Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have been working until past 1:00 in the morning almost every night. Then I ride the bus home and I'm just envisioning my computer screen in my head. I get home and sleep at most four hours and then start seeing my screen on the bus the next day when it begins again. After four or five days of this I crash and sleep for 16 hours or more. I get a lot done but it feels unhealthy and I can't help but wonder if I'd actually get more done on a normal schedule. Has anyone been in a similar situation? Am I just a workaholic? I do like programming and this past year I have been learning how to write LOB apps, and I love it.

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by gnat, MichaelT, Kilian Foth, Robert Harvey, GlenH7 Nov 25 '13 at 12:18

  • This question does not appear to be about software development within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I +1 @jwenting. I recommend a hobby that does not involve your computer (at all). Something that involves physical activity of some sort and does not strain/tax your eyes or mind. Home time is for letting your mind shut down for a while to recuperate. It can't do that if you're forcing it to work when you're home. – Joel Etherton Apr 22 '11 at 11:24
Stop doing this, and go back to regular hours, with frequent breaks. You'll find that not working harder will help you work smarter. – Binary Worrier Apr 22 '11 at 11:46
It may be an underlying issue. For example, I have Aspergers, and (I believe) related to that a stress response that gets "jammed on", and a working memory that glitches (sometimes gets the wrong things jammed in, sometimes won't get the right things in). Fighting this is just more stress. I have some neuroscience-related justification for this, though no absolute proof. Symptoms - long periods of not being able to sleep much if at all, followed by crashes. Days of trying to redirect my attention to work over and over again, achieving nothing but frustration, then days at the opposite extreme. – Steve314 Oct 15 '11 at 5:26
While I was in work, I basically relied on periods when my productivity was far higher than most peoples to make up for periods when my productivity was pretty much zero. When the final big crash came, though, it was a really big crash. Obviously, though, don't jump to conclusions - most of what I'm describing is the effect of stress rather than the underlying cause, and that can obviously be due to circumstances. – Steve314 Oct 15 '11 at 5:29
This question appears to be off-topic because it is tour coping with insomnia. – gnat Nov 21 '13 at 1:00

Start working normal hours (8-10 hours a day, with regular short breaks. Get a drink, just a few minutes every hour) and stop working 16+ hours nonstop. Yes, it's unhealthy. People have died from heart failure and stroke living the life you're living at age 30 or below, it's a very real risk.

When home, relax. Play a game, watch tele, read some SciFi. Do NOT get home only to power up your IDE there and start working on some hobby project or coursework.

share|improve this answer
That being said, if a hobby project relieves you of a lot of stress, it might be a good thing to pursue in moderation. – Maxpm Apr 22 '11 at 6:10
of course, but indeed in moderation. Looks like moderation is missing here, so I prescribe at least several months without a computer at home :) – jwenting Apr 22 '11 at 6:30
I can attest working so hard for a such long time will not do anything good but lead to burnout. – user2567 Apr 22 '11 at 6:37
+1. Something else I've heard is that essentially "home should be a sanctuary". It's very bad psychologically to work at home, and for your home base and sleeping space to not be removed from working - just the scenery can keep you awake if you work and sleep in the same room. If you can't avoid it, then they say you should have a certain "home office" room (or at least workstation) which is strictly for work only. The psychological separation is important for many people apparently. – Bobby Tables Apr 22 '11 at 7:26
Bobby: +1 I read a blog (somewhere) that a good thing to do is to have a different device for different things. iPad -> relaxation surfing. PS3/XBox -> gaming, laptop -> hobby projects. Having different physical devices for doing different things helps with separation too. – Macke Apr 22 '11 at 9:11

I work at home and have had similar issues and have had to create a number of ways to deal with that problem. Now I end the day with something totally non-computer oriented. Three days a week I take ballroom dance lessons, which gets me out of the house (or in your case, probably on a different bus route) and it takes full concentration, so it pushes programming out of my mind for the rest of the day.

If I'm working later in the evening, I make sure I stop and watch something on TV. For me, comedies don't work unless I watch several, so a good hour long drama that gets me involved mentally does it.

Since I live alone, even though experts don't suggest it, I fall asleep with the TV on. I set it to a "safe" station that has re-runs on it or I play something on the DVR that I've seen and is non-engaging (like old comedies or cartoons on Boomerang network). I can set the TV on a sleep timer and while I'm falling asleep, the blather in the background keeps me from thinking about other things and I drift off quickly.

Start setting time limits on your work and get involved in hobbies and activities that give you more to think about other than programming and that create routines so you have mental associations in your life and with places and things in yoru life that are not just your work.

share|improve this answer
+1 for non-computer related "something". Tv is probably not the best on the eyes, but it's definitely great for letting the brain relax. Nothing rots the brain like some tube. – Joel Etherton Apr 22 '11 at 11:25
@Joel Etherton: I agree about TV not being the best on the eyes, and that's also why I read less now. Often TV isn't good, since it makes it hard to sleep for some people, but it's also much more passive and still occupies the brain. Another possibility, which is a favorite of mine, is listening to old time radio shows. They hold your attention, require imagination, and you can listen in the dark. (There are thousands of them at – Tango Apr 22 '11 at 15:41
yah, I made a pact with myself in 2004 that when I left work, I left work. I still do "work" for personal projects, but I always place limits on it regardless of any fictional deadlines. For me, I clear my brain with soccer (and now gardening too). Physical exhaustion is a marvelous purifier. – Joel Etherton Apr 22 '11 at 15:44

Get some exercise, a hobby (chess is not ok ;) or get into some kind of relationship. Either of these will (hopefully) exercise your body and the other half of your brain.

