Startup Series: How many hours a week is too many?

Category: Blog

By Janice


Company Connecting Startup Experience: Part Eight

I recently read an article by Tom Popomaronis, ‘Science says you shouldn’t work more than this number of hours a week’ . This started me thinking about the hours I work and have worked in the past. The guts of the article is that working too long can affect your health and your personal life and after a certain number of hours, productivity declines.

I don’t think there are any surprises in the article but my response is that the number of hours and the reason for working these hours DEPENDS on so many different things. Working in IT, I have had my share of all nighters, and this is the case in many other professions e.g. the military, farming, hospitality, doctors and husky drivers (see photo).

Do we need to distinguish between work and life?

So how many hours is too many, and does your job, profession or status make a difference? I am sure we all know the adage “work to live or live to work”. In the last century ‘live to work’ began to have negative connotations, and yet for many professions such as my farming background, work was a way of life. Do we need to distinguish clearly between work and life? Do the lines have to be clear cut or can there be a certain blurring between what is work and what is your ‘life’?

I don’t work ‘standard’ hours. I work more than 40 hours a week and rarely take a full day off. Sometimes I work more than 12 hours a day, other days may be more ‘normal’ hours and, I make time to goto my Italian, and yoga classes. So does this mean that my working hours are affecting my life, well being and productivity?

With Company Connecting, there are many different aspects to the business; many which I really enjoy, but there are also things that I have to do that I find a bit more tedious. There are certain things for which I need to be at my ‘best’, that need real concentration and brain power, and there are others which I can do standing on my head with a blindfold on. So I need to have a good understanding of how I work, and my peaks and troughs throughout the day.

Flexibility - the key to work productivity and life balance?

Our ability to work must be affected by our personal life. Life has many different stages, and having children is one of them. In the mid to late1980’s I was involved in managing stock and maintenance IT applications within the Oil & Gas industry. I returned to work very soon after each of my children were born. In these days there was no internet, e-mail, or mobile phones. Work was much more ‘manual’, even so I was able to work at home for a few hours a week, hand writing scripts and specifications.

I worked part time, based in Aberdeen, and ran a team in London. It worked well, and my productivity was extremely high. Could I have achieved that level of productivity by working full time? Probably not. With two very young children, I had to get by with little sleep. However, I could have worked full time and still been extremely productive. The willingness of my company to provide me such a degree of flexibility enabled me to create a balance between life and work which suited that particular stage of my life.

That was thirty years ago, now I work considerably longer hours – but this fits with my current way of life. An early stage company needs people who are committed, passionate, enthusiastic and excited about what they are doing and the potential of the company. It would not be for everyone and it probably would not have suited me at certain points in my life. Now, regardless of the hours I work, it is easier for me to do what I want. The satisfaction in growing a company, seeing it take shape, getting partners onboard, and creating something is immense.

What is 'too much'?

Going back to Tom Popomaronis’ article, I am certain working too much can be counterproductive, but the meaning of ‘too much’ will vary hugely according to the type of work, personal choices and circumstances. For some people 20 hours a week may be too much, for others it may be 60 hours. The statement that little productive work occurs after 50 hours a week, again depends on what you do and when you do it. The more repetitive type activities (of which there are many in a start-up) can be done when you are at your lowest point, and even combined with other activities.

For me the biggest issue identified in the article is stress – but that doesn’t come only with longer hours. There can be immense stress from circumstances at work which are beyond your control, and where choices are limited. There are aspects of a startup company which are extremely stressful. It’s all a question of balance, and understanding when your working hours are ‘too much’ for you or your family.

Startups can’t be too hung up on ‘normal’ hours

So, in summary, entrepreneurs and people in startups can’t afford to be too hung up on ‘normal’ hours. Flexibility is key, as is understanding how you can balance your body clock with the work that you do. The ‘too much’ work is likely to change as your life changes, and it’s not the same for everyone.

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'How many hours a week is too many? Startup Series' - published by Company Connecting. Updated February 2023

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