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I would like to switch from a 5 day week to a 4 day, but maintain a 40 hour working week.

Would the 10 hour days affect your ability to be productive? I hate our public transit system so if I could reduce my transportation by 20% I would be happy.
If other developers who work 10 hours shifts could be clear as the their experiences with it that would help me.

I think my boss is flexible enough that he would be cool with it.

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closed as not constructive by gnat, Glenn Nelson, MichaelT, Martijn Pieters, GlenH7 Feb 26 '13 at 18:23

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I work 8hr shifts normally unless there is a serious issue or project deadline crisis. That has only truly happened to me once and I was working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week for an entire summer. I even worked on Memorial Day and July 4th. That was a horrible experience and I have since detested any amount of overtime. –  maple_shaft Jun 30 '11 at 16:38
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If commute time is the main obstacle, maybe you could talk to your boss about working from home as well? –  quanticle Jun 30 '11 at 16:39
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Can you clarify in your question what the goal of 10 hour shifts is? I am assuming it is so you could have a 4 day week, but it is not totally clear as many people work 10 hour days 5 days a week. –  Morgan Herlocker Jun 30 '11 at 18:57
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There is a HUGE body of research that shows, beyond doubt, that most people's productivity and alertness falls off DRAMATICALLY after 8 hours of work. The early adopters of the 8-hour-day, 5-day-week did it because they were humane. Their competitors did it because the early adopters saw their scrap, rework, and accident rates drop through the floor, which sent their profit margins through the roof, requiring their competitors to copy the move if they wanted to stay in business. –  John R. Strohm Feb 26 '13 at 13:55
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EA is psychotic and also not staffed by spectacularly bright management. They actually had a bunch of devs walk out because the obscene hours requirements were in no way connected to the fact that they were actually ahead of schedule. Management was just assuming they'd be behind at a certain point. –  Erik Reppen Feb 26 '13 at 14:38

17 Answers 17

up vote 65 down vote accepted

The literature on the subject points to the harm that long days (e.g., death marches) do.

It is

  1. Impossible for humans to work productively for extended periods of time1,
  2. Unrealistic to expect people to work more than 2-6 hours in an 8-hour day2, and
  3. Detrimental to overall quality to force people to work longer hours3

1 Nöteberg, Staffan. "Pomodoro Technique Illustrated". 2009. Pragmatic Programmers. pp 31-33
2 Brooks, Frederick. "The Mythical Man-Month". 1995. Addison-Wesley. pp 87-94.
3 DeMarco, Tom and Lister, Thomothy. "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams". 1999. Dorset House. Chapter 3-4

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Does anyone know what chapter/section pp 87-94 is in the Mythian Man-Month? I'm looking at a copy in the Safari Library and these pages don't seem to match up to a particular section. –  Bob Jun 14 '12 at 12:11
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@Bob Chapter 8, "Calling the Shot" –  BryanH Nov 8 '12 at 4:44
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"Unrealistic to expect people to work more than 2-6 hours in an 8-hour day" The irony of that is that the standard work day was shortened from 10-12 hours to 8 hours because they thought people would be more productive during that time. Doubly ironic is the fact that it actually did make people more productive to work less actual hours rather than shortening the workday to "correspond" to the number of "actual" hours being worked. –  Joe Z. Feb 26 '13 at 13:56
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Try telling all this to the games industry. :/ –  Alan B Feb 26 '13 at 14:01
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Great references. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns, especially in programming. –  DeaconDesperado Feb 26 '13 at 15:01

Several of my coworkers work 4 days a week, ~10 hours a day. They like having the extra day off, and they feel they are just as productive especially in the hours where less people are around.

That said, I would not be comfortable doing that. Most of the time my work is better when done in shorter sprints of about 3-5 hours at a time, so a more traditional 8-hour day works better for me.

You'll have to find out for yourself whether the longer work hours affect your productivity, because it varies so much from person to person. Could you ask your boss to allow you to try it for three or four weeks to see how it goes? This would give you more experience to base a permanant decision on.

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I think it depends, I've "heard" most developers only get 4-5 hours of "real" working programming time in per day, so unless it's crunch time I see no reason to work 10 hour shifts. But Im sure if you talked to your boss he would be cool with it if you explain the situation. At my work personally you can do 4 10 hour shifts but my company is quite large so it depends on the company.

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not even programming, basically, everthing that involves high mental activity. Ideal scenario is 3 "runs" 1,5h each. –  lukas Jun 30 '11 at 15:42

I have seen people that will be in an off for 10 hours a day but still come in 5 days a week. Thus, while they do work 10 hour shifts, they also work 50 hours a week unless they are taking breaks or something so the hours they report is less than the 10 they are in the office. I would think 10 hour days could work though the key then becomes trying to make sure project sponsors and others that would watch over such developers don't start thinking about adding overtime as there are a few days a week that they could work too. insert evil cackle of greedy boss

I have had some days where I did work 10 hours but I didn't do it consistently enough to see what the long-term effects were. In the short-term I could still work and function but my attention to detail tended to wane a little the longer I was working. At some point, I just needed to tag out really.

