Work Smarter, Work Harder, Just Don’t Work Longer

In the very first episode of Time Limit, TeamGantt’s founders Nathan Gilmore and John Correlli talk about starting a business with just 4 hours per week and where that led them. The company has grown since 2009, but the ideal of being smart with time persists. TeamGantt developer Tyson Nero also joins the conversation, as they dig into:

  • Work-life balance and how to find it in your career
  • Budgeting time like you budget finances
  • Where the 40-hour workweek came from—and why TeamGantt works 36
  • The benefits of putting a time limit on your entire company or team’s workweek and ways to test out a limited workweek.

About our guest


Episode Transcript


Nathan:             Welcome to the very flirts episode of time limit, a podcast by team Gantt. The podcast dedicated to helping you and your team make the most of your limited time at work. I'm Nathan and one of the co-founders of team Gantt, and one of the co-hosts of this podcast.

John:               I'm John. I'm also a co-founder at team Gantt, and you guessed it, I'm also a co-host to this podcast.

Nathan:             This is our flirts podcast, so we thank you for listening, and we thank you for checking this out. So, you might be wondering, why did we create a podcast called time limit. That really goes back to the story of how we started team gan.t we started team Gantt with just four hours a week, since team Gantt was a side project for us back in 2009.

John:               Nathan and I were both working full time, doing software at a roofing company around here, and we had the need for a multi-user Gantt chart, so we set aside Saturday mornings as a time for us to build an app that we would be able to use, and then it was maybe about a couple weeks in, we realized we have something that other people may want to use too, so we decided to continue with it, but we still had full time jobs, we still had families. My father's a pastor. We were in the process of physically building a new church building, and that required most of my Saturday, so Saturday morning was all that I could really carve out to start the process of this, and we had basically a time limit of our hours that we had to get everything done in. We have to be efficient with our four hours. We had to come in knowing what we were doing, and we had to do it because at lunch, I had to go.

Nathan:             Yup. Yup. That's right, so that was our limit that was four hours to start this company in. That was back in 2009, and now as in the last eight, almost nine years since we started kind of in the end of 2009, but we've been continuing to grow this and we went full time around 2011, which gave us the ability to go up to forty hours, which at the tome felt luxurious, and we just had tons of time, which was awesome. And then, we continued as the business grew. We hied more people, and we brought more people on. The team is now up to seventeen people, and because we have so many people and things have been going well, we actually reduced our time now to 36 hours. So we do half days Fridays now. We'll talk about that more in this episode.

Nathan:             But we are very used to the idea of a time limit, and even at seventeen people, to us it feels like a lot, but we know our competitors have hundreds of people, and they're working overtime and they're putting a lot of time in, so we do have to be very, very wise with how we use our time. And so, that's why this has always been interesting to us. Of course the software we create is all about managing our time, so this is something that is very interesting to us. And we decided to start a podcast to talk about it. How we use our time as we know determines our success in our jobs and in our careers, so that's why we really wan tot focus on this. Most everything comes back to how we use our time.

Nathan:             The topic that we're talking about today, for the first episode which we feel is super important and helps set up the future episodes, is setting the time limit that we work each week, and that our teams work each week.

John:               In future episodes, we'll dig into how we manage our time, but ultimately, we have a huge responsibility to ourselves, to our families, and the bottom line at work, so how we spend our time is very important.

Nathan:             It is. Yeah. And it's also important for everybody on your team. If you're a leader in your company, or you're a leader on your team, setting this boundary ad he;ping enforce it and helping encourage others, will make a big impact on everybody in your organization, everybody on your team, even the bottom line at work too, as we'll see.

Nathan:             So, why is it that so many people are working so long and so many extra hours nowadays? There was a time when 40 hours was the normal, but now it just seems lie more and more we're seeing that people are working such long hours.

John:               I think a lot of that goes back to you feel that if you work more hours, you'll get more done, and what happens is you work more hours, and you end up getting less done, and so then to get the work done that you need to get done, you end up working more hours to get that done, and then you're continuing to go down a path that has diminishing returns.

Nathan:             Yeah, and then when you tack on office distractions, meeting overload, email overload, it all adds up, and I think another thing too, is just people feel like they need to prove something, right? By working more, I think that's a lot of times how unfortunately, people have to climb the corporate ladder, is to put in the extra time and show that they needed to work hard and that they're a ambitious, and then that'll get them that raise. But I mean, how do we fix that? How does ... If that's going on in your company, and you don't want that to be the case, how do you fix that John?

John:               The first thing I think you need to do, is figure out how this new time limit is gonna benefit your team? How is it gonna benefit your morale? How is it gonna benefit your performance? How will it benefit potential turnover, or even burnout? Nathan, you have an interesting burnout story.

Nathan:             No, it's true. I mean, this happened to me about a year ago, about this time of year last year. I was really enjoying everything I was working on. I was really enjoying everything we were doing here, and I was following the typical routine of start around eight, eight 30, finish up by five o'clock, but my problem was after having dinner with the family and everything, put the kids to bed, at night I would pull the laptop back out, and I'd work for a few more hours, and I might work just on things that I really enjoyed, things that I liked, and that might have been working on the new office design that we were getting ready to work on, or it might have been searching for some hires that we were willing to make, and those were things I just enjoyed doing, so it didn't bother me, and I enjoyed.

Nathan:             I thought, well I'll just keep ding this, and for a few weeks it wasn't an issue at all, but the time about two months of that rolled by, man I felt it. And it kicked in, and I started ... I didn't realize it was a burnout at first because I was jus tired. I totally lost my motivation, which is really weir.d I'm usually very motivated, but I totally lost my motivation at work. I just didn't want to. And I was just thinking, what is going on? Why am I feeling this way?

Nathan:             And then, it actually kind hit me. I was like you know, I have been doing a little too much, and I started googling it, and just reading what the symptoms of burnout were, and man. That was it. That's what it was, so I had to thankfully recognize that, and then take a week off to reset. I didn't even go anywhere, we just stayed around the house and just took a week off, and just got my mind off of work, and came back with a clear head, and with the idea of I'm not gonna do tat again. I'm not gonna be working at night, because even if that can work for a little while, within a few months, that's gonna cause burnout.

Nathan:             As we'll see too, there's even chance it could potentially increase profits. Not that, that's the key thing that we're focused on here, but there's a potential for that, and that's something actually Henry Ford shown back in the early 1900s, which we'll talk about. But I think the most important thing to think about here, is how this can improve the lives of everybody on your team, and not just the people on your team, but their families. Not putting that pressure on them and in fact, proactively taking that pressure off of them can actually rally make things better for them.

Nathan:             So again, the benefits of being strategic and really thinking about your balance and how many hours and that limit you set for each week for you and your team, again, that can lead to better morale, better performance, reduced turnover, bing healthier, potentially increasing profits, and most importantly, better lives for your team and their families.

Nathan:             Alright, so today. We're also gonna bring on Tyson here, from team Gantt who is gonna give us his perspective. He has worked before in companies where he's worked long hours, and he's also worked here with the 36 hour week, and we just want to give his perspective on it, so Tyson.thanks for jumping on today man.

Tyson:              Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Nathan:             Yeah, yeah. Can you give me just a little intro on yourself, where you're from and your background?

Tyson:              Absolutely. Well, my full name is actually Tyson Julius Nero. Some people call me TJ. So, I'm originally from Cranston, Rhode Island, but I was raised in south Florida, and over the past three years, I moved here with my wife and kids to charlotte, so that's where we currently reside. Been a software engineer since I was 19 years old. I'm 35 now, so you can do the math. About 16 years. Originally, I was more of a developer, designer, probably in '06 or '08 I really transitioned into a programmer, what I call a software engineer, where I move from a lot of the front end design work to the back end.

Tyson:              So, since then I've just been mixing it up, front end back end. I've worked for small and large companies, enterprise level companies like movie tickets dot com and lending tree, various start-ups. I've worked for traditional software companies where we didn't have like a public facing application or website, but we were actually writing [installable] software that was distributed to clients.

Nathan:             Cool.

Tyson:              So, development wise, that's kind of it.

Nathan:             Yeah, yeah. That's awesome man. And before we jump into the meat of this, I hear you have a Chuck Norris joke ready for us.

Tyson:              Absolutely. Well, I like to do things in threes, so I have three Chuck Norris jokes, or you can even consider them facts. So, this one's a classic. A Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird. And then, Chuck Norris doesn't need twitter, because he's always following you. And then, finally, this is the programmer in me. When Chuck Norris throws exceptions, it's across the room.

Nathan:             Boom.

Tyson:              There you go.

Nathan:             There you go. That's it. Awesome. Alright. Well, that was the important stuff. Now, we'll jump into talking about the work life balance and overworking, and your experience with it. So, maybe can you just tell us a little bit about previously, ave you been through working 50 hour weeks, 60 hour weeks? What's your background? Have you seen that before?

Tyson:              Absolutely. In fact, the last two companies I worked for, it was jus the norm and expected. So, funny story, is when, probably my first couple weeks when I am onto team Gantt, I was actually putting in time extra at nights, and sometimes over the weekend, probably those first couple of weeks, and I remember John, our dev manager, I think he called me out a couple times and said "Hey. You know it's late on a Friday night. Why are you still working?" Well, it was just something that I was used to, and it was the norm for me. And even though you guys were upfront, and said we have that 36 or 39 hour work week, I was so used to it.

Tyson:              In fact, coming onto team Gantt, there was probably a couple months beforehand where I was leading a project that I was working 50 plus hours for about two months straight.

Nathan:             Wow. Wow.

Tyson:              Yeah.

Nathan:             And, what was that like? How did you feel doing that? Did you ever hit burnout? Did you feel like your productivity was increased? Do you think you ... What do you think the difference was between that and the fort work, and like 40 hours?

Tyson:              Sure. I mean, you get productivity boost probably the flirts couple weeks, right? And then, when these 50 hour weeks or 40 plus hour weeks start taking a toll on you, whether it's impeding on your personal life or your family life, or various things, like that or you're just burned out because you get a call from your dev manager Friday night at 12 that something needs to be fixed and you lost sleep, overall, it starts taking its toll, and that's where it starts having an impact on your productivity.

Nathan:             Yeah. Yeah. No, absolutely.

Tyson:              So, from my own personal experience, it ends up being a drop off, right?

Nathan:             Yup. No, that makes sense. That makes sense. And why do you think that everyone was working those extra hours? Wat was causing that?

Tyson:              Right. So, I think there was a few factors. One is expectations were generally being made by higher ups, right? So, for instance, a developer, a development team was expected to do something or was on the hook for something that they didn't really sign on for. There were these expectations that week just out there. Another thing is, and I'm comparing with team Gantt for instance. Maybe working for a bigger corporation who has investors and other higher ups, those are the people that really drive things, and you have to answer to. As compare to working maybe for a smaller company, or a company like team Gantt who doesn't really have that investment or that board of people who are really driving the product. We as a team really get to make up kind of what we want to do and how we drive that, and we're more flexible in a sense.

Tyson:              I feel lie other companies where you have that hierarchy and that set up, it becomes more rigid, and you have to answer to those who want you to do what they want you to do.

Nathan:             That's a good observation. Yup. And that's true. And since that's one reason we didn't want to take investment money here. And that's why we just always boot strapped it. We didn't want to have to answer to investors. We always wanted to answer to the customer. And that gives us the flexibility to set the company up in away that we want to work here, as opposed to just trying to grow for growth's sake and please the investors, so ... Yeah. I think that makes sense what you're saying.

Tyson:              Absolutely. And just to drive home on that as well, a lot of time, where you're dealing with investors or hierarchy or structures like that, sometimes things become more about the bottom line in making that dollar, than making a good product.

Nathan:             Yup.

Tyson:              So, I've had the experience in a couple past companies where the quality of the product went down, but more time went into building the product to produce more money, if that makes sense.

Nathan:             Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. No, that's what happens. You put more people, you put more time, you just think you need to do more stuff, but in the end, it's not really making a better product.

Tyson:              Absolutely, and on that note too, a lot of the time spent in overwork is dealing with defects and production form what I've noticed in the previous companies. I think at team Gantt, we really have a good set up, on how to reduce our defects in production. For instance, on the dev team, we really have a solid and rigid code review process, that I have not seen at any other company. And what that does, is it not only set sour code up to be quality and maintainable in the long run, but as developers, we find bugs and things like that. So, it really takes a lot of the pressure on someone who's doing UAT or QA to try to find those additional things that they may have not found.

Nathan:             Yeah.

Tyson:              So, we're doing things in a background that haven't seen at other companies, which keeps our quality high and our defects low.

Nathan:             Well, that's good. I mean, that's what we;'ve been talking about, is trying to work smarter and harder, but just not longer, so I think that fits in with that.

Tyson:              Absolutely.

Nathan:             So, Tyson, with the Friday afternoons that we've implemented recently, wat do you do with your Friday afternoons off?

Tyson:              Sure. So, a perfect example of this Friday afternoon, I'm going to my daughter's second grade class to volunteer to help the kids with their writing.

Nathan:             See, that's awesome.

Tyson:              So, absolutely. So, I may go volunteer at school, I may try to get the yard work done early, or just do something in general that I might have done in the weekend, to have more time with the family or myself, or other various activities.

Nathan:             Awesome. Cool. Tyson, thanks for jumping on man. We appreciate it.

