I need to temporarily become a workaholic
August 21, 2011 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I need to work my butt off, burn the candle at both ends, turn on the afterburners, etc etc. I can work just fine, but I don't know how to be that guy who puts in 16 hour days and sleeps on a cot in his office. How do I become that guy?

I need to get a project (a web/mobile app) off the ground within the next six months or so, otherwise the project will fail. (The reasons for this deadline aren't relevant to the question.)

I have no reason to think that it will fail. The project is off to a good start. It's at the edge of my capabilities, but I have no reason to doubt that I won't be able to pull it off, the issue is simply time.

The time that I have is sufficient if I work my butt off, and there's my problem. I have no problems putting in 6 quality hours a day, plus 2-3 more that are half-hearted and procrastinaty. What I need to do now though is to burn the candle at both ends, 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week. (I know its unhealthy but this will be temporary and there very much is an exit plan.) The problem is that I've never done this, and don't really know how to do it.

I say yes to friends when I should say no, I lose hours to coffee or a movie or a whole day when one beer turns into four and I have a hangover. I somehow find that an inordinate amount of time goes into making food and the basic errands of keeping my life functioning. I feel like every day, I either haven't called my parents in weeks and really need to do that, or I should really answer that email from my dear friend that's sitting unanswered, or I really need to finally clean the goddamn bathtub. Every day, a bunch of these little things will add up. I try to limit my sleep to 6-7 hours but keep hitting snooze until my body gets its usual 8.5. Worst of all, after putting in a good 6-7 hours of work my brain turns to mush and no matter how hard I push myself no further work will happen, or at least not anything that's intellectually strenuous.

I feel a little weird asking this question because I feel like the reply will mostly be "just do it." Perhaps I simply don't have the willpower to pull this off. If so, is there anything that I can do to "expand" it?
posted by tempythethird to Work & Money (35 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Forget it. No one has that level of self-discipline. Not for 6/7/12. The only way to do this is to have a fulltime slave driver, and then, your chances are not good.
posted by Ardiril at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

but I don't know how to be that guy who puts in 16 hour days and sleeps on a cot in his office.

Don't do it.

Planning ahead should prevent 90% of this necessity. Plan ahead.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Look into modafinil.
posted by zadcat at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's a lot to this issue, and there aren't any silver bullets as far as I know. Some thoughts upon reading your question:

1. Schedule that 8.5 hrs of sleep. Your body knows it needs it, and you will function better, smarter, and faster if you're well-rested.
2. Schedule the brainless, more routine tasks for your project in the 7-8th hours of work when your brain is going to mush.
3. If you truly do have a propensity to go out for "just one" whatever, and can't seem to stick to this, stop going out it altogether until your project launches.
4. Schedule 1 day of the week to be solely friends & chores day until the project launches. If this doesn't work, schedule a few needful tasks like cleaning the bathtub, calling your parents, etc. a day, to take no more than 1 hour. If you aren't done with the day's allotted tasks in an hour, then move them to the next day with one of your days off picking up the weekly spillover.
5. On your day(s) off, add grocery shopping and cooking to your list of tasks. Make a few frigable/freezable meals that you can quickly reheat as needed throughout the week to save you some time there.

...it all really boils down to having a well thought-out schedule that you stick to.
posted by smirkette at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you're working for someone else, don't do this. The problem too many work places have is "what was appreciated today is expected tomorrow and required the day after that". If you know your work place to be the exception, see below.

If you're working for yourself, a six-month death march is too long. You're setting yourself up for failure; get help.

Death marches should last a max of six weeks. After that, everyone involved is a cabbage and need some time off - that means time OFF, not movies and pizza from management in between crises.
posted by jet_silver at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2011 [22 favorites]

I've been doing more or less 16 hours a day of work with most nights being spent on the couch in the office, sans chemicals other than coca cola. My secret has been anger and desperation, but I'm not sure how you can manufacture that.

For me it has helped to become entirely detached from normal cycles. I may work 9-5, sleep 5-11, work 11-7, sleep 7-11, and sort of precess about a normal day. Fucking modern world.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Get someone to help you, either with household stuff or with work stuff. But keep in mind that pretty much no one can throw down 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for very long.

