A recent New York Times article described (as if it were something new) the way that people in high tech brag about the long hours they work. The article cites entrepreneurism guru Gary Vee, who apparently advises people to work 18 hours a day, every day.
I don't know Gary personally and I've enjoyed his books, but whenever I hear somebody claim to be working 18 hours a day on a consistent basis, I know that they're either lying or stupid.
Let's talk about the lying first.
In my experience, those who claim to work long hours are often those who are adept at avoiding work. They throw up a smokescreen of busy-ness as an excuse for missing their deadlines and deflecting assignments.
Then there are the people--and there are many of them--who lie to themselves about how much they're actually working whilst at work.
Today's open plan offices increase the amount of socializing, chit-chat, and agenda-less meetings, activities that resemble "work" but are actually a form of leisure.
I strongly suspect that many people who spend long hours at the office often spend only a small fraction of the time doing actual work Indeed, as anyone who's tried it knows, by working at home you can get twice as much done in half the amount of time.
Which brings us to the stupidity.
People assume that if you work longer hours, you'll get more done. In other words, everything else being similar, if you work 40 hours, you'll get twice as much done than if you work 20 hours. And indeed that is the case... at first.
However, multiple studies, like this one from Stanford University, have shown that once you reach somewhere between 40 and 49 hours, additional hours produces diminishing returns. And after 49 hours or so, the more you work, the less effective you become.
Indeed, once you reach about 53 hours of work in a week, you end up getting half as much done in twice the amount of time.
I suspect that one of the reasons that so many startups fail is because the people working in them become too weary to differentiate between what's important and what's trivial. They make dumb mistakes that a better-rested person might easily avoid.
I've seen this with programmers who, after working long hours, start creating code that's full of errors or, if they're debugging a program, easily create more problems than they're fixing.
A similar case is the high-tech CEO who explodes at meetings or otherwise acts out. Such people eventually end up spending more time doing damage control than making their companies successful. Just ask Travis Kalanick.
People who drink the "work until you drop" Kool-Aid are stupid, and so are the CEOs who drive them to drink. What they don't realize is that they're successful (if they are successful, which most aren't) despite the long hours, not because of them.
So, then, what if you find yourself working in an organization where workaholism is demanded. Easy. You learn how to goldbrick so that you don't burn yourself out. Which, unfortunately, is a form of lying, albeit a justifiable one.