How Many Hours Per Week Should Your Team Work?

Confused businessman in front of computer, VECTOR, EPS10

Every year, one of my VC investors would hold a “CEO Summit.” All the of the portfolio company CEOs would gather to network and listen to presentations from various people.

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The final speaker on the final day was always Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter fame. Dorsey would walk on stage, without notes or slides, and start extemporaneously speaking.

To be honest, I always found Dorsey’s speeches boring and rambling. Maybe it was the lack of slides. I don’t know.

One year, in one of Dorsey’s rambling speeches that seemed to go nowhere, he said something that made me sit straight up and pay attention. Dorsey said, “I work 16 hours a day.”

Dorsey seemed to be urging all of us, and our teams, to work 16 hours day too. Quite honestly, I thought Dorsey was full of it.

I was working hard enough. Yeah, there were days that I did work 16 hours, but there were days when I worked 8 hours too. And, perish the thought, I actually took vacations.

I noticed something when I worked too many 16 hour days in a row. My productivity went way down.

Do you really think forcing your team to work 16 hours a day is going to produce great results?


I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s great book, Deep Work. Deep Work, if you haven’t read it, is all about working smarter by improving your ability to focus instead of working yourself into the ground.

For example, Newport sites that elite musicians are capable of four hours of focused practice a day. Non-elite musicians, according to the study Newport sites are capable of only 1.5 hours of focused practice a day.

Let’s translate that to the startup world. Assume you have an elite team of engineers you’re working with. Your elite team is probably capable of maybe four hours a day of really focused work.

All forcing your team to work 16 hours a day will result in is burnout.


Now I’m not saying your team should expect to work four hours a day and then go home. That doesn’t make sense.

I am saying that you can push your team too hard for too long. Then your team will be burned out at the exact time you need them.

Instead, you need to know when to push and more importantly, when to back off.

I was fortunate early in my career to work for the late Jack Gifford, founding CEO of Maxim Integrated Products. Jack was by no means perfect, but he got a lot more right than he got wrong.

One of the things Gifford explained to me about being a CEO was that “Managing people is like driving a car. You need to know when to put on the gas and when to apply the brakes.”

Gifford pushed us hard when it was necessary. Believe me, working at Maxim was not for the faint of heart.

But Gifford knew his team’s limits. And he applied the brakes quite frequently. For example he wanted you to take vacations.

The result was a company that scaled to great heights, had an elite team, and turnover was minimal.


You don’t need to be a slavedriver to succeed. Even Jack Dorsey is now against working 16 hour days.


Dorsey was recently on The Boardroom, Out of Office Podcast. Dorsey told the host, Rich Kleiman, “I would rather optimize for making every hour meaningful — or every minute meaningful — than I would maximizing the number of hours or minutes I’m working on a thing because I just found that the maximization of time takes away from the quality within the time I do have.”

In other words, Dorsey’s philosophy has changed. It’s now quality over quantity.

Remember there’s a limit to how much focused “Deep Work” your team can do every day. If you optimize the creative time you have, and give yourself time to recharge, you’ll get the best results.

If you push your team to work long hours every day, you might find the returns worse than if you just backed off a bit. Instead save the call to work late into the night for when you really need it.


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