While it might not be necessary to work nights and weekends, it does seem practically useful. There are only 24 hours in the day, yet there are so many problems to be solved. It seems the question of whether or not you should work those hours is a function of the underlying incentive structure. In other words: who will benefit the most from the extra work?
Here are a few question I ask myself to decide whether or not it's worth working nights and weekends:
- Is there a meaningful personal reward – reputation, financial, or otherwise – from working those hours?
- Do I have input in determining the pace, scope, or deadline of the work?
- Is the work itself inherently fulfilling?
- Am I learning a new skill or leveling up professionally?
- Will I be proud of the end result?
- Will there be time for recovery and celebration?
- What am I sacrificing? Am I at peace with these sacrifices?
The moments I flirted most with burnout were the times that I was grinding for the sake of the grind: there was no new learning, no meaningful reward — the work itself was not worthy of the sacrifice.
Over the years I've also learned to take better care of myself physically and mentally. This means, above all else, prioritizing mental and physical health. Sleeping, exercising, and eating well create the best foundation for doing deep and meaningful work.
In the software industry, it's really common to hear people say things like "it's so busy" or "things are crazy" whenever I ask how they're doing. Of course, I'm guilty of saying these things, too. But this year I've started appending a few words: "...but I'm having so much fun."
If I find myself struggling to be honest about the "fun" part for too long, I know I'm lying to myself and it's time to recalibrate my priorities.
A few Twitter threads on the topic for further reading: