They might be less happy and healthy, but I’m not even sure about that. Obsession can be rather fulfilling, although probably not across an entire lifetime.

This particular article does touch on a goal that isn’t usually explicitly stated: it would make the world “less unequal” if everyone was prevented from working longer hours. Yes, it would, but I am deeply appalled at the thought of trading away individual freedom of action and additional value in the world for that goal.


You’re pretty much right here, but it’s important to be clear that the article does not suggest restricting working hours, it suggests changing the norm in an unspecified way. Granted, in Britain this has always been done with restrictive laws. The norm used to be for 9 year olds to work in factories for 15 hours a day. This was changed progressively to reduce to a norm of 40 hours a week for adult males only, and then has included adult females and slowly been rising since.

There are ways other than just saying that people can’t work more than 35 hours a week. You can require overtime loading, you can change bargaining laws, you can change the employment conditions of people employed directly by the government. This doesn’t impinge on anyones freedom more than current laws (i.e minimum wage, health and safetly, child labour, non-discrimination)

It’s also important to remember that the having “some tactical discretion”, and “being aligned with their job’s goals” in your job is rare. Most people dislike their jobs and most jobs are pretty pointless. There’s an equality issue here that isn’t the one you’re thinking about: more access to meaningful work? If there’s only so many hours of meaningful paid work to be done, wouldn’t it be better to sacrifice a bit of efficiency to have as many people as possible doing a smaller amount of this work?

It is really important to not confuse individual with collective reasoning. It’s pretty clear from the article that it doesn’t apply to all cases. (And from what I’ve heard, you’re a famously extreme outlier here) Yes, there will be negative consequences to any change, but you don’t make society wide changes by looking at outliers.

@ddouglascarr


The Guardian:

> Research shows that shorter work weeks are just as effective.

John Carmack:

> I feel like longer work weeks are more effective.

Does anyone else see the problem with this?

Of course, pop-sci writing is often terrible. Of course, headlines can wildly misrepresent the research they’re covering. Of course, there may be issues at stake (such as, in this case, personal freedom) beyond the simple phenomenon being described.

However, if you have an issue with the research’s methodology, explain it. It might even be a little interesting to hear a new conflicting hypothesis from your own anecdotal experiences.

As it happens, regarding the quality of pop-sci journalism, on this particular issue, the research on the starkly diminishing returns of overtime and the negative impact it has on work (especially creative work) is all pretty consistent. For those who do not have the luxury of working in cushy chair-sitting industries like Mr. Carmack and myself, overtime is strongly correlated with an increase in industrial accidents, both fatal and otherwise.

I really wish that high-status people in the software industry would stop thinking that their success exempts them from cognitive bias and the need to make a rational argument, or that their experience writing software somehow transfers, with no particular education, to social science or management.

The problem with this opinion is neatly summed up by this statement:

> Given two equally talented people, the one that pursues a goal obsessively, for well over 40 hours a week, is going to achieve more.

which has been all but proven wrong by repeated scientific studies. In the general case, it is not true. In the specific cases of outliers where it appears to be true, my understanding of the research indicates that the “People with the psychological makeup that allows them to productively pursue a goal obsessively for well over 40 hours a week will tend to be extremely successful”. But this attribute is highly unusual, and it may not be something you can cultivate; people who are taller also tend to do better in life, but that does not mean that the average person should torture themselves on the rack for 80 hours a week in the hopes of getting taller, either.


Following up on the links you gave me on Twitter.

These two fall into the awful pop-sci writing category:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/09/working-…
“And it seems that more productive—and, consequently, better-paid—workers put in less time at the office”
“So maybe we should be more self-critical about how much we work. Working less may make us more productive.”

http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/3841/Prod…
This points out that the average worker in Greece works more hours than the average worker in Germany.

These are clearly confusing correlation with causation, and I doubt very much that any of the actual researchers involved, as opposed to op-ed writers, would even imply that if only the workers in Greece would ease up a bit, they would get the productivity of Germany. Would you make that statement?

This one covers a lot of actual research, but mostly on the relationship between overtime and worker health and safety:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-143/pdfs/2004-143.pdf

I don’t find much to argue with here. I don’t dispute the premise that working very long hours can have a health impact in some cases.

