Alexander Borisenko asks:

We are a small, early stage startup from Russia that is getting ready to get out of the concept phase into development. Coming from an investment banking background of 18 hour days…sometimes I start to question if we are doing enough, if we have to be working on weekends, etc… And although after starting to keep track of my time actually working I realized that 10-11 hour days are just as effective if done right, it still would be extremely helpful to know if successful company like yours works on weekends and on average, how many hours a day. I really hope I can get an answer from you on that, as it would solve the last big puzzle that I have before starting execution.

37signallers can set their own schedules but I’d say, on average, we work a typical workday (8 hours) and we don’t work weekends. (Unless we’re really feeling a project and don’t want to stop. Then we’ll take that inspiration and run with it.) But normally, it’s a typical workweek.

Investment bankers may work 18 hour days…but look at the state of the investment banking business. It’s not the quantity of hours you work, it’s how you spend the hours you do work and what you’re working on that matter.

Too many people think they have to work 80-100 hour weeks. They think, “No amount of work is too much work.” They pull all-nighters or sleep at the office.

But you don’t have to work superhuman hours. A normal workweek should be plenty. Even less is ok. In fact, being short on time is a good thing. It forces you to focus on the essentials. There’s no time for things that don’t matter. There’s only time for the basics. And if you want to build something great, you have to nail the basics first.

Basecamp, our flagship product, was created on the side while we were still doing client work. With just 10 hours a week of programming time and 10 hours a week of design time, we made a product that took off.

We didn’t have time to focus on anything other than the basics. It did a few things and did those few things really well. There were no distractions. It did what people really needed and nothing more. It was only after it took off that we decided to devote more time to it.

Also, keep in mind you’re setting up habits that you’ll continue to follow. If you work endless hours now, you’ll probably never stop. Once you start running the hamster wheel, it’s tough to get off.

Worry about the quality of your hours, not the quantity. That’s what really matters.