The Laws of Productivity is a must-read presentation for startups that want to be more productive. Here’s a direct link to the pdf. And here’s my summary of the presentation:


  1. Work 40 hours a week. (Working more feels like you’re doing more, but you’re actually doing less.)
  2. Work below capacity (say 80%) during those 40 hours.
  3. Consider spreading 40 hours across 4 days instead of 5.
  4. Get the sleep you need; allocate 8 hours.
  5. If you need a short productivity boost, work more for 3 weeks. But expect an equivalent reduction in productivity afterwards.


  1. Work in small cross-functional teams (< 10 people).
  2. Put team members in a dedicated and closed room.
  3. Try not to split people’s time across multiple teams at once.

Thanks to Dan Cook for creating the presentation and Andrew Chen for bringing it to my attention.

Topics Lean

8 comments · Show

  • Jon Martin

    In fact, the slide show says 35 hours per week is optimal for knowledge workers. I don’t doubt the finding but it would be a massive culture shift for people to accept that – especially in a start-up.

  • Erik B.

    hm. There is much reasonable content to get from this pdf. But one very important thing was left off. Everything you do, you make in nearly the same quality as long as you spend a normal amout of energy. You have to do more, if you want to grow your skills.
    So maybe your daily success gets lower, but if you work hard and long periods for months you really get much better in what you do. So you maybe get just 50% success of a 40h-week, if you do instead a 60h-week. But after 6 or 7 months your 50% now might be 150%-200% of what you did when you started with 60h-weeks.

    Soooo, what you think of getting better in your job? How does that infect your overall work-quality?

  • William Pietri

    Yes! Yes to all of that. It amazes me how often I see teams working in a hazy stupor because they confuse the number of hours worked with productivity. But instead they get further behind, as errors and confusion catch up with them.

    One of the most common drivers of this is a broken feedback loop between planning and reality. Over-optimistic plans and poor measurement of what’s actually done yield sudden surprises about being behind. Rather than blaming bad estimates, people blame bad execution, and try to fix things by working ever harder. That can work for an hour or a day, possibly even a week or two. But in the long term, as this presentation shows, it’s toxic.

    There is no reason modern teams can’t achieve defect-in-production rates below one per developer-month, especially at startups. If you’ve got so many defects you need a database to track them, you shouldn’t focus on fixing them faster. You should focus on not making them. And the suggestions here are a great way to start.

  • not really

    The “60+ hour” startup culture is a little fake anyway — it bakes in alot of wasted time. Twittering, posting to blogs, facebook, etc.

    Can you name a single “successful” (for its investors) startup with a credible 35 hour week? And if you mention 37 signals, you lose, because those folks are basically running a dental practice (not that there’s anything wrong with that, and maybe jeff bezos disagrees).

    Also, I’m not sure where the presentation came from — looks to be a miscellaneous game designer with a blog? Gravitas!

  • Michael F. Martin

    Law firms would collapse if they were to suddenly adopt these standards. Yet their clients would obviously benefit if they were adopted.

    Here’s a prediction: if state governments would lift the ban on lawyers and non-lawyers working together in the same partnership, then lots of these changes could happen organically.

  • Martha Danly

    Great presentation from Dan Cook — it’s tattooed on my forearm.

    As a startup CEO, I try to walk away from my desk at a decent hour every day. My company is about sustainable products and living green, so I decided from the get-go to establish a sustainable culture. What’s the point if we burn out?

    The 4-hour work week may be a little extreme for me, but I get the point. Just be a ruthless prioritizer.

    Did I get the most important thing done today? Thanks to Nivi, the answer is yes!

  • Daniel Haran

    Erik: you’re suffering from the same cognitive bias that makes people working long hours think they’re accomplishing more.

    You actually learn more if you’re better rested, and that’s a proven fact. To think that a 60 hour week would create a good learning environment would need serious *data*, not just post-hoc justifications from overworked knowledge workers that merely believe they’re learning more.

    Like many programmers, I’ve improved my skill by watching the SICP lectures, reading code. When I’ve improved on the job it wasn’t when in crunch mode, but with good, rapid feedback from more advanced colleagues.

    This cruel lie that a 60 hour work week is in any way sane for knowledge worker has to die. It’s not good for productivity directly, and it’s not going to improve your productivity by making you a better programmer.

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