Ask LH: How Can I Survive A 65-Hour Work Week?

Howdy Lifehackerinos, I've got some serious overtime to do as my workplace's project deadline crunch approaches. 65 hours will be the base hours for a work week, and given that the long days and weeks will last a solid couple of months, have you got any tips to avoid fatigue and stay productive? Dealing with equally burnt-out colleagues? Maintaining healthy relationships at home? Thanks, Tired Just Thinking About It

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Dear TJTAI,

Ouch! Obviously in a perfect world projects wouldn't suddenly demand such large amounts of time, but reality can be a cruel mistress. Here are some simple ideas to consider to cope with that workload:

  • Even though you're going to be working extra hours, you should try and work set hours as much as possible. The fact you're talking about a 65-hour base week suggests you're already thinking that way, but it's worth reinforcing: having a fixed work day makes the prospect of a long day easier to cope with than having literally no end in sight.
  • Even if you're banging against a deadline, set aside at least one day a week where you're not working. If you work non-stop for weeks on end, your productivity will suffer badly. This will also be your only chance to spend time with family and friends, which are relationships you'll want to maintain long after this deadline.
  • Make sure you have clearly articulated goals each day. You may want to consider using the Pomodoro technique to maximise productivity.
  • Ensure you eat healthily. As deadlines loom, it's very easy to fall into a coffee/pizza/cola habit. Realistically, you might not feel like planning ahead and bringing meals to the office, but that doesn't mean you can't get better-quality takeout. And even when the deadline is tight, take time to actually stop and eat, rather than wolfing down food as you work. Not eating enough will make you tired and cranky and unproductive.
  • Check out our previous posts on how to avoid burnout and how too much work can sap your creativity
  • If readers have their own tried-and-tested strategies for dealing with insane hours, share them in the comments.

    Cheers Lifehacker

    Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send an email to [email protected], and include 'Ask Lifehacker' in the subject line.


Comments

    Another good one is to find a way of ripping up rails of thought. Often when you finally get home, your mind is buzzing with activity. Find something that completely changes what you're think about. I find that playing competitive basketball or gaming does the trick for me.

    Another issue that crops up in time of working long hours is that you can get so entrenched in changing/doing something that you don't have a clear view. Take a break and go for a walk, run, lunch etc. When you get back 9/10 times your able to see the solution straight away (Your subconsience has a chance to think about the problem and will present you a solution, or something like that).

      I completely agree with Stewart's second paragraph. Many times I have been hacking at a problem, trying small changes to see if it works... and then after taking a 5-10 minute break for a walk, or a coffee, or even just going to the loo, all of a sudden I'll get an epiphany and have a simple, elegant solution to the problem.

      Getting away from your desk and just thinking in a quiet environment is far more conducive to problem solving than just hacking away...

        Literally solved a maths problem once when I sat on the loo after two hours of nothing.

    This isn't that bad of a work week at all as us folk in the film industry can attest to.

    The above points are all on the money.

    - Stand up now and then. If you're looking at a computer all day, it's going to be hard on you to sit and to stare at a screen unless you take the occasional breaks.
    If you get to pick your hours, my recommendation is - 12 hours Mon-Thurs, 9 hours Fri, 8 hours Saturday nothing Sunday. Even more important, get out and *do* somethign Sunday. Sitting around and doing nothing (aka tv) on the Sunday is what's really going to contribute to the depression. Have something exciting to look forward to on the weekend and you'll be set.

    If you don't get to choose your hours, well then I hope it's only short term.

    Re: the maintainance relationships at home - as well as doing something together on your time off, call your significant other/parents/friends on your lunch hour, or just flick them a text when you're thinking of them. Of course it's not exactly quality time, but they'll know you haven't forgotten about them, so they won't desert you. Also let them know before this intense working bee starts that you're going to be a bit offline, so they don't get offended when you're unavailable a lot.

    Re: dealing with equally burn out colleagues - just remember it's not personal. They probably haven't eaten a decent meal in a week and miss their wife/kids/friends/social life as much as you do. Btw, I know this is definitely easier said than done. ;)

      Also, try to make sure you get a solid amount of sleep - maybe try to avoid too many stimulants in the afternoon, and get outside and exercise when you can.

    Just say no. If you don't put boundaries in place your employer isn't going look after your interests out of the goodness of their hearts.

    Your life, health and relationships should not have to suffer because your employer has not done sufficient resource planning, nor has the willingness to cough up the money to ensure that their project gets done on time without exploiting anyone. Since when is that your problem? Why should you be the one who has to suffer because of their incompetence? And that goes for your workmates too, it's not their problem either, they shouldn't be exploited either.

    You are not a slave, you are a human being and you are more important than whatever the project is.

    Besides all that if you are not sufficiently rested you are not going to be as effective and efficient anyway. The whole crazy 65 hours a week scheme won't work, its counter-productive.

      > The whole crazy 65 hours a week scheme won’t work, it's counter-productive.

      Absolutely!

      Once you start accounting for the time to do all those other things that you used to have time outside of work hours to do, you actually don't end up with any more productive time than before.

        I was perusing the 'net and even though this is an old post, I feel compelled to say something. You just make me laugh........... not many can afford to tell their employer to piss off. In today's economy, most people appreciate working extra hours. Just Say No, you must be from the planet of never-ending money. Get a reality check.

      Spot on, I rarely work OT and more often than not refuse to as the need to do this is a result of poor planning, organisation and allocation of or estimation of resources and basically just gets in the way of me doing what i want. In doing OT you are just covering up for someone elses shortcomings and showing someone that they can get you to do OT if they feel like it, often for no recognition. Before long it is not OT just the norm. BTW i get paid for my OT by the hour as a permanent staff member in a consultancy. In this day and age if you are not in some way compensated for this in the Australian economy you are getting ripped off.

    Find an employer who plans their work propoerly.

    Otherwise, tell 'em they're dreamin'.

    The advice about eating well is essential. In addition to that: if your work hours involve working well into the evening (or even pulling "all-nighters" towards the end), make absolutely sure that you continue eating small meals at regular intervals, regardless of what the conventional meal schedule is out there in the real world.

    Let's say, as a hypothetical example, you're going to have to work from 9am to 3am. Don't just have breakfast, lunch and dinner as per usual. Consider having a light dinner-type meal around 5 or 6pm and then a supper-type meal (or even cereal and fruit a la breakfast) around 10 or 11pm. Basically, keep eating at 5 to 6-hour intervals for the duration of your work day, whatever that might be. Not only will you have more fuel to function with, you'll recover more quickly. Obviously choose type of food and quantity wisely.

    And yes, get away from your desk to eat. If you can take 5 minutes away from your desk to go to the toilet, you can take 15 or even 10 minutes away to eat a meal at some other space than where you work. It's psychologically healthier, more courteous to your colleagues and gives you yet another opportunity to move around.

    I've found having short "naps" of 20 minutes using the Pzizz Energizer app on my iphone very refreshing.

    I understand that in many industries, 65 hour work weeks are the norm. And while in the mining industry, I regularly worked 12 hour days for 7 or 14 day swings. I understand that some people can put up with that long term.

    For most people though? It just blows. There isn't a good way to adapt to it. And you won't be able to do it long run. Unless the money is astronomical, or the side perks include things we can't mention on a PG13 blog - ditch it at the first opportunity and find something better.

    On the mining industry, where the money was great, and the off swings were long enough to make the on swings bearable, the coping techniques were firstly - very healthy diet. No junk, at all. Lots of fish and salad. No processed carbs - all whole grains and hippy food. Low GI is the key. Keep your caffeine level stable from the rest of your life, if you ramp it up to cope, you will burn faster. If you have sugar in your caffinated beverages, replace it with a low calorie sweetener to keep your glucose levels stable instead of all over the place.

    Focus on solid sleep. Make sure you get enough and that it's high quality. If you're working non standard hours - black out your windows and use a white noise generator or air conditioner to keep everything stable. But insomnia or shitty quality sleep will make your schedule completely untenable.

    Consider napping at lunch time or something. An extra half hour at work may suck, but the nap may well be what gets you through the day.

    Hydrate like a mofo. The forced stop work breaks to walk to the bathroom do wonders - and pushing a liter of water an hour keeps the awful physical feeling to a bearable level.

    Find some way to chill after work. Mediate, crush a beer and play some Deep Purple on the guitar, kill some aliens on the X-Box, listen to some enya with a nice cup of chamomile tea, or master the fine art of recreational brownies - whatever works for you - find some way to wind down - or you'll snap.

    To keep your relationships in tact, communicate that it wasn't your idea, it's important, you still love them, you appreciate them putting up with your craziness and make time as much as you can to spend with them. But remember that they'll love you more as coping but absent over worked guy - than stressed and angry over worked guy. Take the time to keep yourself sane at the cost of time with them.

