It’s Saturday and I just signed-off an email to a customer by adding, “Now I’m going to write an article about how I never work on weekends.” I guess it’s more true to say that I hardly ever work on weekends.
After graduating from college in 1995, when I started working for ST Microelectronics in Bristol in the UK, some days I would work on weekdays until seven, eight, or even nine at night. That was after starting at eight or nine in the morning. So some days I was at work for up to twelve hours. Pretty much everyone else went home at five; I was the only one there, in the near darkness; the room in which six of us usually sat was lit only by my desk lamp. I was working late partly because I was scared, scared that I would not achieve my goals and scared that something terrible might happen, a reflection of the random abuse that I received in my childhood. But I was also curious and passionate about what I was working on.
Throughout my life, the amount of hours I have worked has been correlated with the passion I have felt for what I was working on. It’s hard to stay focused, to not get distracted, and to pour everything into a project unless there is some sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This is expressed extremely well in the book by Daniel Pink called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. So the amount of time and effort I have put into work has varied throughout my life. At times, especially near the beginning of a project—before I have built momentum—I tend to find it challenging to be engaged. As the sense of mastery increases, and as I am trusted with more autonomy, I seem to build momentum and engagement. Eventually there’s nothing more I want to do than drive the project forward.
At ST in Bristol, I remember asking a colleague why he went home every day at five. He told me, “I work to live, not live to work.” I remember resonating with the sentiment, but at the same time thinking that it was sad that he spent forty hours per week doing something that he was not necessarily passionate about. My group at ST was partnered with a Silicon Valley based 3D graphics chip company called NVIDIA. Speaking in an American accent, one of my colleagues repeated a request that came from one of the managers in the US: “can you work weekends?” The sentiment of my colleagues was simply, “heck no!” One possible factor in the resistance might have been that, unlike those requesting the weekend work, we didn’t have pre-IPO stock options in a company that was bound for the S&P 500.
But even back then, I never worked on weekends. Over the weekend, I was still usually focused on being productive in some way, often on developing my skills and abilities, but each week I specifically took a break from my employment. I spent my weekends on other things, including projects focused on learning. In one of those projects I taught myself to program in C while using it to create a 3D graphics authoring application.