Tyson:              Absolutely.

Nathan:             alright, see yeah man.

Tyson:              Bye.

Nathan:             Let's jump ahead here now, and Let's talk about the flirts step here, and how to do this. If we decide that the settings are important, this is important for our company, important for ourselves, important for our team, important for the family members of our team, how do we get started? How do we do this? How do we determine that limit? What should that be? Should that be 36? Should it be 40? Should it be 60 hours? How do we determine? And I think some of that goes back to just evaluating your week, your priorities, your life, what you have going on. What do you think about that?

John:               I think that's right. We have to realize that we all have 168 hours a week, and that's it. That's the limit for the week. That's all we've got, so how are we gonna budget time for our family, our health, things we do for fun like church, work. How are we gonna fit all of this into your week? We budget for our financial futures, why not budget our time for the future?

Nathan:             Ah. Absolutely. I mean, and that's so important. We just need to be able to step back, look at everything going on. What are our priorities? What's our mission? What are our goals in life? And make sure we can achieve them in a balanced way, in setting those budgets, thinking of our time in terms of budget, just like we do financially, can make a huge impact. And that fact that you take the time and do that consciously, is important to getting control of your time. We need to control our time.

Nathan:             Honing in on that number, that's the first step, is again, look and through and evaluate and everything, but then honing in. We always hear about this 40 hour number, and let's talk about where that 40 hour number originally came from. So that came from the early 19th century, and this is when the unions were actually pushing for this. Businesses at first, were low resistant, but then they ended up coming around because they saw the benefits of reducing the hours and not pushing people into crazy 60, 70, and 80 hour weeks. And then, there was a big thing on January fourth, 1914, when Henry Ford actually made a big change in his company.

John:               Yeah. He doubled pay, he reduced shifts, and sort of the grand scheme of things, that the company profit essentially doubled from 30 million to 60 million. Now, that's not to say that-

Nathan:             You're gonna necessarily double and go from 30 million to 60 million. I mean, that would be awesome. Hey, there's a chance for that right? So, he did reduce the shifts from nine to might hours, and he was criticized for that. A lot of people actually criticized him for doing that, but it turned out after watching the numbers, and everyone saw that his profits increased so much, his competitors ended up doing the same thing. So, that was a big thing that helped show that 40 hours was a good number. So, what's the right number for you? Again, you're thinking about how balance do you want you and your teas lives to be between work and everything else that's going on. For us, we just recently changed ours to 36. Why did we do that? What did we switch to 36?

John:               I think for us, it was sort of two fold. It was sort of the initial selfish want of having a longer weekend. It's funny to say, but it's true. Where it was I guess two summers ago, maybe three, we decided that, you know what? We're gonna do a summer treat, and we're just gonna do half day Fridays, give everybody a longer weekend. You know you can take that half day Friday to do whatever. To cut your grass, or to weed your garden, or whatever your hobbies are. We di it as a treat sort of for the summer, but when the summer was over, we looked back and we said wow. We got everything we thought we were gonna get done, done. We got more done than what we thought really.

John:               And fall came around, we went back to the full 40 hour work week, we brought it back around Christmas time later that year. Sort of the same concept of a treat, and then it was the following summer where we re-implemented it again, it was sort of the not three strikes and you're out, but three's a charm, and we realized it was a good move for us, and just recently, we made it permanent, where we're now at 36 hour work week.

Nathan:             Yup. That's right. We did again this summer. We were looking at it and we thought, lets test this again. We were kinda thinking in the beginning of the summer, this might be nice to make permanent, but we still said we're gonna do it just for this summer because we wanted to watch and make sure again that this summer we still had good results, and that we didn't see things drop. So we didn't change our planning. It's not like we thought oh. Let's try, and put less work in this summer because we're only doing 36 hours. We still tried to hit all the same goals and we still planned as if it was 40, but we just wanted to kind of work a little smarter, and a little harder during those 36 hours to get it done. And it worked out, and we decided, lets go ahead and make this permanent and we did that just now. And so now we're permanently 36 like John said.

Nathan:             And everyone's excited about it, and the results have been good so far in productivity, and really in team morale, and everybody's been talking about how they enjoy the jump start to the weekend, being able to knock out the yard work, and then have more time for family on Saturdays and Sundays, and just feeling refreshed when they come back Monday and ready to go.

John:               So how would someone make this change at their company?