    If you end up working more than 15 hours a day for several days in a row. Make sure you get your employer to fork out for a hotel room near the office if you live far or cab vouchers. You don't want to be driving home tired. If you have an accident going home, your employer may be held responsible.
    If there are several of you with rolling shifts, it might be a good idea for the employer to keep the room open and just share the key. That way you can have naps during the day. Just remember to bring a sleeping bag or sheets, you don't want several people sharing the same sheets :-X

    65 hours a week would be bliss. Drink heaps of water and eat healthy, no junk, stay away from hi caffeine late in the day/night. ANd just suck it up , think i=of the money, thats what gets me through :D

    I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

    And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

      +1. Kids these days!

    I too work in the mining industry, and most of the tips above are about right. Give your body exactly what its telling you, which is based on the natural habits accumulated over millions of years of evolution.

    Start early if you can, you're much better working say 7am-7pm than 9am-9pm. Look up Circadian rhythms, it'll tell you more about it but basically our body clock lines itself up with the day/night cycle. Daytime is for work, nightime is for sleep, and theres usually a bit of a lull in energy after lunch.

    Stay away from pies, pasties, fried foods, alcohol, etc. etc. Not only are they unhealthy but they reduce performance just from processing them. Eat the healthiest stuff you can every couple of hours just to keep your metabolism up.

    Get at least 7 hours sleep a night, most likely you'll be pretty drained after a long day. Don't fight it too much, if you force yourself to stay awake you'll muck up your rhythms. Also make sure your sleep hygiene is up to scratch - comfy bed, quiet cool dark room, avoid caffeine or a few hours before you go to bed, etc.

    Dedicate work time to work, with as few distractions as possible. Then as soon as its off work time tune out of anything work related and just rest, relax, catch up with family/friends/whatever.

    After a couple of days you'll get into a cycle and it'll be a piece of cake. My last tip is to give yourself something to look forward to when its all over, some kind of motivation to get through it.

    I hope TJTAI has a finicial stake in the company or is a contractor on billable hours.

    If he's just a permie and not getting some financial compensation for his efforts then he's being taken advantage of.

    We were talking about burn-out in my psychology class last week. It would be a good idea to research how professional athletes train when you have a schedule like this. As that is also the best way to study and cope with demanding work. Briefly, you take Sundays off, work really hard Mondays and Tuesdays, have a relatively easy day Wednesdays (best reccomended to take short day on Wednesdays), Work really hard Thursdays and Fridays, have an easier day Saturdays and repeat. Make sure you eat HEALTHY food and use your day off to have some fun.

    lots of great advice here, thanks Hackers!

    However what if you extended work days are unpaid? You're all probably thinking huh? Well as of the 2nd of January I enter my 10 week externship for school...medical assisting. I will be working 7.25 hour work days at my day job Mon-Fri. and then 7 hours each night Mon.-Fri. Totaling a 14.25 hour work day 5 days a week for 10 straight weeks until my externship is completed. I will be working roughly a 70 hour work week each week during my externship which although I'll get paid for my day job my externship is unpaid. So many of the above tips like remembering to try to eat healthy, take breaks, and drink lots of water are great and I will be sure to try to do them. Tips like think of the major money don't really apply to me. Because of the time of day which I will leave in the morning for work my boyfriend and girlfriend will still be asleep and by the time I get home at almost 11pm they will be in bed for the night already asleep. I won't be seeing them until they wake up on Saturday morning. These 10 weeks are going to be insane! I have read as I mentioned all of these posts and there is some great advice. Any more would be greatly appreciated.

    A 65 hour work week in a sedentary environment is simply irresponsible on management's behalf. It is also personally irresponsible to your health. It might be OK in certain jobs, but putting in stupid hours on extremely mentally intensive jobs like programming can literally kill you. If you're in sales, maybe that's OK...

    Why have ancient articles suddenly started cropping up again? Is it something to do with the awful new "continuous scroll" page redesign?

      When I saw the date was 2011, I was like "wait, did I click on another link and didn't realise it??"

      Also, that continuous scroll thing is an abomination. Please, GIZ. Change the site back D:

      Last edited 05/08/15 4:28 pm

    beer is the answer... not in the day but once OT starts...have a beer and have fun while u work. have a chat and a laugh.

    As a part time engineering student working in Industry, a 65hr work week would be pretty relaxing.

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