Exceeding the 40 Hour Workweek: No One Cares
I don’t work more than 40 hours a week, ever. As one of only four engineers in a busy manufacturing environment, other engineers might ask me how that’s possible. It is possible because I make it possible. I’ve always detested the idea of working more than 40 hours a week in a salaried position. So much so that I've avoided it entirely thus far. I’ve actually mostly always detested the idea of working for someone else at all, but that’s a story for another time.
Why don’t I work more than 40 hours a week, when so many other Americans do?
I manage my time effectively
I tell people no
Now, it is reasonable to argue that you may be unable to do one or both of these things in your job, due to reputation, being spineless, or some other reason. Call it a character flaw, but I sneer at people who work more than 40 hours in a week. I think to myself, “how could they possibly be productive for 40 hours, and still not get their work done?” The answer I come up with is invariably, “They’re not actually being productive.” I’ve come to this conclusion from realizing that even when workloads are highest in my current position, I actually spend 50% of my time or less getting them done. This tells me that everyone is faking it. They’re pretending to be way more overworked than they actually are. They complain to their bosses, their peers, and to their families that they work too much, or have too much of a workload. Hosh posh, I say. Now, let me finish before you get your pitchforks and torches - I understand that some professions do more than "require" insane hours, they necessitate it. I'm referring to doctors, lawyers, and other professions with high education and actual job descriptions that state things like "excess of 80 hours per week typical". The situation I am discussing applies to middle class salaried workers, be that engineers, IT code monkeys, production supervisors, managers, etc. Obviously this doesn't apply to hourly paid employees that are compensated with overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40. So long as you continue earning after that fifth eight hour shift, keep doing your thing.
Moving our focus back on us middle class folk: consider the situation where you get your work done on time (as always, you dynamo), but you are in the midst of an important project deadline, and you depend on other people's work to be completed in a timely manner so you can go home on time. This is where complication begins. Suppose the deadline is something absurd like midnight, and Jeff and Joanne, who you saw take an extra long lunch today, don't finish their code until 7PM then they promptly leave. Now it's on you to double check their work and sign off in a peer review before midnight. You find an error, something you know is wrong but are unable to fix on your own. The clock is ticking, and someone will have to deliver the news to the customer in the morning that there will be a delay. If Jeff and Joanne had only submitted their portion of the project on time, the day before, this would have been caught and resolved. But now not only is everyone going home late, the project is still delayed. This is where ruthlessness up front would have come in handy. No one likes working with lazy people, even less so lazy and incompetent people. The difference in this example is that if I were in the drivers seat here, I'd have bounced at 5PM.
"Hey guys, I'm heading out for the day."
"We're still working on the code for the project tonight. Aren't you supposed to double check it after we're done?"
"The code isn't done? You guys will have to explain to the customer the reason for the delay. I got here at 8 and did all I could. Boss isn't going to be happy. Wasn't it supposed to be ready for review yesterday afternoon for review?"
"We were really busy finishing up XYZ yesterday. Can you please stay and check the code when we're done?"
Here's where my bullshit meter goes off the charts, because I saw them leave at 11 and come back at 1 for lunch two days in a row. My inner voice echoes: "They're not actually being productive."
"I have tickets to a monster truck rally with my pet capybara tonight. He gets really disappointed when we can't go, so I'm afraid I can't. I think he really likes crunching the kettle corn when he sees the school buses get crushed. I'll review the code in the morning after you guys take on the shitstorm from the boss and customer. Later."
Jeff and Joanne are flustered, and they of course put the crosshairs on you when they tell the boss in the morning that the project was delayed because you didn't stay to review their code. You get called into the office. You tell bossman that you don't tolerate lazy or incompetent co workers, and that if he wants you to sign off on the project, it damn well better be done before it's time to go home. Perhaps I'm just lucky, but this strategy has worked out well for me. I work with less lazy and incompetent people, because they're frequently let go if they're not delivering. Eventually you end up with a team with a similar mindset. You're assigned a project, you knock it out of the park, then sit on your thumbs for more work.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week split between two jobs, a side hustle, etc. I’m all for that. But in a salaried position, it makes no sense to spend more time than you are fucking paid for to do a job that could get done in far less time.
Challenge yourself to complete your work for the week in half the time it usually takes you. Then push yourself to half of that. Maybe pick up another full time job, if your schedule allows it. I’m currently sitting on multiple side hustles, and am considering working another full time engineering job that can accommodate a schedule from 2 – 10PM. (I can currently work 5-1 if I choose). Imagine what a side hustle and two engineering incomes could bring in. Or better yet, just let me show you: 75,000*2 + 35,000 = 185,000 a year. And that’s being conservative. Doctors and lawyers routinely pull 80-100 hour workweeks, and they go to school for a long time and have mounds of debt for a salary slightly above that.
Imagine doing the grind of a lifetime for 2-3 years – after which you pay off your house, all of your debts, your car, and you have a fat savings account and extra retirement money. Then you drop both jobs with your gigantic safety net, and focus 100 hours a week on what was formerly your “side hustle” instead of only spending 5-10 hours on it. Imagine what that can do. It would give you the ability to live the life of your dreams. Easy? No. If it was, everyone would be doing it.