Growing kids and growing companies

How much do people work who have both?

Ev Williams
Feb 10, 2016 · 4 min read

I spent many years working non-stop. I pulled all-nighters on a regular basis. I worked holidays and weekends. I had minimal social life. Eating was a distraction — the vending machine would provide sufficient calories to keep going (as long as it was combined with lots of caffeine). Looking back, I don’t regret that. I mean, it wasn’t smart. I certainly would have made more progress overall had I gotten more sleep and taken care of myself. But I don’t feel like I could have done it any other way, given the person I was. I needed total immersion, driven out of fear and lack of knowledge.

This, of course, is also the mythology of the startup life: Everyone works 100-hour weeks — or, at least, everyone who succeeds. But then you grow up. Are startups a young person’s game? Or do they just require foregoing a family life?

As I got older, married, and eventually had kids, I was no longer able (or willing) to live (work) the way I had. Yet, I was still hungry. There was still so much to do. I was still leading growing companies, which created unlimited demand for my time. The work is never done. And the fear still exists. But when your work is your baby and you have actual babies at home, you enter a guilt-if-you-do/guilt-if-you-don’t situation when you work beyond a reasonable amount. But what is reasonable? What is normal? How do other people do it?

Obviously there’s no right answer for everyone, but I thought it’d be useful if we knew more about those questions — particularly the last one. So I constructed a survey and asked a large group of friends and professional acquaintances to fill it out anonymously. For my purposes, I defined “work” as anything done directly in service of your job(s) — email, meetings, phone calls, design/coding/writing, recruiting, etc. I counted only focused work time — e.g., not all the minutes we spend picking off emails one at a time on our phones while at the playground, or the time we’re thinking about product in the shower. Commuting didn’t count (unless you’re focused on the train or doing phone calls), nor did work-related media consumption (though attending conferences did). Purposeful work meals and socializing counted.

One interesting thing after I sent this out was I got several immediate enthusiastic replies from people who wanted to know these answers. And while we’re talking about a very non-scientific, selected-with-my-bias group of folks, the survey response rate was high enough to draw some interesting conclusions about an interesting group of people who have kids and are highly successful. (Also, they’re not all in Silicon Valley geographically, but most are in tech.)

Here are the results:

Hours worked is all over the map, but 55–60 is common.

  • The largest chunk, 29 percent, worked 55–60 hours/week.

People at older and bigger companies work more.

  • While only 21 percent of respondents at companies with fewer than 50 employees worked more than 60 hours, this number jumped to 46% for those working at a 50–200 person company, and 55% for those at companies with more than 200 employees.

Founders spend more time working out of the office.

  • Overall, 83 percent reported spending 50 percent or more of their time in the office; 60 percent spent more than 75 percent of their time in the office. Only four percent spent just 0–25 percent of their time in the office.

People work on the weekends — though not that much.

  • Only ten percent of all respondents said they worked five-day weeks. A full 85 percent reported working either six or seven days a week.

Help at home is the rule.

  • Exactly half of respondents said both spouses in the household worked.

We didn’t have enough female respondents to draw meaningful gender conclusions.

  • It was hard to extrapolate much along gender lines. One tantalizing clue… 100% of the women who responded reported exercising regularly, while only 73% of men did.

What conclusions shall we draw from this? I’ll leave that up to the reader (though feel free to respond to this post with your own conclusions or questions). As for myself, I’ll just say: There are many ways to live your life. Do what works for you and your company.

Tonight, I’m eating dinner at the office. This weekend I’m going skiing with my kids.

Image for post
Image for post

Working Parents

A pop-up conversation about having a job.

Ev Williams

Written by

CEO of Medium, partner at Obvious Ventures, co-founder of Twitter, curious consumer of ideas

Working Parents

A pop-up conversation about having a job. And kids. At the same time.

Ev Williams

Written by

CEO of Medium, partner at Obvious Ventures, co-founder of Twitter, curious consumer of ideas

Working Parents

A pop-up conversation about having a job. And kids. At the same time.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store