The Programmer’s Guide
to a
Sane Workweek

Are you stuck at work after 5PM, worrying about the code you need to deliver the next day? Is your life consumed by your job? Do your evenings and weekends belong to your boss, not to you? Do you find yourself constantly on-call: answering emails late at night, fixing bugs that could’ve been avoided if someone had consulted you before setting your deadlines?

That’s not a sane workweek.

Are you spending hours commuting to work every day? Are you wasting your life stuck in traffic, going forward and stopping, going forward and stopping, over and over again, producing nothing, doing nothing, just slowly in inching forward, every morning and every evening?

That’s not a sane workweek.

When you do have spare time do you find yourself worried about keeping your skills competitive? Are you constantly worried that you need to spend what little time you have left to yourself learning the latest web framework or programming language? Writing software for a living can, if you’re not careful, turn into a life consumed by work by you hate.

That’s not a sane workweek.

You can have a sane workweek

There is an alternative: you can have a life and a job. You can have more time: time for your friends and family, time for hobbies, time to just run errands without eating up your whole weekend.

I say this because I’ve done it. At different points in my career I’ve been:

It’s not just me. Other software engineers I’ve met and interviewed have also reached a sane workweek; some with many years of experience, some just a few years out of school.

And if you want to achieve a sane workweek, you can do it too.

“But how will I get my work done on time?”

Or can you?

After all, there’s always too much work to do: there’s always features that should have shipped last week, the issue tracker is always full of bugs. You can barely keep up with your work as it is, is it really possible to get your work done if you’re working shorter hours?

If you’re consistently working long hours, 50 or 60 or even more hours a week, then the answer is an unequivocal yes: you can work 40 hours a week and still get the same amount of work done. The secret is that working long hours reduces your output, and not just by a little. You’re more tired, less focused, you make more mistakes and introduce more bugs. There’s evidence from many industries, across many decades, that extended work hours are a net loss.

But what if you’re already working 40 hours a week, and you want to work even less—can you really produce the same amount of work in less time? Or, if your manager is telling you you’re not producing enough, can you produce more in the same amount of time?

It is possible to become more productive, and it’s not just about technical skills. Experienced, productive programmers use a particular set of techniques and approaches to produce more with less time, by avoiding unnecessary work.

Want to learn more? My book, The Programmer’s Guide to a Sane Workweek, has a whole chapter covering practical techniques to make you more productive. Sign up for the book excerpt below to learn just one of the many productivity techniques covered by the book.

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“My manager would never agree to this!”

Even if you’re productive enough, there’s still the problem of convincing your manager to get you the terms you want: working from home, a shorter workweek, and so on. There are multiple approaches you can take:

The Programmer’s Guide to a Sane Workweek can help you choose the approach that works best for you. For each approach it covers:

Sign up for the book excerpt below to hear one programmer’s story of how he tried to negotiate better working conditions at his job.

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“Negotiating is scary!”

You’ll notice negotiation comes up a lot in the previous section. And if you haven’t done it before, and really even if you have, negotiation can be pretty terrifying: where do you start? How do you get the nerve up to ask for something others haven’t?

As with many skills, practice can improve the situation. Ideally you’d start by negotiating smaller things, so you could get some practice in less stressful and less important situations. And ideally that negotiation would also improve your work situation.

The Programmer’s Guide to a Sane Workweek contains an introduction to negotiation, with some references to guides by negotiation experts. And the book also suggests negotiation exercises you can do on the job, that will help you become a better negotiator and, as a bonus, free up some of your time at work.

Sign up for the book excerpt below to read one of the negotiation exercises from the book.

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Who this book is for

The book is aimed at programmers like you who want to work a sane workweek. And in particular, the book is aimed at programmers with a few years of work experience.

With less experience that that, if you’re just getting started at your first job, some of the advice will be harder to execute or to understand. But it will provide some helpful suggestions, and prove even more useful as time goes on.

And if you’ve got many years of work experience, and have already negotiated a higher salary or a shorter workweek, then this book might not teach you anything new.

About the author

Hi! I’m Itamar. I’ve been writing software since 1995 or so. As an employee I’ve worked for companies small and big, ranging from 8 person startups to a year at Google as a product manager (my previous employer got acquired). And as a consultant I’ve written software for a similarly broad range of companies.

As far as I can remember, certainly in the past 10 years, I’ve never worked more than 40 hours a week. Sometimes I’ve worked remotely, more often in person. But regardless of where and how, I’ve not needed to work long hours: my employers and clients have always been happy with the work I produce.

Now, you could argue that the causality goes from happy employer to ability to work shorter hours. And there’s something to that. But a lot of my shorter workweeks were not something I switched to, but something I started with. For example, at one point I suffered from a repetitive strain injury which meant I couldn’t work long hours even if I wanted to. And I also spent a few years as the primary caretaker for my kid when she wasn’t in daycare, limiting how many hours I could work.

As a result, I think the causality goes the other direction: working shorter hours forced me to become a more effective programmer. Based on my own experience, which happens to be backed up by over a century of research, I believe long hours are bad for everyone, workers and employers. So I wrote this book, in the hopes of helping you and other programmers get to a sane workweek just like I have.

What you’ll get

When you buy the book you’ll get:

Here’s the table of contents:

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Still on the fence?

If you’ve got more questions, email me and I’ll do my best to answer.

And if you’re not interested in buying the book, here’s something else that might interest you: you can join more than 1900 other programmers and start learning from my free weekly Software Clown email, covering my two decades’ worth of programming and career mistakes.