(It sounds like you're beating yourself up for actually taking very good care of yourself--getting adequate sleep, keeping up contact with loved ones, spending time with friends, taking care of your living space, preparing food...these are all crucial components of a healthy life. And most people have a really hard time thinking straight after 6-7 hours of work. You're not hopelessly dysfunctional.)
posted by corey flood at 5:53 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Some of this post on time management might be helpful.
posted by the foreground at 5:56 PM on August 21, 2011

I've only been able to do this for less than a couple of months at a time, and only when I was surrounded by other people working the same hours on the same thing so we only saw each other and were living in the same crazy world. It's not just an issue of willpower or this abstract thing where it's theoretically bad for you but actually good because it proves you're an awesome person who "has what it takes". It is fuck-up relationships, develop an irregular heart beat, get into an avoidable car wreck and hurt a random innocent person bad for you. Look into the road traffic accident rates for doctors, seriously.

So I do not recommend the following, but I have seen them used by people trying to do this:
1) Forget about all your outside relationships, you have no time or energy now. Either tell people nicely and stick to it, or just drive them away by acting like a weird asshole.
2) Have a support network of enablers living the same lifestyle and working on the same project. It's the only way you will continue to believe this is important enough.
3) Drugs. Illegal drugs, caffeine, sugar, whatever. Your body can't do this without a push.
4) Maintenance. You need a parent or a partner who will do all your chores and put up with your shit without complaining. You can't cook now, eat takeout for every meal (this gets expensive), maybe you can do laundry every couple of weeks, so stock up on underpants.
5) Routine. Do the same thing every day, don't try to plan out the work, it gets too complicated. Don't question it. You will be less efficient this way, but you can't afford to stop and think about what's actually worth it, you'll just end up procrastinating.

Good luck! And seriously, please don't drive near me or anyone I love!
posted by crabintheocean at 6:04 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Don't short yourself of sleep. You'll work much better if you're well rested.
posted by Gymnopedist at 6:11 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just don't do it. (catchy phrase that!) Death marches just are less effective long term (frequently ineffective short term except for the drama. Do the work of planning your work. I deeply detest the term "time management" but it's what you need. Regular good night's sleep and getting going on time in the AM are the most effective strategies. When I have a specific hard problem I do find that 2-3 hours sat and sun mornings can be very productive, but if it's not highly focused and I do half a day surfing I feel really stupid.
posted by sammyo at 6:14 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to be dismissive, but: are you the sort of person who can do this? I mean, I'm pretty much like you. I'm good at my job, I execute my responsibilities and meet my deadlines, but I place a much higher priority on living a balanced life than impressing coworkers and superiors with my workaholism. I honestly do not think I could live the kind of life you are describing for more than a couple of weeks, unless maybe there was a guarantee that all of my dreams were to suddenly come true at the end of it.

I realize you may not have a choice in the matter, but I'm not sure those of us who are in the habit of sleeping normally and relaxing and keeping up with friends really can become workaholics, even temporarily.
posted by breakin' the law at 6:15 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Having just done this for all of July, I would strongly recommend avoiding this if at all possible. There are only so many extra hours one can work on a project before it actually becomes counter-productive to do so. (Sleep deprivation and exhaustion is basically like driving drunk, only it won't show when they pull you over.)

That being said: plan your time wisely. Do not work extra hours out of some noble aspiration to be a team player—work extra when it is necessary and not a minute longer. Two weeks is about as long as you can sustain extra effort without damaging yourself. After that, you will cause far more problems than you solve because of fatigue and fuzzy thinking.

Set attainable goals for yourself, and don't be afraid to stop doing something if you find it's taking more time than you thought it would. Take some time to come up with an alternative approach.

Plan on recuperation, preferably with a vacation afterwards. You are going to be a zombie and you will need to step away from the computer.

Take walks during the day. Stand up, get away from the freaking monitor for ten minutes, try not to give yourself an RSI.

Also, people fought and died for a 40-hour work week, so every time this situation comes up, push back really hard. Six months of back-breaking effort should set off all sorts of alarm bells. Because as has been said above, the more you do this the more you're going to be expected to do it, and that way lies madness.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:17 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was in my 20's, I did that. Let me tell you how that worked out for me: all sorts of stress related maladies from the minor to the major. It was a contributing factor to the destruction of my marriage. After two years of this, I ended up with a major hospitalization that put me on disability for a month after. Don't do it. Just don't.

