I keep seeing articles about the uselessness of working more than 40 hours a week, this one for example but I remember I read the same on Forbes and others. Does this estimate include the time spent on open-source or external projects? Reading these articles it seems to me that the reason is that "you burn your brain" and what you produce in the overtime has no worth.

However this is not my personal "perceived" experience. I still feel fresh to work on a different project where I'm not moved by deadlines or client requirements, but the simple quest for "perfection" or to learn new stuff. I find difficult to think that everybody working in opensource do it inside their 40 hours, or that they're jeopardizing their payed-job productivity.

Further more, not all the jobs are the same, and none of these articles go in details about the different duties, whether you're a broker or a teacher, the limit is the same.

  • 2
    I program at work all day. I then get home, spend time with my family, put my headphones and program for hours. It's relaxing - there is no stress, it's my project, I'm learning something new everyday.
    – CodeWorks
    Apr 26, 2012 at 13:53
  • exactly, seems to me the "guinea pigs" for these studies don't enjoy their job that much, at least for non repetitive jobs and some other exceptions
    – ecoologic
    Apr 26, 2012 at 17:18
  • 2
    I used to work with a guy who said, "A switch is as good as a break," and I agree. But there certainly is an overall cap - I wouldn't recommend 40 hrs/wk at work + 40 hrs/wk open source. You need to do other things than look at a screen. Apr 28, 2012 at 10:28

5 Answers 5


These types of articles are talking about the "Law of Diminishing Returns" as it relates to productivity - the longer you work on any one thing, the less impact you're going to have as the time lengthens. The key point is 'one thing'.

And I think this holds true for anything, including open-source. The important factor as to why you feel refreshed is that, as you said, you're working on a 'different project'. In doing that, you've broken the chain of the 40 hours and started over on something new.

Using the logic that 40 hours is the limit for 'work' period, then in effect they'd be saying that as we hit the 40 hour mark, we no longer have capacity for family, friends, etc. But the opposite is true. Even after 40, 50, or 60 hours, switching to something else, especially something that we enjoy or that holds value for us, we re-charge and begin anew.

  • I taught about this, but I'm already working on different projects at work and I enjoy (the most) of them, should I conclude that I could still work 60 h/w?
    – ecoologic
    Apr 25, 2012 at 22:00
  • 1
    You can work as many hours as you want. :) The issue is how 'productive' those additional hours are. Past the 40 hours, for each additional hour you work you're only going to get a percentage of the same productivity as the first 40. Look at it this way - say you decide to work 80hrs/wk. Those 80 hours will not provide the same level of productivity as working two 40hr weeks. Certainly the work will be done be 'faster', but if you match them hour for hour, it won't be 'twice' as fast. Apr 25, 2012 at 22:14
  • @ecoologic Additionally, your brain is more productive and alert after a good night sleep, so if you know you have a 60 hour day ahead of you, make sure to schedule the most important or hardest pieces of work early in the morning and keep the routine or repetitive tasks that may require less focus for much later on in the day. If you practice XP at work, you may want to schedule those activities at the end of the day also (two brains working at 75% efficiency will pick up a lot more errors than one brain at 75%).
    – Jeach
    May 1, 2012 at 14:08
  • yes that's a good advise too, maybe not "early morning", anyways, always be aware of it. - thanks. I'm just in phase of my life where I work a lot, and I like it, I wouldn't have learned a fraction only working my 40h/w
    – ecoologic
    May 1, 2012 at 15:41

Here's another article from the industry: http://www.igda.org/why-crunch-modes-doesnt-work-six-lessons. Basically it says, that sooner or later you will burn out when working overtime.


Until the additional work motivates you, do it. Try out and see what's going to happen. However, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.

If you plan to work on company projects, you might not get paid for it. It might also happen that other team members won't be able to follow you, our in the worst case they won't want to work with you. You'll develop more, and in order to keep up with your speed, they should spend more time with the project and I'm pretty sure that not everybody wants to do it.

  • I think this depends on duties and roles, if my work is going to reduce someone else's then... I hope they don't blame me! - But actually this is an interesting point of view, it's worth to mention, team harmony is very important
    – ecoologic
    Apr 26, 2012 at 17:15

I think the Law of Diminishing Returns, when applied to people, somehow evolved to the notion of getting tired, both physically and emotionally. That may play into it a little bit but that is not what the diminishing law is really about. The law states that there will be a diminishing return on the measured dependent variable--the output--if you change a single independent variable--in this case time--while maintaining the same levels of the other independent variables that may be involved. So the law can apply long before anyone gets tired. And it can occur at different hour marks depending on the activity.

The notion of analysis paralysis comes to mind as a great example. A team can study a problem and in the first, say, six hours they induce a plethora of theories and hypotheses to explore and test. This team can stop the analysis here and begin the next phase of planning and recovery design. Or, the team can continue for another six hours to see what else they can induce. It is likely in the next six hours, substantially less productive output would be created by this team. That would be diminishing returns.

People do get tired. But the notion of 40 hours is a result of labor law, not because there was any definitive study that showed that is all we have in us. Our history shows us that we can work the 2nd and part of the 3rd shift for years and years and years without negative sequalae. (I do not mean to say fatigue is not a factor in diminishing performance. It has been shown in aviation and medicine to be a critical factor. But I do mean that with proper rest periods strategically placed within the work time can mitigate fatigue to a great extent where this 40 hour per week notion becomes a non sequitar.)

  • I agree that sometimes we can work more, but I think the key point is 'is it sustainable'? We've all worked more than 40 hours a week, and probably been as productive. It's when this becomes the norm that productivity falls off. I think the type of work comes into play as well. In your example of the the multiple shifts it's probably some type of manuf. or assembly line. In that case, as long as it's routine, repetitive work, then productivity may not drop off, until fatigue sets in. In positions where more thinking or creativity is involved, then we're going to see some fall-off. Apr 26, 2012 at 14:49
  • I am trying to break the link between diminishing returns and fatigue. I think there is a lot of evidence that shows some diminished return and it seems 40 hours is that magical number, but I think the interpretation of that correlation with fatigue being a cause is myopic. I think there are many other factors that cause that diminished return at play and are more compelling than fatigue. It is in that regard that I agreed with your "one thing." Apr 26, 2012 at 15:17
  • Fair enough. :) I think we're in agreement on this. Apr 26, 2012 at 16:00

OK, let's look at my life, I work a 40 hour week, 20 hours a week on my Doctorate, and 5-10 on various open source projects. I'm constantly swapping out what I am working on, I haven't had a problem with burning out (exhaustion, well...).

A friend of mine did a study on just this subject for her Doctorate, the results were as many of you have pointed out, the more time you spend on a single project, the less you get done. As the question was adding an open source project on top of a 40 hour week, as long as the OS project wasn't the same as work, there should be little problem.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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