It was interesting to see the clear step function in the leading graph of average annual work hours by country with the US at ~1850 as the highest of the mostly-western countries, but Thailand, Hong Kong, and South Korea in a distinctly different class, topping out at ~2450 for South Korea. That made me smile, because one of the Samsung people we work with referred to us at the Oculus Dallas office as “honorary Koreans” because of how hard we work. I do note that the chart in the Economist link with more recent data has them still at the top, but down to ~2100 hours in 2012.

A couple interesting (unrelated) counterpoints from the studies:

Sokejima and Kagamimori [1998] observed a U-shaped relationship: as compared with 7 to 9 hours of work per day, higher risk (for cardiovascular problems) was associated with both shorter hours (less than 7 hours a day) and longer hours (more than 11 hours a day)

Nakanishi et al. [2001b], however, published the opposite results: white collar workers reporting 10 or more hours of work per day had a lower risk for developing hypertension when compared with workers reporting less than 8 hours of work per day

There are some small bits directly discussing performance:

3.2d Extended Work Shifts and Performance
Two laboratory studies reported deterioration in performance with extended shifts.
In contrast, four field studies reported no differences in their performance measures during extended shifts.

3.4b Very Long Shifts and Performance
A study in Ireland by Leonard et al. [1998] reported declines in two tests of alertness and concentration in medical residents who had worked 32-hour on-call shifts. They reported no significant declines in a test of psychomotor performance or a test of memory. A New Zealand survey of anesthesiologists linked long working hours to self-reported clinical errors [Gander et al. 2000].

I glanced at the other links, and they look potentially interesting, but non-responsive as far as giving actual data showing that working more than 40 hours a week makes you less productive.

Perhaps there is confusion about my position, so let me clarify:

Average productivity per hour will decline with extended work. The highest average hourly productivity could be with shifts as short as six hours for many people; I have no particular thoughts on this, as I have never had reason to care to optimize it. An assembly line job that is embarrassingly parallel with minimal communication overhead may well be better served to have shorter shifts and more workers.

Total net productivity per worker, discounting for any increases in errors and negative side effects, continues increasing well past 40 hours per week. There are a great many tasks where inefficiency grows significantly with additional workers involved; the Mythical Man Month problem is real. In cases like these, you are better off with a smaller team of harder working people, even if their productivity-per-hour is somewhat lower.

This is critical: it isn’t necessary to maintain performance on an extended shift to still contribute value. Productivity per hour can deteriorate, even precipitously, and still be non-negative. Only when you are so broken down that even when you come back the following day your productivity per hour is significantly impaired, do you open up the possibility of actually reducing your net output.

There are cases where the consequences of an increased error rate can be a dominant factor — airline pilots and nuclear plant operators come to mind. I had to work under FAA mandated crew rest guidelines while operating the Armadillo Aerospace rockets, and I made no complaints.

I believe most research that people glance at and see “declines in productivity with longer hours” are talking about declines in productivity-per-hour, and people jump to the incorrect conclusion that you can get just as much done in less time.

You called my post “so wrong, and so potentially destructive”, which leads me to believe that you hold an ideological position that the world would be better if people didn’t work as long. I don’t actually have a particularly strong position there; my point is purely about the effective output of an individual. If we were fighting an existential threat, say an asteroid that would hit the earth in a year, would you really tell everyone involved in the project that they should go home after 35 hours a week, because they are harming the project if they work longer?


Okay, let’s ignore all them pesky negatives of overworking, like killing a patient from time to time or messing with the wrong piece of data somewhere. Let’s also ignore the issue of personal freedom vs. the hours mandated by your employer. Let’s focus only on maximizing the total output you can generate. As I understand, this is your case.

The metric productivity-per-hour is stupid. It’s useless trying to optimize it – just like you said. The natural cycle for humans is a day. The body requires rest and is tuned to have an optimal performance if the do/rest cycles are loosely synced with the day/night cycles of the sun. You need to optimize that cycle, in the long run, to maximize your total output.

“… when you come back the following day your productivity per hour is significantly impaired, do you open up the possibility of actually reducing your net output.”

Yes, I do. The burnout today at work has an effect on your productivity tomorrow. In attempt to get a little extra done today, tomorrow you won’t be that efficient at your peak, and you’ll be more tired and unproductive at the and of the day, compared to the previous. This way your average productivity per day, from both days, can easily be lower than if you had worked 3 hours less the first night and the second day were just as efficient and productive as the first.