It's some 15 years later and I work 40 hours a week instead of 80. I'm very proud of what I do and I'm very happy to push away from my desk and go home. Part of what I learned from that experience was to (1) make accurate estimates (2) stand by them (3) fix the bugs before they happened (4) test well.

You can adjust to limited sleep (ask any parent), but it doesn't mean you'll be working well on that time. I sleep on average 6.5 hours a night, which is sub-optimal, but for my current family life is the only way I can get the rest done. I'm much better on 7 hours, but the 6.5 I can sustain indefinitely. You know what I can't sustain? 6 or less. After a few weeks of 5, my body rebels and I will get sick.

Repeat, this is not healthy. Don't do it. Get enough sleep. Get time to walk away from your work and clear your head. You will write fewer bugs and consequently, you will finish sooner.
posted by plinth at 6:21 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I can do this, have done it, and will do it again in future. You are asking how to cram this project around your life. You are not so much understanding how it works. The work is in a cave and in this cave, there are no friends, there is no beer, and there are certainly no movies or bathtub cleaning. There is limited showering and teeth brushing may become intermittently optional if you are not resident with other people.

Food and laundry is delivered, comes out of a microwave, or comes in an online grocery delivery every 5 days. It is eaten at your desk while you work. When you go outside, which is never, you blink and put on sunglasses. (If you have a dog, you are exempt from that.)

If you are not sleeping, your ass is in the seat working. If working isn't happening, go back to bed and sleep. It doesn't matter, because the clock is irrelevant. The concept of 24 hour days and 8 hour sleep cycles is likewise irrelevant.

You must only do this if what you are building is for yourself. Never, ever do this for another company or person.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 PM on August 21, 2011 [43 favorites]

If you do find that you are wanting to work more but feeling obligated to do other things, you have to let go of the other things. The people who do this aren't people whose friends' emails are responded to, and their tub is clean, and they call their parents regularly. They are people who have fewer friends than you do, who email their friends six months later (after your project is done) to say 'hey sorry i've been super busy and we haven't talked, how are you?' and if their friends can't handle that, they aren't friends any more. On preview, what DarlingBri said.

For me, I'm having to step it up from 40 hours a week to probably 50 hours a week + applying to grad school. This isn't 12 hours a day 7 days a week by any means! But I'm finding that I feel a lot of pressure (self-imposed, mostly) to go out with friends instead of emailing professors in the evenings, or to cook elaborate dinners on the weekend rather than sit and catch up on work-related data analysis. If THAT is what you are feeling, part of the solution here is to talk to people about what's going on and what has to change. "Hey Mike, I can't go out for drinks every Thursday any more because of this start-up. Let's just put it on hold for a while." I have friends who are working on start-ups and I basically don't expect to hear from them again until it's done.
posted by Lady Li at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2011

I have occasionally worked as you describe. 24+ hour days of productive work, literally working so much that my fingerprints rubbed off and I left bloody smears on everything I touched.

The only thing that makes me capable of anything like that is caring, passionately, obsessively, about what I am doing. Unfortunately that's not the kind of thing you can manufacture or arrange.

Further, yeah it's really really rough on your body and mind. If you're asking this question then you probably lack the inhuman crazy drive needed to do this for this particular project, and I think it'd be better for you to try to figure out some other way to achieve your goal.

When I lack drive, I find that I have to try to really arrange everything in my environment for perfect productivity. In dire circumstances I give my cable modem to a friend and force myself to work at the library where it's either "work on thing so I can go home" or "roll around on the floor due to abject boredom." Being at the library is uncomfortable but much more free of distraction. No bathtubs to clean, can't really talk on the phone. I also used a special computer just for work stuff so that even using the computer sort of set up my brain for work and not play. That way although I may have had the internet (I did need it for what I was doing) it wasn't a very good connection and my computer was set up for work so none of my favorites or games or messaging clients were available to me. This is best achieved with a really bare version of linux using a weird homebrew browser that is missing almost all of its plugins. That way I can access research stuff or wikipedia but anything fancy is right out.

