Why Do I
Work on Weekends?
This piece is solely my basic extrapolation of the concept of
the human reward system
When we imagine the weekend, we automatically think of “day off”, “relaxing”, “partying” or “hanging out”. Anything but “work”… that’s taboo. But ironically, my typical weekend is exactly that. Most people give me awkward looks when I say I am in the office on a Saturday. They ask me how I do it, and why I do it. It’s not like I get paid for working on weekends.
I tried to critically analyze this. Why is my weekend that much different than what’s defined as normal in society? Am I just a workaholic? After diving deeper, I found what I believe to be the root of our decisions.
At the most fundamental level, my decisions are based to satisfy a need for a positive response, or better known as a “reward”.
When I think of rewards, there are two factors that are most important to me — when they happen and what they are.
The Need for Speed
The timing of the reward is how quickly I receive it. There are things that cause an instantaneous reward, such as eating. On the opposite end of the spectrum, are things where rewards comes much later, such as learning a new skill.
A good example of this concept is the all too common dilemma of Takeout vs. Cooking. Takeout food gives a much quicker reward than having to cook the food yourself. This would be a time difference of a couple hours (which also requires work & cleanup).
Naturally, I tend to gravitate towards the quickest path to a reward. If the reward comes too slow, I can lose motivation or interest. However, it’s possible to overcome this impulse or even use this to your advantage.
The Short and Long
Rewards can come in many different styles and flavors. So for the sake of brevity, let’s just simplify them into two groups:
- Short Term Benefit Rewards (small wins)
- Long Term Benefit Rewards (big wins)
Short term rewards are what I consider things that satisfies basic human needs or provides temporary but immediate gratification.
Long term rewards are what I consider things that satisfy a individual’s personal growth.
Let’s take the previous example of Takeout vs Cooking. Takeout generates an immediate reward of food. The food fills a physiological need (hunger) and is an immediate gratification (the feel-good you get from eating something you enjoy). This is a short-term reward.
Cooking on the other hand is a bit more complicated. You’d get the same short term rewards from the food, and in addition get self-accomplishment, creation of a tangible item, and cooking proficiency. A mixture of short term and long term rewards.
Both has its advantages.
Short Term Rewards are NOT bad! This is far from the truth. Many times, it might be more beneficial to choose the path of least resistance. Time and convenience are frequent constraints where striving for long term rewards are just not feasible.
That’s great and all, but what does all this have to do with working on weekends?
“Work” isn't work to me. It’s like snowboarding or powerlifting — an activity I actually enjoy. But how?
When analyzing this, I had a moment of realization. I noticed a pattern that happens every time. And that pattern is quite simple:
1. Short term rewards happen frequently.
2. Long term rewards exist.
My “work” is full-stack development. I create web applications/software from start to finish. How in the world can typing code be rewarding?
Coding is a progressive activity. It’s not uncommon to solve 10+ problems in any given day. Every time a problem is solved, it releases a burst of small rewards. And if that happens frequent enough, it makes it enjoyable.
Here are some of them:
Short Term Rewards
1. Accomplishment: Solving small problems or overcoming small challenges
(fixing bugs, fixing broken code, completing a component)
2. Visualization: Seeing in front of you your vision come to life
(layout changes, style changes, seeing my code work)
3. Learning: Consistently learning something I didn't know before
(new concepts, alternate solutions, different technologies)
4. Progression: Generally knowing more about development than I did a couple hours ago
5. Acuity: That feeling where you automatically know what to do and how to do it (aka “in the zone”)
Short term rewards provide me the gas to drive towards the finish line, where I reap the long-term rewards.
Long Term Rewards
1. Idea Actualization: Creating something tangible that you envisioned, that works and other people will use
2. Skill Mastery: Being an overall better developer with more experience and knowledge at creating solutions
3. Business Acumen: Understanding how businesses operate and how to monetize your product effectively
…and that is why I work on weekends.
How I find the “small wins” in everything
I can actually turn (almost) anything into something enjoyable by applying the same principles.
By increasing the amount of short-term rewards, it helps keep me motivated and interested enough to continue. Here are some ideas that I use:
- Logging and/or socializing my progress
Sharing my progress with friends, a community, or even the act of writing about my progress provides something immediately tangible.
- Find small challenges and conquer them
I break up whatever I’m doing into smaller sets, like a sudoku problem. The act of solving a problem (no matter how small) provides an incredible accomplished feeling and encouragement to continue.
- Supplement it with what you already enjoy
I enjoy listening to music so I always play music when I code. I enjoy teaching, so I look for opportunities where I can teach web development. I sometimes do some trolling, so I put a few jokes scattered around my code.
- Caffeine or whisky always helps
Espresso puts me in the zone. And whisky… well… it doesn’t really make me more efficient, but it does make me appreciate the simple things in life and causes me to giggle at my code.
I’m sure there are other “small wins” that can be found.
We can find interest in almost anything as long as we can figure out what triggers the right emotional response at the right time.
What one person sees as boring, someone else might think it is the best thing since spreadable butter.
I work weekends because I enjoy it.
I enjoy it because I get a frequent burst of small wins.
Small wins (short term rewards) does something with the brain.
Brain = happy. Dopamine, endorphins, all that jazz.
Small wins (short term rewards) keep me motivated.
Motivated enough to reach my long term rewards.
… ??? …
To summarize: When trying to accomplish a large goal, first find the frequent “small wins” to keep you motivated enough to reach the goal.