This effect extends in a long run. Fatigue accumulation and sleep debt are real phenomenons. Poorly managed day-to-day cycles can render people incapable of doing any meaningful work. The remedy is rest/vacation, which kills your averages even more.

You should know, even better than me, that working people don’t only produce output. They are learning too. The work that you’ll be required to do in a year or two is not the same as the one you do today. Mental fatigue impairs learning new stuff a lot more than it impairs doing stuff you already know.


“If you don’t want to work, and don’t really care about your work, less hours for the same pay sounds great! If you personally care about what you are doing, you don’t stop at 40 hours a week because you think it is optimal for the work, but rather because you are balancing it against something else that you find equally important.”

This is spot on. I think motivation is a huge factor here. Motivated workers are more capable of remaining productive over longer periods. Switching projects/tasks when you run out of gas is usually reinvigorating. Also, some people seem to have more innate motivation like an extended “honeymoon” phase when new people start a job and they are more tenacious and eager to prove themselves.

A cool project is an external motivating factor, or an existential threat ranging from potentially losing your job to being wiped out by an asteroid. As terrible as it is, fear is a great motivator. I’ve worked on projects so mind numbingly boring and pointless that I’ve had to change tasks after a couple hours because I found myself staring at my editor hating what I was doing. I’ve also worked on projects where I could stay motivated and productive 16 hours a day for two weeks at a time trying to meet an important deadline.

Bottom line in my opinion is there’s no such thing as a broad rule of thumb for how long someone can stay productive.


> would you really tell everyone involved in the project that they should go home after 35 hours a week, because they are harming the project if they work longer?

Everyone? Maybe not. Those whose could make irrecuperable errors and doom the project because of fatigue, certainly. For many professions, longer hours don’t necessarily lend to more production, but can certainly become hazardous.


Sure, as long as everyone is paid 2X salary for every hour over 8. I’ve been abused at work, greatly. It changed my views. Not everyone has the same experiences and perspective.
I would disagree with you in the basic assumption that we let “everything just work out”.

We do need laws that those who work over what has long been considered healthy- 8 hours, are compensated very well for their time. To the point that the incentive lies on the employer to hire more people.

There’s nothing to stop you or anyone else from forgoing your pay. But working for free to most of us is unacceptable, we don’t have as much money thus our transaction of time for money means more. And many have less power to call shots because they may be less valuable or talented.

Yet everyone receiving a paycheck deserves this basic protection from abuse.


“A living” is a rather broad concept. Two factors are grossly overlooked: the general standard of living is rising, and much of that rise results from making it nigh unto illegal to live below that standard. Even the “poor” expect easy indoor heat & AC, toilets flushed with city-supplied drinking water, one car per adult, a cell phone per teen & up, etc. I grew up on hand-split wood heat & no AC, well water, one car for the household, wired phones with 4-digit numbers, etc. – and we were firmly one-income “middle class”. Nowadays wood stoves are regulated into near oblivion (near prohibitory particulate limits), heat & AC standards required for “certificate of occupancy” along with high plumbing standards, cars include a plethora of then-unattainable options and must meet very high gas mileage standards, cell phones are a standard welfare item, etc. – all due to well-meaning but subtly devastating requirements to live even in “functional poverty”. Normalization of home mortgages, insurance-paid access to extremely high health care standards, and easy access to crushing loans for education, all seem perfectly justified now yet persuasively “force” people to work more and more “to make a living” which many of us saw as luxurious not all that long ago.

You can live well on a whole lot less – as most people did not all that long ago. Ditch the >1000 sq ft homes, instant shirt-sleeve indoor temperatures, waste-encouraging volumes of drinking water, high-MPG with-all-the-features cars, supercomputer-in-your-pocket phones, etc. Get a catastrophic health insurance plan. Pay your way thru college. Downgrade the phone. And elect leaders who seek to make simple living legal, and otherwise decrease burdensome tax rates.

Your “living” standard is your choice. Really. Contain your costs, and you can live on a whole lot less. As always I’ll be derided for these observations, but it’s what I grew up on.


Sure you can definitely live with lower standard (nice story of yours by the way, remember us how recent progress revolutionized our lives).
But I mean liberating as much as we can people from the necessity of working, and improving their quality of life in general, is a more realistic fight for humanity than destroying an asteroid.