Good luck to you.
posted by ZeroDivides at 6:42 PM on August 21, 2011

I have just finished doing something like this, and I am not a person who can normally stand working 14-hour days for weeks on end. I can't say I would recommend it - it turns out it wasn't worth it for me - but maybe it'll work out for you. I would be cautious about making any estimates based on your normal levels of productivity for this kind of work though. In my experience, your project velocity will decrease by as much as 50% per hour worked, and even though you're working 16 hours a day you'll only get as much done as you would in a "normal" 10-hour day.

Don't look at this as one long block of time - if you look at this as a solid six month death march, you will be much more likely to get frustrated, and maintaining a calm and focused demeanor is essential to doing this. Instead, break the goal up into distinct chunks that are 2-3 weeks or less. After you complete a block, give yourself permission to slack for a couple of days before you pick the next block up. By "slack" I don't mean completely stop, I mean drop back to a 5-6 hour day spent taking care of all of those overhead tasks that have been building up.

It's important to understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Although not sustainable in the long term, you need to find a short-term equilibrium in your habits that will allow you to keep going. Regular sleep schedule, regular meals. The trick is to make those the only things that you do outside of work.

Don't short your sleep. Six months is a long haul - if you're not naturally inclined to it, you will not be able to sustain the clarity and focus that you require if you are not well rested. You will not produce good code if you are not clear and focused, and bad code or poor decisions will cost you more by the end of the project than you can ever hope to gain by shorting your sleep schedule. This is also true for working non-stop for weeks on end, which is why it's important to have some planned days of slack where you're still working on the project but you're between sprints.

Be careful with the drugs. Modafnil, caffeine, sugar, Ritalin, whatever - they're all great for short-term lifts, but they usually have a short-term price to pay as well, and on a long-haul project like this one you should try and avoid wild swings. Use them, but use them judiciously.

You will need to learn to say "no" to everything else during your life in this period. Ignore other people's requests, slow or stop answering personal email, don't pick up the phone or respond to texts. Eat healthy, but eat mostly prepared meals and understand that this is just going to be an expensive time for you. Exercise only as much as you absolutely have to, and accept the toll that this will take on your body. Work will need to become your entire life. You may lose friends over this, and you will almost certainly destroy a chunk of your social life that you will have to rebuild afterwards - I'm going to assume that this is acceptable to you. It would really help to have a team to do this with, as they become your social circle; I don't know if you have that luxury.

There will be times when you hate it, when you feel like you really would rather put a gun to your head than work another hour on this fucking thing. You will have to decide at those points whether you want to keep going. The emotional toll from these kinds of projects tends to be high if you're not so passionate about what you're doing that these kinds of hours come naturally. It is a risk, especially if you're prone to depression or other illnesses, and you should consider that before embarking on the project.

I hope things turn out well, and I hope that whatever you're doing turns out to be awesome and brilliant and a career milestone - that's the only thing that I've found can make sacrificing yourself upon the altar of work worth it. Good luck.
posted by hackwolf at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get the sleep. If you can afford it, get a housekeeper or at least find a drop-off service for your laundry.

Also, plan and schedule meticulously. Give yourself mini-deadlines to stay on track and keep from getting overwhelmed. It may turn out that if you get organized on the front end, this project may actually require less work than you think. (Still a lot of work, but not the insanity you are predicting.)

When you're not being productive, go out and get other things done that need doing. If you're going to procrastinate, procrastinate strategically.

Schedule some downtime--at least an hour for yourself every day and one day a week if possible, to watch tv and drink a beer and keep up with your personal life. This will keep you from burning out.

I have done this before, but it was only because I was IN LOVE with what I was doing. If you don't love this thing you're working on, well, it'll be a lot harder, and you'll just have to cope with it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2011

I'll add my voice to the chorus of "don't"s: when I was in my 20s I did a lot of this, then I realized that it was counterproductive. Base your life around getting in 6 hours of rested productive work every day. Get lots of exercise. Take all decisions out of that other time, stay sober, get lots of sleep, do whatever you have to to make sure that 6-8 hours every day you can sit down and be productive.

And if you aren't being productive, go run 5 or 6 miles, or bike 15 to 20, then come back and crank.

For a week or two the crunch is fine. More than that and you're just fooling yourself (and probably those around you), and you're actually being less productive.
posted by straw at 9:36 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

10 hour days * 6 months is over 1700 hours. I just can't see how any project, no matter how large, would require that much work from a single person.