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I do, but it's 6 days a week. :\

I have done it in the past and it can be a bit of a problem on some teams. It all depends on how connected tasks are on your team. I would suggest asking for 10 hours for 4 days, then 5 hours at home the 5th day. That way on the last day you are around most of the day for communication but still save on your traveling expenses.

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Except then he's working 45 hour weeks and being paid for 40... i.e. he's getting cheated. –  Wayne M Jun 30 '11 at 15:49
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Not necessarily, he could be paid hourly. Even if he isn't, he is asking his work to do something that benefits him, why shouldn't they benefit as well? I work from home 50-60 hours a week right now and find it much easier than working in an office 40 hours a week. It all depends on what you want. –  James P. Wright Jun 30 '11 at 16:06
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They already benefit by the fact he's working for them; they don't need to try and eke out more because he wishes them to do what they should be doing already (flexible hours for a professional) –  Wayne M Jun 30 '11 at 16:16
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And he is already benefiting by them paying him. If he had a "right" to flexible hours, it would already be in his contract. He is asking for a modification on their previous agreement, I am only suggesting that he give them more incentive to agree to his terms. There is nothing saying he couldn't do 9 hours a day for 4 days then 4 hours on the 5th day. Your workplace is not entitled to give you anything, anymore than you are entitled to give them anything. Your employment is an agreement between them and you. Nothing more, nothing less. –  James P. Wright Jun 30 '11 at 16:23

I'm kind of torn with the idea; on one hand if I got a 4 day week I could see it, but on the other than would mean 8-7 or 9-8 on most days, which leaves you very little time for anything outside of work, unless you are lucky enough to work for a company that doesn't tack on an extra hour for lunch (very rare but I've worked at several).

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I get paid for my lunch so I only work 10-6 typically. –  dah Jun 30 '11 at 15:52

In my experience when doing the 4x10, it works ok, but it gets a little more challenging when you have a smaller group and people are out for vacation, sick etc.

The one thing I did notice, the people who do 7-4 get hosed since they will be more likely to stay past 4, as things do drag on sometimes. The 9-6 people don't mind that as much.

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I work 9 hour days with every other Friday off.

I've done 10 before during a death march and it wears you out. 9 is OK but that extra hour is killer.

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I have many friends on a 9/80 schedule like this, mostly defense contractors, and they LOVE the Fridays off--never heard a complaint about the 9th hour before. –  80x24 console Jun 30 '11 at 17:57
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Yea, the 9th hour is always the pain it would be the 8th if I worked 8. Something about that last hour in the day ;-) –  PSU_Kardi Jun 30 '11 at 18:03

I am currently doing exactly that and for I think the same reason you are contemplating it. My commute on public transportation is quite long, door to door 1.5 to 2 hours. My thought was to compress that to 4 days and reduce my total commute time.

I think I am just as productive as if I was working 5 8's however trying to fit in 10 hours when you are commuting 3-4 hours a days is really hard.

Currently I leave at about 5:25 am and arrive at my office about 7:00 am. I then leave my office about 5:15 to get home about 6:50. To get actually 10 hours out of that I mostly have to eat at my desk.

This makes for an extremely long day with very little time for anything else. By the time I get home I have only a handful of hours before I need to go to bed to be able to do it again the next day.

I've been trying this for about two months now and think I'm going to have to scrap the idea for some other alternative.

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I can see why, it must be pretty hard to have to wait for 4 full days to have some free time off. –  Filip Dupanović Jun 30 '11 at 16:08
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Exactly and it actually puts a fair amount of pressure on the rest of my family to have to attend to the normal every day things without me really being able to do my share. –  Gratzy Jun 30 '11 at 16:11
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Move closer to work, or work closer to where you live. About two years ago I cut my 2hr/day commute to 8 minutes/day; I've loved it ever since. I'm paying more for rent now, but we were able to cut down to one vehicle and gain a lot of family time. If you can't move or find a new job you should see if you can work from home some days (Mon & Fri in the office, Tue-Thu at home). –  jessecurry Jun 30 '11 at 16:49

I work a 10-hour day about once a week, and use the hours on other days. Some days I'm on a roll and don't want to stop, and others I would just be going through the motions during the last hour or so. This lets me use both circumstances most productively.

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+1 - You just described the reason that programmers should be on flex schedules. There have been hundreds of times that I stayed late and got more work done in those couple of hours than I would have gotten done in the next 2 days because I was on a roll. There have also been times that I left while on a roll expecting to pick right back up in the morning and it just doesn't happen, staying the extra couple of hours frequently saves days of effort when timed appropriately. –  Dunk Jun 30 '11 at 20:54

I work 10 hours every day, five days a week. I don't think it's a drag on my productivity. It does require discipline about going to sleep at proper time (most of "fun" stuff gets done on weekend). I don't think that your productivity takes such a big hit, most people who say this are really just lazy.

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Or have other things they'd like to do. –  R0MANARMY Jun 30 '11 at 19:32
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I've only ever had dev jobs where it was 8 hour days, paid for lunch, if you skip lunch, leave early. –  dah Jun 30 '11 at 19:47
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Re: "most people who say this are really just lazy" OR most people who say this are able to do more work than you in a 40 hour work week (that you take 50) and get to spend time with their family and enjoy life because their brain isn't fried. –  Dunk Jun 30 '11 at 20:45

When I'm really developing, I'll pull 14+ hour "shifts" easily -- I actually do better the deeper into the zone I can get.

I'm a freak though.

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When i work from home and have no distractions I will sit down at 6am and look up at my wife trying to get me to come eat dinner at 6pm and not even notice. –  Chad Jun 30 '11 at 17:05

I used to work 9 hour shift everyday, 5 days a week (which by itself isn't bad), but I left the house at 5:45, getting to work at 7:45, left at 4:45, home by 6:50 (I took public transit). So that's 9 hours work, 4 hours commuting (I ate lunch at my desk). So my typical work day was 13 hours - just awful. I did some simple math, and I estimated that I spent 40 days (24 hour days, mind you) of my year commuting.

I just reduced my commute from 2 hours to 10 minutes by finding a new job. My work day is now 8.25 hours - nearly 5 hours less! I can't tell you how much happier I am with my life in general - I feel like a "real person" (it does help that my new job is much better than the last).

The long commute and 9 hour day affected my ability to be productive since I wouldn't get nearly enough sleep as I would have liked. But I blame it mostly on the commute, not the 9 hours of work.

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I've worked several jobs with 10+ hour days at the office, and the last two had a 90 minute commute each way. The earlier one, I had Wednesdays and weekends off, and the latter was a startup with 5-6 days in the office each week.

If you figure you have to be "on", in a sense, during both your work day and your commute, the two hour difference is a lot more grueling than you might expect. With the four-day gig, I was a zombie on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and after the 5-6 day gig, my wife and I agreed I wouldn't do it again.

I now often work 10+ hour days from home, but it's incredibly different not having a commute, and being able to take breaks to hang out with my wife, go for a run, etc.

If you are going to tack a commute onto a 10 hour day, you need to turn the commute time into relaxation as much as you can. I found listening to podcasts a great way to do that - not technology, but entertaining ones like The History of Rome. But you might try that first and see if it lowers your annoyance with your public transit system to a more tolerable level.

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I worked 4 10s for quite a while. We created a staggered schedule so the team got a good balance of generally Mondays and Fridays off. It all got placed on a calendar so the whole team knew the plan for a given month. I found I got at least one (and sometimes two) large block of uninterrupted time during the day - typically 2-3 hours of great heads down or pair programming. The 10 hour day allowed for that. I really enjoyed it. We were never in a "death march" period on the project -- just had a great time being productive. The 4 10s were given to business analysts, devs, and testers.

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If the commute experience is unpleasant due to the rush of the hour, start early. This will give you some extra time at work. See if this works for you. If it does, improvise one step at a time and reach the maximum without burning out yourself.

I clock 9:30 hours a day with half to one hour break. Also, I take breaks when there is a big build to do. I haven't counted, but I guess my total time 'in the zone' on an average day would not exceed 6 hours. I clock that many hours because I hate the rush of the morning traffic. So, I beat the rush/crowd on the streets by starting out earlier. But leaving late in the evening to escape the rush works against me, forcing me to sleep in the next morning.

That is my productivity, or, 'in the zone' roughly. This is certainly an increase over the days when I used to walk in on time and leave on time. Avoiding the morning rush on the streets has helped me get there for the most part. So, if you find your productivity going up by clocking in more hours, go for it.

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If you're the odd one, at the first sign of stagnation someone will start wondering if you're not just pretending to work 2 hours more.

They will start checking on you and this will force you to look busy.

Trying to look busy will stress you out, make you miserable, and actually drain your energy, annihilating you productivity. This circumstance will rise more suspicions and you'll find yourself trapped into a vicious circle.

Then, there will be the day there's an emergency, and you're not available, and they'll talk behind your back. Then maybe you'll be able to solve that issue telecommuting for that day, but some bosses will hate having to pay you extra for that. Especially if it's a weekday.

Regular telecommuting presents other issues, but it might be more sustainable on the long run.

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