Someone has to do the work; value is not durable nor zero-sum. Destroying an Earth-threatening asteroid is assuring the continued opportunity of all to produce as they can & will; confiscating the fruits of the productive to give to the idle punishes the former and rewards the latter. What you describe as “liberating” is mutual enslavement of producers & idle to each other. What you describe as “realistic” is unsustainable no less than the extinction event of an asteroid impact.


“Destroying an Earth-threatening asteroid…” But what asteroid ? That’s all the point, it’s ridiculous to care as much about a non-existing asteroid in the near feature than the plenty of dramatic problems that are causing damages for centuries.

“Someone has to do the work”, “confiscating the fruits of the productive to give to the idle punishes the former and rewards the latter”.
That’s absolutely not what liberating work is about, and what you describe is a pretty narrow view of economics that we’re taught since childhood. Investigating a bit economy shows it get way more complicated than that, just defining “productive value” is a very deep subject. I don’t believe you and I are able to assess if an economic system is sustainable or not (reality shown even the best economists can’t), whereas scientist are pretty accurate about the low probability of an asteroid destroying earth in 2016.


I think these types of studies are all going to be fatally flawed with a bunch of very-hard-to-untangle factors: since “40 hours” (or more) is the “expected norm” then if you’re working less you’ve either fought incredibly hard to do so (which I personally have), you have way more freedom to choose working hours than most people or you’re “forced” to work less (or more) for some reason.

e.g. my first thought about the “increased hypertension in workers reporting < 7 hours" (a paper I haven't read, mind) is that they're stressed about finances because they're working part-time (or the "hours" was averaged over the year or something, and they spent some time without a job).

Now, if you’ve chosen to work many more hours then it seems intuitively obvious that you’ll be more productive. There’s also the hard-to-study factor of what you’re working on. For example, many free-software developers are doing their free-software-developing in their “non-work” hours — so they might be “working” (in the sense of producing code) 80+ hours a week, but will likely only get “counted” as whatever their day job was. (If there are studies that account for “what you do with your other time” against productivity, I’d be very keen to read them).

In a similar vein — and as John said in the original post — if you’re “stuck” on something (e.g. can’t do any more “design the hard algorithm” thinking) and switch to something “boring” that still needs to be done (e.g. make the Makefile suck less) that’s still “more productive”. But, as others have pointed out, many developers don’t have that freedom — they have to keep pounding their face against whatever bug they got assigned. And if you’re stuck, but have to keep working on it, I’d bet a lot that your productivity goes to shit.

So, all that said, I personally believe (note: not scientific! ;) that we’d be far better off to have shorter expected/forced “working weeks”. And I don’t mean that everyone should be forced to work less! This may (or may not!) have a “productivity” impact for employers but if you looked at individuals’ “productivity” (including work and “non-work” parts) I think it would go way up — precisely because this would give the vast majority of people way more choice about what they get to work on. This — I completely unscientifically presume — would also have a large positive effect on people’s reported happiness.

That is, they’d be spending less time smashing their face on that bug at work and get more time to do whatever else they like to do — free-software, painting, writing, building things, etc.

In any case, I know that for me personally being forced to work 40+ hours a week on the same thing is completely toxic to my creativity and productivity at programming and I’ve worked very hard to get paid less (to work less). I can also tell you that nearly every co-worker or friend I’ve told of my myriad different arrangements to achieve this have wanted to do the same (but feel they “can’t”). The only exception seems to be when people realize the bit about “paid less” ;) and can’t do (or don’t want) that. Interestingly, I still have spent a bunch of my increased leisure time writing software — but for myself, or free-software instead of “for work”. Of course, I’ve also spent a bunch of it doing things for pure enjoyment.

Now, of course, that’s all just anecdotal. But, for me, less “must work on X for $” time means a lot more happiness and a lot more “productivity” (if you look at everything I do with my time).


Not everyone is fully utilised at work, nor does every job’s output scale linearly with incremental effort. So while the above is true in some cases (particularly for ‘assembly line’ type jobs, including programming, where there is a constant supply of discrete and valuable tasks) it is also the case that many people are productive for far less than the full time they spend at work and that a shorter working week would result in significant & near immediate productivity increases in a good number of cases. Examples would be bureaucratic work, a lot of generic ‘project’ roles, and situations where procrastination is common.