But let's assume that you do need to put in that many hours in such a short amount of time.

I've done short stints (like, well under a week) where I was working longer hours. One thing I found was that I became a bit unhinged from reality. I didn't become crazy or start seeing things that weren't there, it's just that the world seemed less solid in general (and my place in it seemed really spacey). Expect your relationship with other human beings in your life to seriously suffer if you do this for an extended period of time.

Although sleep and normal life things are going to be top priority for time, it's even more important that you stay grounded. So try to go on a walk in nature at least one day per week. Eat the healthiest food you can possibly eat. More vegetables. It's tempting to eat junk food when working like this but that's not a good idea. Soda and candy aren't good ideas either.

Drink lots of water.

Don't let your sleep suffer. Cut any frivolous activity (TV, MetaFilter) if it will prevent you from sleep.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:04 PM on August 21, 2011

In my experience, "I need to do a death march for six months" + "It's at the edge of my capabilities, but I have no reason to doubt that I won't be able to pull it off, the issue is simply time." really means "I can't finish this under the time limit. I just really, really, really want to and have talked myself into it. I am going to hate myself in five months when I realize that in spite of having sacrificed my social life and health to this beast, I am going to miss the deadline." Like many others, I speak from bitter experience here. You may prove the exception to the rule, but do you really want to stake your reputation and half a year of your life to this?


In order for this to work, you need to drop everything that isn't immediately necessary and truly mean it when you say that you're going to work on this app and nothing but this app for the next six months. This means that you have to take care of your basic physical and emotional needs, and nothing else. You will be living like a monk who belongs to the Church of Mobile App.

This is roughly what I did through periods in college to get through a heavy courseload and a part-time job. I didn't have many friends in college, so part 1 wasn't really necessary.

1) Tell your friends and family that you've effectively moved to Siberia. Then funnel all social email to another account that you only check once a week. Call everyone who is likely to worry about you (parents, sibling, best friend) once a week with information about how you're doing. Designate one day a month where you invite all your friends to hang out with you. Budget the next day for sleeping in and recovering from hanging out. Refuse all other invites and tell them to hang out with you on the designated day. This way you control how much socializing you do with them.
2) Cut off the internet. Download all the manuals you need and install whatever you need for desktop development. Then, remove your network card. I think it's unlikely that you really need internet access for ALL of your development. You may need it to test or discuss with other developers, but you can limit that to a two hour window at the end of the day.
3) Find recipes for healthy food that you can make in bulk. Make this every time you need food. Eat when hungry.
4) Work until you're tired. Then get up and work until you're tired. Quit trying to micromanage your sleep; that's just another thing to worry about. If you find yourself getting delirious or hallucinating, go to bed. If you can't remember the last time you slept, go to bed.
5) Do not consume caffeine or alcohol unless you want to mess up your ability to judge how tired you are and waste time writing code that doesn't work/is so poorly documented that you have to waste time reverse engineering what you did. Do not eat candy or snacks because they will also make you feel groggy and unable to concentrate (I learned this through sad experience).
6) Devote half an hour a day to exercising. It will break up your day and help you sleep. It also has the added benefit of forcing you to shower everyday.

Disclaimer: I make no guarantees about whether or not you will finish. I also make no guarantees about whether or not you will like yourself, your withered social life, or the bizarre personal habits and unnatural priorities that you have developed after you finish. Living with priorities that are so far out of the norm will mess you up. It took me a good three years to really recover from the stuff I pulled in college.
posted by millions of peaches at 10:29 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Work until you're tired. Then get up and work until you're tired.

This should be:

Work until you're tired. SLEEP UNTIL YOU'RE RESTED. Then get up and work until you're tired.
posted by millions of peaches at 10:30 PM on August 21, 2011

Your plan is almost certainly not going to work. There have been many studies done on overtime and productivity, and they all tell a similar story: you may be able to sustain a sprint (ie, anything over 40 hours/week) for a short period of time, but after that you will begin to see severe drops in productivity. Have you ever heard of negative productivity? That's when you're so exhausted and worn out that you begin to make mistakes that actually destroy the work that you've already completed. For a good overview of the problem, see this article: "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work." Here's a choice excerpt:
"Where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week."
That's what happens if you're working 60-hour weeks, with time off. The productivity loss is even more severe if you're working more hours -- and you're talking about working 70-85 hours per week with no time off at all! The results are ugly, and they're pretty much certain to happen if you continue down the path you are contemplating. I think you need to come to grips with the size of the task you are planning to undertake, and get realistic about what it's going to take to finish.

