Ryan Ginstrom wrote a great comment on my last post about high-earning translators (among other things, informing us that among Japanese translators, the gold standard is now US $200,000!). In his comment, Ryan also observed that “Working long hours only pays off for so long — study after study has shown that when knowledge workers (that’s us!) work long hours (more than 40/week), productivity rapidly drops off, and total output is often lower than those working 40 hours.”
And…he’s right! If you’d like to spend some time learning about the history of the eight-hour work day, take a look at the International Game Developers Association’s fascinating article “Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work,” written by Evan Robinson. The article starts out by informing us, the knowledge workers, that when we work more than 40 hours a week, productivity starts to drop; not just a little, but to the extent that if we work eight 60-hour weeks in a row, we produce about as much as we would have in eight 40-hour weeks. Over the short term, (i.e. a few days), crunch mode can be effective, allowing us to churn out a big job by the deadline. But for those of us who consistently work overtime because we’re convinced that we get more done, crunch mode starts to backfire.
The story is the same for people who are convinced that they function just fine on a small amount of sleep. Robinson’s article cites a military study that showed that after two weeks, someone sleeping four hours a night is functioning at a cognitive deficit of nearly 60% as compared with someone sleeping seven hours a night.
If you have time to read the article, scroll down to the “What’s It All Mean?” section at the end, in which Robinson makes a strong argument that not only does knowledge worker overtime not produce results, it increases the odds of a massive human error that puts the entire project in jeopardy. So, while a marathon effort once in a while may be inevitable, don’t kid yourself about your stamina… work a maximum of eight hours, five days a week, and then shut that computer off!