Nick Winter's 120-hours of coding in a week (with a timelapse)

A thesis that I think is underappreciated is that there are superlinear returns to hours worked in a week up until very very high numbers, so it was fascinating to read this report (h/t Misha Yagudin):

A few highlights:

I usually sleep for 8.5 hours a night. I thought that for this week I could be tricky, starting at 04:00 and sleeping later and later so I’d only have to sleep six times for maybe eight hours a pop. Not only did it totally work, but my wake times didn’t advance as fast as my bedtimes, so I only lost 6.38 hours per day to sleep.

I thought this would make me tired and unable to concentrate on difficult programming, but energy and focus were actually really good except for one hour early Sunday night. I blame it on epic Viking metal and other super-energizing music, plus maybe the seven bars of 90% dark chocolate I ate. I had one or two cups of tea but no other caffeine, and I woke without an alarm every morning.

Normally, I work a focused-but-relaxed 60 hours in a week. I doubled that last week, but I feel like I was perhaps three times as productive. I could keep the problems in my head without cache eviction due to memory pressure. (I mean, there wasn’t anything else to think about.) With ever-deepening focus, I felt unstoppable. It was like getting 4.5 40-hour weeks’ worth of work done in one.

Most nights last week I programmed in my dreams, with vivid Tetris effect one night of doing CSS tweaks. (One night I had a nightmare of watching a YouTube video and then panicking upon realizing I wasn’t working.) Being that deep into my CoffeeScript, I found myself writing terser and terser code, since why do in five lines what you can obviously do in one?

After the laptop upgrade, I was surprised by how much more I wanted to work. The simple friction of slow builds and poor CodeCombat level simulation performance had been weighing down my enjoyment and efficiency this whole time. I’m never waiting three years to upgrade my gear again.

Man barely moves for a week, staring at patterns of light on a flat object and trying to make the patterns change. Every 2-4 hours, a stimulus is presented and he records how happy he is. He eats and sleeps as fast as he can so he can go back to looking at the lights.

It is the happiest week he has ever recorded by a wide margin.


So cool that we can make (some) valuable things addictive

From Masters of Doom:

Romero gleefully referred to the ensuing experience as “crunch mode” or “the death schedule”–a masochistically pleasurable stretch of programming work involving sleep deprivation, caffeine gorging, and loud music. For pure sportsmanship, Carmack and Romero had a little contest to see who could port a game the fastest It didn’t take long for the Ace Programmer to see just how fast the Whiz Kid was, as Carmack fairly easily pulled ahead. It was all in good fun. And Romero was full of admiration for his new friend and colleague. They coded late into the nights.

Over those seventy-two hours, they fell into crunch mode. No one slept. They consumed huge quantities of caffeinated soda. Pizza deliveries came repeatedly. Jay worked the grill, churning out a stream of burgers and hot dogs, which often went uneaten. They got the game down to a T.

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From Chaos

In the spring of 1976 he entered a mode of existence more intense than any he had lived through. He would concentrate as if in a trance, programming furiously, scribbling with his pencil, programming again. He could not call C division for help, because that would mean signing off the computer to use the telephone, and reconnection was chancy. He could not stop for more than five minutes’ thought, because the computer would automatically disconnect his line. Every so often the computer would go down anyway, leaving him shaking with adrenaline. He worked for two months without pause. His functional day was twenty-two hours. He would try to go to sleep in a kind of buzz, and awaken two hours later with his thoughts exactly where he had left them. His diet was strictly coffee. (Even when healthy and at peace, Feigenbaum subsisted exclusively on the reddest possible meat, coffee, and red wine. His friends speculated that he must be getting his vitamins from cigarettes.)
In the end, a doctor called it off. He prescribed a modest regimen of Valium and an enforced vacation. But by then Feigenbaum had created a universal theory.

R.I.P. Mitch Feigenbaum


Why did he stop?
I averaged 11.32 hours of work per day, or 79.23 per week, for 30 days. Not recommended for general productivity purposes, but great for growing a website fast when it counts. The other CodeCombat guys and our GitHub army were also swarming smoothly last month. Trying to find more balance now that I'm back town to a relaxed 60 hours of work per week.

r.e. happiness

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I’d presume that he stopped because of a need for balance. Even if he could productively work for 120 hours a week, if he did that for the next year, he would wind up without having socialized at all (outside of work connections?), getting behind on necessary chores, and without having engaged in any hobbies. He’d have accomplished a lot with CodeCombat, but he’d have lost friends, become estranged from family, and would almost certainly have burnt out. Ultimately, that would likely lead to decreased long-term output and almost certainly decreased happiness. Even for a startup founder, your job cannot be your entire life.