It’s considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. I’ve been in this position a few times in my career. One particular time came just after Thanksgiving one year. We were creating an application and were told we had to have it done by the end of the year. We were six months into the project and I felt we were about half done. It was an impossible task for our small team.
We contracted help but it took until the end of the year to just get them up to speed and on board. I was managing the project and assigning tasks and drawing up interfaces and writing requirements for the contractors as we went. We, of course, missed the end of year deadline and didn’t wrap things up until mid February (which is still a miracle in my opinion).
The lesson I learned during that time was that it wasn’t worth it. I felt guilty for not working during the two days I took off for Christmas. I missed my brother’s wedding at the beginning of January because the contractors were coming on and needed guidance of what to do and I was the only one who could do that. There were reasons for why I worked 18 hours a day for 10-12 weeks. There are always reasons.
In the end it didn’t really matter. The fact that we finished in February didn’t matter. We could have finished a month later and it would have turned out fine. I could have worked regular hours, hired the same contractors, finished in March, attended by brother’s wedding, spent time with my kids during the Christmas holidays, and not suffered burnout for the three months after.
Now when I receive a deadline from on high I push back because long term workaholism isn’t worth it. It usually isn’t even necessary.
Note: This is part of a series of posts inspired by re-reading Rework, by DHH and Jason Fried.