Perhaps it’s not that people are particularly much more productive over short hours as that presenteeism and the need to be seen to be working long hours masks the true amount of productive time and many people will do less than they could if they think they can get away with it (particularly if they work long hours at a job they dislike), nonetheless it would be better for unproductive time at work to be spent elsewhere and reducing the length of the work week could achieve this.


This is so absolutely true. Your typical corporate office these days is full of wasted time and red tape that acts as a sponge for people’s time left on this earth. Just the time a 30 minute commute takes away from one’s day is a massive amount of time over one year. Hell if more people could work fewer hours from home, they would probably get the same or more work done and still have more time for themselves.


Most devs can’t switch what they’re working on: They’re on a sprint plan that’s estimated to 1/2 day (at least) precision, and checked-on every day at scrum.

Not saying your general point is wrong, but it’s not what being an engineer is like for most people today. (BTW, fixing the way work is managed would probably do a lot for both people and firms.)


As you do have a reputation for getting quite a lot done, it would be cool if you’d share a little bit more on how you make long hours productive and manage to maintain focus (or maybe you’ve written about it elsewhere?).


“people that claim working nine hours in a day instead of eight gives no (or negative) additional benefit are either being disingenuous or just have terrible work habits”
It depends on so many factors (self interest in the job, capacity, health, age, repetitiveness, nature of the job, stress involved, etc…) that it can be true or false in different cases.

“Hey you, working three jobs to feed your family! Half of the time you are working is actually of negative value so you don’t deserve to be paid for it!”
Negative value might be abusive but those people are for sure less productive in their second job compared to if they wouldn’t have to do the first one. But the net production is for sure higher for 2 jobs than 1.

“does that mean the rest of the day that you spend with your family, reading, exercising at the gym … you would be spending your time on, are all done poorly?”
Assuming every activity is consuming the same resource is a very speculative statement. Being exhausted solving a math problem doesn’t necessary means you’re exhausted to run.

“When you hit a wall on one task, you could say “that’s it, I’m done for the day” and head home, or you could switch over to something else that has a different rhythm”
That’s assuming every job is made of very diverses tasks. As a core of modern economy, division of labour actually lead to the opposite in many cases. And that’s sort of true for many jobs in game industry where your day job can turn very repetitive and all the tasks, no matter how much, looks the very same.

“Given two equally talented people, the one that pursues a goal obsessively, for well over 40 hours a week is going to achieve more” You would need a study to back it up, I would be very curious of the result of these two people over a period of 40-50 years of career at 80 hours per week for one and 40 for the other.


If I care about what I do – I will do it anyways. I don’t need to be an employee and go to work, just to be allowed to do what I already want and am doing. Does this make sense to you?
In the end I’m pursuing employment to get paid, you know, and there are only degrees of alignment between a person’s current aspirations and the stuff you’re going to be paid for. So, what people are trying to argue here is the balance between the time you are required to sacrifice in order to earn enough for a half-decent living and the free-will time in which your actions are motivated otherwise.
Like you once said – it’s nice to be in a position where people can’t exert leverage on you.
There certainly is a social and political push to this balance towards devoting yourself more to the company’s agenda.


Hi John,

As with everything on the internet, this article and action that’s making waves around the internet is an oversimplification on what is a really complex problem with a lot of factors and variables.

Your example with a factory worker is great example for that specific type of work, an assembly line, but much like the mentality of “lets work 6 hours instead of 8” craze that’s going on it would only apply and benefit a specific type of employee – the average uninterested employee. This is guy/gal is a programmer, accountant, secretary, QA tester whatever that is good enough at what he does to get by and even promote very slowly, has mild interest in what he does for work but not enough to call it passion and does the work mostly for the money. That is actually the majority of intellectual employees, that need a job to live but can’t find the dream role that’s perfect for them to pump them full of life and excitement every day.

You see Sir, you are privileged enough to have a passion and set of skills that you’ve worked to develop over the years that actually enable you to go out and do whatever it is that you do best and have fun with it, while still bringing you quite enough money to live off. You wouldn’t be able to say that about the guitarists, painters, artists, etc out there who are in very low demand and extremely high supply. Yes the elite of these people will do well, but only the elite. You are an elite in your field John, a well known and recognised symbol of the IT and Gaming industry. Most people are not and cannot afford to live off their dreams.

