Does Working Longer And Harder Really Lead To Better Work?

A theory persists in ad agencies that to do the best work, you have to work longer and harder than other people. So the pressure is often on for creatives to burn the midnight oil, work weekends and generally spend all of their waking hours at the coal face.

It's not the case everywhere, one agency that I worked at for a bit had a definite lean towards not encouraging people to work through lunch or late (and they had a good creative reputation at the time). That said though, they once forced us to go in on a Saturday for no particular reason, which didn't go down well. But there are those places around town that have a reputation for making people work long hours and weekends. And some of these do have good creative reputations. Do the two things go hand-in-hand?

I don't think so. Okay, I do know genuinely good people who are in the habit of working long and hard. But I've also known plenty of people who worked really long hours who never came up with anything great. Then there are the ones who never seem to be around, or working, but who always come up with something great. (We'll ignore the very last category - those who don't work long and hard, and don't come up up with anything good - because they don't last very long anyway.)

I don't see any definite correlation between hours spent and the quality of the work. Over here we take coming up with creative ideas very, very seriously, seriously enough to know not to take it too seriously.

If you push people too hard, too long, it has the opposite to the desired effect. People think differently (not in a good way) when put under too much pressure, or worked too hard. You are more focused on doing something than on allowing yourself to find things. It narrows the mind.

I think you need a freewheeling, uninhibited mind to come up with good stuff. Sometimes you have to really work hard through something, really apply yourself. But equally it can mean allowing yourself the freedom to get away from the desk.

We like to keep it relaxed and fun at Sell! Towers, and we don't want people staying late or working weekends (we've only worked one weekend day in six years). I'd rather a brief was in someone's mind while they were getting on with enjoying and experiencing life, than forcing them to sit in a room all weekend trying to crack it. I'm certain it's not the only way of getting great stuff, but it works out well for us, and I believe in it way more than the battery hen, beating-with-a-stick approach.

I'm interested to know what you think though, dear reader. Does more pressure and longer hours work out better for you? Do you think great work is linked to working longer and harder?

Have a great weekend!


  1. I can not for the life of me remember who said it first, but Work expands to fill the time available. If you have 3 weeks for a job, chances are it will take 3 weeks. Not only that, but doing jack all is part of the creative process, thats when your brains working behind the scenes so that great idea pops into your head out of the blue when your in the shower or on the bus.

  2. The sweat shop approach is self-perpetuating, the agency sees good work come out of it, so imagine that is *why* the good work came out. Also a symptom of weak CDs. Give me the brief and deadline, I'll work out how to get there, thanks.

  3. No. But maybe exteme thinking does...

  4. My AD and I are often asked to come in at the weekend or work late at night.

    Most of the time, we find ourselves fucking around until it's time to go home.

    Then we'll "pull something out of the bag" right before the deadline.

    Late nights and weekends always feel like such a waste of time when concepting.

    It's only when it comes to actually producing work that this time feels useful - when you have fifty executions (in every medium known to man) to produce in a week.

    Unfortunately, it feels like this is happening more and more often these days.

    Great post guys.

  5. A great post and an important one, I agree with you.

    It appears to me that often people would rather be busy than effective. And often clients like to pay for busy rather than effective. Add in complexity and the client seems even happier.

    Too may people seem to touch the work these days which stops it getting from A to B effectively. The quantity of touches doesn't seem to add much either in terms of what the client needs IMO. This is clearly what you avoid. How was your weekend? Good - huh !

  6. Creativity takes what time it takes. Sometimes it happens fast, sometimes it happens slow. The trick is that it happens 100% of the time.

    Anyone who thinks long hours are the reason that an idea is good is an accountant, not a creative.

  7. never a fan of late hours or working weekends. a drag.

    intense regular hours broken up by nice lunches does it for me.

    keep it light, basically.


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