Doing that will:

  • Make you physically tired, allowing you to fall asleep at a more regular hour
  • Make you more fit
  • Make you more capable on handling stress. (Exercise and the subsequent rest "resets" your body to a non-stressful state, where everything works better. Continuous stress will affect your health...)
  • Leave your programming brain alone for a few hours so it can solve problems while you do something else.

I've been in your situation too. It's not a good thing if it lasts. Try to break the cycle somehow.

What I've done to get myself out of the work cycle:'

  • learn some martial arts (get fit and agile, learn tactics and basic physics, as well as make some new friends)
  • play in a rock band (weekly 3 hours energetic rehearsals are nice, the gigs + related roadie work is a full day (and night( of exercise + a lot of fun... also the practice at home helps with zoning out)
  • bike to/from work when weather and mood allows (just be sure to enjoy the ride .. avoid road rage)
  • girlfriend -> wife -> kid ... helps greatly in taking your mind out of the work zone. ;)

I still struggle with it sometimes (cause I really like coding, and we're taking on some huge challenges at work), but I've learnt to notice when the balance tips the wrong way and try to adjust early.

share|improve this answer
"learn some martial arts (get fit and agile, learn tactics and basic physics, as well as make some new friends)" Isn't that part of the marital arts? ;) – jwenting Apr 22 '11 at 10:32
+1 for physical exercise/martial arts. I recommend Krav Maga. Nothing quite resets the body/mind like some good old fashioned controlled aggression. – Joel Etherton Apr 22 '11 at 11:26
+1: Kempo, then meeting my wife, helped me get this stuff under control. Things like Kempo you can plan, wives & husbands are harder to plan, but often happen as a result of planning those other activities :) – Binary Worrier Apr 22 '11 at 11:43
I did Kali Sikaran, a european/scandinavian adaptation of Fillipino stick/knife fighting/self-defence (with some kickboxing and whatnot thrown in for good measure). – Macke Apr 23 '11 at 9:28

Yes it is unhealthy. In my experience I can only keep up with this for three four days before it manifests itself in some way: I may fall sick or just stare at the screen with the hands on the keyboard, without doing anything. Worse, you may end up clogging your arteries with cholestrol, or suffer RSI.

You are a workaholic only if you do it becuase you get some sense of satisfaction by pushing yourself beyond your limits. If you are doing it only becuase you are forced to do it(pushy boss, upcomming deadline) and not because YOU want to, then you dont classify as a workaholic.

If you are doing it out of choice , I would suggest that you don't put in more than 1-2 hours extra. There is a big difference between time in office and actual productive time. You may be at your desk for 12 hours but your productive hours may only be six. And productive time is not directly proportional to time in office. Use some stress buster: take a short walk every 30-60 minutes in the office itself. maybe you can go outside after lunch and take a 10-min stroll. Listen to music or read books, whatever can divert your attention on your ride back. I love reggage for its ability to lift my mood. Dont fall back on cigarettes and alcohol or junk food as stress busters. They will only end up making you more dependent on them.

There are many things that you may be interested in or good at other than coding no matter how much you love it. Do give them some time or you wont be able to build them. I foud that I loved learning scripts and writing articles on Wikipedia.

share|improve this answer

I moved in my girl friend. If there is anything that can distract you from the rest of the world it's a nagging girl friend!

Leave the toilet seat up, put dirty laundry out 20 minutes after she starts the washing machine! I'm just kidding! I think the main thing is get a distraction.

I got myself into homebrew on wii, old xbox, ps3, new xbox, dreambox and lets not forget Android Roms! (Imagine my disappointment, when the stack exchange homebrew was actually about BEER!)

Anyway, get a routine that involves not using the same computer you use for work. Install a different OS on it if you have to. Nothing like a windows based desktop to put you off trying to do 'real' computing work!

Or if your chained to M$, then give ubuntu a crack, or fedora, or sabayon ... you get my drift :)

share|improve this answer
he'd have to move her into the office, not sure how his boss would react to that ;) – jwenting Apr 22 '11 at 12:15
A hot naked lady at home is incentive enough for most to swap qwerty world for, "Oh my gosh" world :) hehe! – Mister IT Guru Apr 22 '11 at 12:27
given that he's home for only 4 hours out of 24, and asleep for those hours, would he even notice her, naked or otherwise? ;) – jwenting Apr 22 '11 at 12:37
....... Good point jwenting - I concede! hehe! – Mister IT Guru Apr 22 '11 at 13:00

"I love it."

That's an important consideration. Yeah, it's somewhat unhealthy physically, but if it's not stressful or its the right kind of stress, it's probably healthy mentally and psychologically, and probably isn't that bad physically in the long run (I'm tempted to say it can even be good, but that's going a bit far afield).

The good news - and the bad news - is that your passion will probably attenuate over time. Then your mind and body will rebel (maybe in very subtle and insidious ways, so watch out). So long as these long hours are not from pressure to meet deadlines, or keep the boss happy or those kinds of things, enjoy doing what you love while you can.

But do watch the physical and mental health. Get some exercise and some sleep and some truly down time, more often than you want to even if its less often than everybody tells you you should. Eat right - pay more attention to that than you normally would, avoid drugs to help you get through it - including caffeine and nicotine (I should talk...), and pay attention to the subtle signs that its not the right thing to do anymore.

And don't plan on making this a permanent lifestyle. That'll kill you eventually. Short bursts, even of several months, are good for you in many ways, but if its all you do, that aint good for you. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Health and passion are both important, don't sacrifice either one to the other.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.