Have you explored delegating some of the work to someone else? Can you hire people to help with the programming? Hire people to help with the programming. Can you hire people to take on the non-critical tasks in your life (ie, cooking, cleaning, etc.)? Hire people to take on non-critical tasks.

As stated repeatedly above, you're going to need to plan this like it's a long-haul task (it is). Get yourself on a good sleep schedule, get enough exercise, and plan breaks for yourself. Remember that 1-3 week limit. Think about how much it would suck to lose 3 weeks of work because of a stupid, exhausted mistake that you make in hour 63 of your fifth consecutive 80-hour workweek. I've been there. It sucks. Don't do it.
posted by ourobouros at 10:38 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

While you're at it, here's another really excellent primer on how to schedule yourself for maximum productivity: Rules of Productivity (pdf). It would suggest that your best bet is to work 40 hours per week for the first 5 months, and then plan 60-80 hour per week crunch-time for your last month only -- and leave adequate recovery time afterwards.
posted by ourobouros at 10:50 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seems like you need to learn how to say no and put up proper boundaries when dealing with external sources that will affect your free time.

I've done the sleep in the office thing but only for a few days, not the extent you describe. It is shattering to your health. Do not do it.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:20 AM on August 22, 2011

Wow, thanks for all the great answers.

A little background: I am working for myself, this would be easier if I had a slavedriver to slave drive. The project is a startup, its my attempt to free myself from having to have a normal office job doing things I don't care about for other people on other people's schedule. I've done that for years, and realized that it was making me sick - mentally and physically. So, I have a lot on the line. I love this project and the work involved, and I'll go very far to protect that. I can't imagine going back to an office job after this.

I don't drive and I live in Berlin, which is very bike-friendly and I only get around by bike. So that at least takes care of exercise more or less, and prevents me from turning into a 2 ton sleep-deprived missile. I also work in a shared office (co-working place) to which I have 24/7 access.

The deadline is basically when I run out of savings, which is how I'm financing this project. Sadly, its a solo project, at least until I have the money to pay others - its really big enough to require a team of 3 or so. I'm trying to avoid hunting for investments. The money constraint is another reason why I can't hire a housekeeper or eat out. And I'm not married so there's no family to offload that kind of stuff onto, nor will my roommates volunteer for the task. If I blow the deadline, I have no boss or investors to disappoint, but I'll simply have to take on contract work which I hate doing and which will slow me down considerably.

You guys have really made it clear that my social life needs to (mostly) go. This is hard for me to hear - after a couple of weeks of saying no to everyone I start to feel isolated and lonely and moody, which also hurts my work. I'm also on the healthier and foody-er end of the spectrum, so just the idea of living on frozen pizza makes my stomach turn. I guess I'll find out soon enough if I have what it takes to really dump these things and make the time I need.

And I'll look into setting tighter more detailed schedules. I've been avoiding doing this because I always think "schedules and to-do lists have never worked for me and never will" but maybe its time for me to make them work.

Also, modafinil sounds intriguing. No idea if I can order it legally in Germany.
posted by tempythethird at 3:00 AM on August 22, 2011

I have done this sort of thing and second DarlingBri's advice. Work needs to become the organizing principle of your life to do this properly.

In your particular case, though, you may want to try the 40 hours/week for five months + crunch at the end schedule... and also plan now for what you will do if you don't finish in time. Can you eke out another six months through a part-time job or another small project that earns money in the meantime? Can you get some friends and family investment in month 5 if you need to?

This is not about "having what it takes". It's not a test. This is about getting this project done anyway you need to. The best way to get it done may not involve working on it nonstop.

I would suggest finding someone to work with. This will meet your social needs and also make it easier to make sure you are on track with the project, possibly add some investment of money, and make it easier to do. Send out feelers about this as you go. If it's an awesome project, someone, somewhere will want to work on it with you.
posted by 3491again at 6:05 AM on August 22, 2011

You might benefit from doing some project management on yourself, if you already haven't done that. if you break the project down into discrete chunks, you might find that the workload isn't as big as you think.
posted by gjc at 6:47 AM on August 22, 2011

Sadly, its a solo project, at least until I have the money to pay others - its really big enough to require a team of 3 or so. I'm trying to avoid hunting for investments.