Nathan:             That's a great question. So, one thing is just try it as a temporary test. Just lie we did. You don't have to commit to this longterm, and you wanna make sure that this is something that works for you, and it doesn't necessarily have to be ... 36 might not be the right number for you. If everybody in your company right now was putting in 60 hours, if you cut to 36, that might be too much of a jolt. Maybe you can handle it, maybe not. Maybe you can try that as a test, but just thinking about what's the amount you want to reduce to, and then trying that as a test for three months. Try it over the summer. If you want to try it now, try it now for a couple months, and just say we're gonna do this as a little pilot for the next three months and see how it goes.

John:               Right, and I think an important piece is don't change the goals. Don't change what you plan to get accomplished. Keep your goals aggressive. Work harder, work smarter, just don't work longer.

Nathan:             Yeah. That's totally right. And I think it's like Parkinson's law, right? It talks about how work expands to fill the time, so if we can just shrink that time up a little bit, quite often we'd still get the same amount done.

John:               Yeah, and I think you're gonna see that you're gonna get the same thing done, and the only thing that's gonna change ... Well, maybe not the only thing, but potentially one of the most important things, is that your team's gonna be happier.

Nathan:             Yeah, if you watch the numbers, and you're still ale to hit your goals, you're still able to hit your metrics that you're watching. You'll notice too, that your team is probably gonna be happier, and you're gonna be able to improve all those great benefits of people being happier, people being healthier, more productive, and keeping people around longer in your company, which is a big benefit.

John:               So, with a shorter time limit, how do you recommend people be more productive within that less time?

Nathan:             Right. Well, that's a good point, I mean, there's definitely different things that we'll probably expand on more in future episodes, but that's things about structure in your day. Figuring out your plan of attack there, which I know we'll dig into in the future. Reducing meetings. Is there any way you can cut back on some meetings that just aren't necessary. We all don't like those extra meetings. Maybe think about introducing some remote working. If you're not doing that now, maybe giving people a day or two at home to potentially avoid all the distractions in the office. I know for us, that's one reasons why we're able to get a lot done whit a small team, is the fact that we can get that focus time in.

Nathan:             And the other is encouraging people to work hard and smart, so that they can continue to keep that benefit. If it's being done as a pilot, lets say lets just encourage the team and say "Hey. Let's do this. Let's work hard. Let's work smart, but Let's see if we can do this in the same amount of time."

John:               Yeah, and if you're a team that's in a bigger company and you run a pilot program, pick one of the teams within your company and see how they do, so you're limiting your risk, and then when it's all said and done, take the benefits, take the results of that, and show it to your leadership.

Nathan:             Yeah, absolutely. Run a pilot, and test it, and see how it goes. You can be an example for the rest of that company.

Nathan:             So if you're in a team and maybe you're not the leadership on the team, maybe you don't have the ability to make that change yourself, don't feel trapped. There's things that can be done, and you might have more control over your situation than you think. So one of the flirts things you could do is potentially talk to your manager or your team lead, and bring this idea by them. Show them the benefits, show them some of the things that we talked about in this episode, and hopefully they'll that and maybe they'll be willing to run a test. And ask them, "Hey. Can we test this out for a little while?"

John:               And really, it all starts with leadership. If you're the leader, you need to set the example. You need to show that hey. I'm committed to this work time. When it's tie to go early on Friday, let everyone know you're leaving. Hold everyone to the same standard that you're holding yourself to, and I think you'll see in the end you'll come back on Monday more refreshed, and when you look back over a quarter, you'll realize that you still hit the same goals that were intending originally.

Nathan:             Yeah, and it is, and people will follow you as the leader, so if you're working the long hours, they're gonna work the long hours. If you can cut back and do that visibly, and encourage them, then there's gonna be a good chance fo them doing it as well.

Nathan:             We hope this been helpful to you. This is the first episode here. This si the one where we're kicking things off, and we hope you liked it, and we want to hear what you thought. Please send us your feedback. We're setting up an email. It's gonna be time limit at team Gantt dot come. So that's time limit at team Gantt and Gantt does have two Ts at the end. So send that in, and we're gonna read it. We'll get back to you. Let us know too what questions you have. What would you like us to talk about? Things that maybe relate to our backgrounds in business or in project management, cause we'd be happy to hear from you. And then, also, reviews. If you enjoyed this and this is something that you want to hear more of, leave a review on iTunes. We'd love to see that, and that's gonna help more people find us. We're gonna do three episodes here, and depending on the feedback, if this is something people like, we'll keep doing more, let us know what you think, and hopefully tune in for the next episode.

Nathan:             We hope you make the most of your limited time this week. Thanks again.

John:               Have a great week.

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