Thus while this new 6 hour system would not apply to you, because you are passionate about what you do and can invest non-stop effort in what you’re doing (don’t get me wrong, I’m the same just not as good or popular, Yet :D, but I am fortunate enough to live off of what I like doing best) for everyone else, this system would bring benefit for average employees that are willing to keep their Facebook time for home and work while at work. They will have a few more hours for themselves, their kids, their wives, and potentially even allow them the two extra hours a day they need to transform their hobbies into actual financial successes.

In my opinion, the solution to this whole conundrum is to stop treating all businesses as they are assembly lines and analyse them on a case by case basis. For example in a micro games studio where you only have 10 valuable employees, a task based system might be a much better approach. “We need the sprites done by date x, the core mechanics by date y, and the sound by date z. I don’t care if you work 9 to 5, 6 to 24 or 20 minutes a day, as long as they are complete in time we’re golden. Then we can have meetings with the whole team to analyse the quality of your work and based on everyone’s input we can determine a set of bonuses for different traits of your work (quality, speed, efficiency, reusability, etc).”. This is of course an off the top of my head idea but it would work well in a very small studio where everyone has their meetings at the local Pub.

Unfortunately doing such an analysis and discovery on a large business would be extremely costly, so what’s the next best thing? Follow the already well established trend, and copy whatever solution works for a different company (and copy it poorly without understanding why it works for that company). There is a reason why google employees in the US live on the Google campus, but nobody bothers to find out why thus what we get is silly generalisations like the 6 hour work day.

Blimey I went on quite a ramble didn’t I? Oh well… apologies for the wall of text for all those that’ll end up reading it.

And do have a lovely day! :)


I agree with this, with all due respect to John. The part I like most about your post is where people can choose what to do with that extra time, which may include actually being able to enjoy their family, or doing what I am doing which is learning new skills in my free time, or hey (go crazy) and do both!

The fact is, most of the jobs people don’t like doing are going to be automated in the not-so-distant future, which brings up the question of what we humans will be doing when there are less work hours needed to move our society forward. Many people who are working today will NOT be willing or able to train up to meet the higher skills needed for our new world. So what will they be doing as their jobs go away? Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in keeping old jobs around just to keep people employed, but I still don’t see this question being answered. I have a lot of friends who are in their 30’s and 40’s who have 20-25 years of employment ahead of them, but probably cannot rely on their jobs existing that long.

Another question is why are we working so hard on technology to automate and make our lives easier if all we are going to do with that supposedly easier life is work as much or more? Or rather, how long will people have to work jobs they hate, just to keep from living in a box under a bridge?

I’m running my own IT consulting business, which pays the bills, and also frees up more time for me to tend to my son, and to work on learning new skills to break into VR development. I can work basically part time and charge a high enough hourly rate to afford this lifestyle, but I am the exception, not the rule. I actually feel sorry for my family and friends when I see how unhappy they are working 40+ hours, barely seeing their kids before bedtime all week long, and just not being able to chase something that will really make them happy. When will humanity start coming before corporate productivity?


You, I like you, you ask the correct questions!

Unfortunately not soon enough. As you said, we are the exception. I’m currently trying to get a VR games studio of the ground, it’s not easy but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. You do your consultancy business which I’m sure you enjoy enormously and as you’ve said, 9 to 5 is just a bad dream for you.

But to move the whole of humanity into that direction, the whole of humanity have to be willing to put themselves in our position and actually self-educate and take control of their lives. As you can probably imagine that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Mr Carmack over here is a great example of the humanity I would like to live in, but he is the polar opposite of the humanity we actually live in. Sadly most people do not have ambitious dreams of creating new things! They learn enough to get by and that’s it. I am of course talking majorities here, I realise exceptions exist but the very sad truth is that people like being comfortable and stationary with very small aspirations in a world that’s actually progressing without them. In London we have this funny problem with the Underground: Most of it can be automated, but because of the mass firing that would result, it’s not being done due to humanitary reasons. The same humans that are being protected from this mass-atomisation are at the same time demanding absurdly high wages (£50k+) to do tasks that can be conducted by a £3000-£10000 robot and if these demands are not met, strikes!