Three words: Minimum. Viable. Product. It is going to be very important for you to focus on the fact that six months is not the time to build. If you build it, they won't come. Unless you have waiting customers, it is the time to build, test, market and get revenue-paying customers or yes, you will be back to contracting. What is the minimum viable product people will pay for, and what can you get out the door in 6 weeks or three months?

I also work in a shared office (co-working place) to which I have 24/7 access.

For me personally, this would be the weak point in the plan. Both the commuting and the other people part would be less productive than simply chaining myself to my chair at home, plus what you're talking about pretty much means you can't wear the same pajamas for 5 days and shower on Fridays. If you can't actually sleep there when you need to crash, it seems less likely to work. But YMMV.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:46 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

You cut out everything else from your life. There are no friends, dishes, bills, beers, anything. Give yourself some prize for accomplishments.
posted by xammerboy at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2011

foody-er end of the spectrum, so just the idea of living on frozen pizza makes my stomach turn

There are these healthy choice "steam-in-bowl" meals that are decent and cheap. Basically the microwave just heats the water & sauce into steam, which steams the food, so you don't have weird uneven microwave hot and cold patterns. Best frozen food available.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:15 PM on August 22, 2011

I've done this and what you need is adrenaline. Panic. Fear. So yeah, take Darling Bri's bit about time for marketing above and use that to scare yourself. "Fuck! I have to get this out the door in half the time I thought!" Then set up a timeline with unrealistic internal deadlines, and even set up meetings with reviewers or advisers so that you try to stick those deadlines.

This makes everything else easier. "No way man, I can't go to the pub! I'm supposed to finish the blah-blah phase by next Wedesday! I've barely started it! It normally takes, like, a month! I'm totally hosed and am going to be up until 2 am the rest of this week."

That's how you get started. After a while, it starts to reinforce itself. The sleep deprivation and task-focus and lack of anything to talk about besides work all combine to make you most comfortable when you're alone working. Your eyes' focal length is permanently stuck at three feet. You're tired and edgy and pre-occupied. You have no patience for people. All that "ha ha ha" and "have you seen the latest movie?" -- what's a movie?? Seriously, why would anyone go see one? Really, you just sit there in the dark for 90 minutes doing nothing: what's the point? But, everyone else is really interested in this, apparently. Can you get back to your spreadsheets yet? Maybe the pivot table maneuver solved that sorting issue. But you still need to check the multifield-- What? A "refill?" Um, oh, yeah, sure, I guess. Jesus it's like a combat zone here. Maybe more like a casino. All these lights flashing, colors, bells ringing, waiters coming up out of nowhere. Disturbingly wide open spaces. Not like your office. So quiet and calm. So peaceful. And then if it did sort correctly that'll be great because you can...

Anyway. Yeah. So that's how you do it if you really want to. You jumpstart it with fear or even just plain old sleep deprivation until your spirit is ... not dulled exactly. Focused. Inward. On this one thing. And the colorful three-dimensional outside world seems irrelevant to you, and very strange. And occasionally the people you know come and check on you in your cave and you talk to them about how you can't figure out this multifield sort algorithm and how you are so far behind.

Anyway. You can do it, but your approach to work sounds so healthy that I hate to see you learn to be a workaholic. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 10:41 PM on August 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Salvia, that was beautiful. Thanks. I can see how this would work. I get the feeling you've been there.
posted by tempythethird at 4:35 AM on August 23, 2011

Not sure if this answers the question, but as a decided non-workaholic, this is what I've observed from the many workaholics I've encountered.

Most workaholics I've seen don't actually get that much done. They just spend lots and lots and lots of time in the office. Passion will get you through the work, but putting yourself in an environment where there's nothing else to do will play a big part. If you need to work 16 hours per day, spend 16 hours per day in the office. Order take out for lunch, uninstall your web browser, and just don't leave. If there's no booze, no distractions, nothing to eat and nothing to do but work, you'll work.
posted by cnc at 12:31 PM on August 26, 2011

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