Same thing with McDonald’s in the US. Although somewhat more reasonable there as their wages were quite low, these people are replaceable with some very basic machines. In the UK there are McDonald’s with automated ordering and paying stations. I just tap on a large touch screen what I want and stick a payment method in. That £3000 device just replaced a £15000 employee and is a lot more efficient at their job.

It pains me to say this but going forward this is going to be a self-regulating problem. There will at some point be massive unemployment which may cause quite a financial crisis and then it will regulate itself over time. In the new world that will come out of this crisis there won’t be any room for non-intelectual people as most automated jobs will be gone. It’s funny to think about it this way, but all those young adults getting university degrees, they might need them sooner than they think. The 20-25 y.o. that don’t have higher education right now will probably suffer the most in 10 years time.

TL;DR: While what is happening seems very heartless and cruel, with all the automation, it actually seems like a necessary step to evolve as a sentient species.

Damn it, I text-walled again… sorry :(


Are you really John Carmack?

(As of writing, account created 325 days ago, 1 comment and 2 karma)

It shouldn’t really matter because it’s ‘appeal to authority’, but thoughts on worklife/productivity by the Elon Musk’s or John Carmack’s of the world really do have more impact


I’ve read about you as an employer under the development of Quake. I can only relate this to you fascist way to force people work. It’s a shame tho since you’re such a talent and I hope you’ve changed.


Most people don’t work jobs they care about. In an ideal world how people choose to spend their time would be entirely separate from notions of productivity or wages. But the fact is that we operate under a terrible economic system and people are overworked by largely meaningless jobs. In the context of society as it stands today, not only are people overworked, but most people could work less without their respective employers losing money. Because modern businesses operate solely off the principal of maximizing profit, I think it’s poignant to point out that it’s in their benefit to reduce the work week for their employees.

You can’t apply this notion to people who spend their time in meaningful ways. You couldn’t say that Picasso would be just as effective with a shorter work week. If people lived reasonable lives and did genuine work, the whole idea of comparing length of work weeks with effectiveness of work would be meaningless. You point out that when people are worn out with a certain activity, they could benefit by just moving on to another. That’s true. Reasonably speaking, people shouldn’t do anything for even a minute longer than they feel like. But the corporate world does not offer that kind of flexibility. The corporate world is rigid, and people are forced to operate in unnatural ways. Repetition and narrow focus are the bread and butter of this system, meaning you perform a single task over and over for the duration of your work day and that’s it. This is the context with which you must examine the idea that “shorter work weeks are just as effective” because this is how most jobs work. I think the reason for pointing out that “shorter work weeks are just as effective” is really to use the ruthless, disconnected, corporate logic of the modern business world against itself.

Now, let me just dispel a myth you stated. You believe that “Given two equally talented people, the one that pursues a goal obsessively, for well over 40 hours a week, is going to achieve more.” This again is modern corporate mentality. Work harder, put in more effort, and you will achieve more. The real world does not operate on these principals. Only menial tasks can be translated into the notion of more effort = higher yields. Lets take the example of Picasso again. Do you think the more time he spent painting in a given week the better his paintings were? Or take Newton. Do you think if he sat down and forced himself to ponder the physical laws of the universe for ten more hours each week he would have made more discoveries? This is a simplistic and completely insubstantial view on the world.

If you examine the lives of truly successful people (by which I mean people like Newton or Picasso or Tchaikovsky, not financially successful like Mark Cuban or Bill Gates) then you realize the only “rule” you can extrapolate from their lives is that people operate best when they do so on their own terms. Not when they work for longer hours or with more perceived “effort”, but when they work exactly as they please.

But anyway, that’s getting into another topic. I just wanted to point out that the idea that shorter work weeks are just as effective is completely valid when applied to the current and deeply flawed structure of modern work environments. It’s not something which can be applied to ideal scenarios which offer flexibility, and frankly that’s irrelevant because most people aren’t fortunate enough to have that. If we do get to the point where people can work under truly ideal circumstances, the entire notion of productivity or effectiveness will be meaningless. These are concepts which only hinder good work.


Now, let me just dispel a myth you stated. You believe that “Given two equally talented people, the one that pursues a goal obsessively, for well over 40 hours a week, is going to achieve more.”

This works for people like Carmack because he’s always gotten to choose precisely what he wants to do in each of those 40+ hours.

Read More