How Much Work Is Too Much Work?


I'm a freelance developer, formerly from the business sales world (Capital One Bank, HSBC Bank). About six years ago, before I knew ANYTHING about programming, I got involved with an internet startup and discovered that unless you really know technology you can't manage IT people effectively. So I learned how to program in HTML, CSS and PHP. Then I left the business world, because frankly corporate life isn't for me, I discovered.

So to the question: now I've decided to stop working with clients on projects and develop my own project. Aside from the risks of any project failing (especially online), I'm wondering how much work is too much work. I've decided to completely bootstrap this project, do all the programming myself and go for it. I've been working sometimes 20 hours at a time, programming. I figure I have to keep this up for another two weeks. But, I've not called on any new clients, or tried to get any new business, I'm completely focused on my new project. This is it. I want to go for it.

Is this the right way to go? Or is it better to 50/50, spend time on the project, and spend time on clients. I'm ok financially. I'm broke, I can't go on vacations or buy a new car, but I have a roof over my head and I'll be ok, short term.

Hope the question isn't too vague. I've come up for air after a long night and was asking myself this question, and wondered if anyone had any feedback.

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asked Oct 12 '11 at 04:29
128 points

3 Answers


JFW, this is a tough question. Actually, I just went through the same thing, though my project is based locally, not solely virtual.

I know how you're feeling. A few months ago, I quit my job and told myself that I was 'going for it'. Things were great and fun in the beginning. I was working hard, scheduling everything and making a lot of headway.

However, a few months into the project I began running out of money. I had entirely minimized my lifestyle, selling my vehicle, cooking meager meals at home, and I think I went out for a beer with friends only two times in the three month period (which I felt guilty about). When I realized I only had a month left, my emotional matrix began collapsing. Had I failed? Was I not meant to fulfill this project? I knew I needed to start making money (aka find a job), but some days I just found myself watching start-up videos, listening to audio-books, and living vicariously through my idols.

Recently, I found a job at a local coffee shop. It's actually a lot cooler than I thought it would be. Also, it feels relieving to be working again and not have to worry about money. Now, I just have to manage my time and energy in order to continue working on my project.

Moral of the story: Take clients as you need to. Whatever you need to sustain a minimal lifestyle, but I would not suggest, based on my experience, stopping altogether. It's a fanciful idea and it feels awesome in the beginning, but when reality catches up with you, it will be very very humbling.

That being said, I think it's important to learn lessons from a primary perspective. I fully support you making a go of it (hey, you might succeed), realizing you need money again, and going back to taking clients. Then you'll find balance.

In the end, I don't think it's a 50/50 thing. No, I think you could go with 80/20. Focus on your project.

answered Oct 12 '11 at 06:04
Ryan Chatterton
921 points
  • Thanks so much Ryan. Much appreciated. I think a coffee shop sounds WONDERFUL compared to putting on a costume and repeating company slogans during breakouts at corporate meetings. Hope your venture is going well man. – Jw60660 12 years ago
  • Ha ha, ya it's pretty fun there. And I think it sounds better too. Also just got a second job at a bar. Great industry to make a lot of money for little time. – Ryan Chatterton 12 years ago


JFW, I like Ryan's response. I want to add from a different angle too. I too recently quit my (well paying!) job to start something of my own. The upside is very high and of course the market risk is high too. I thought I'd not think much about the cash flow because a) I have saved and will be able to go on for 1-2 years without any income and b) my wife has a well paying job for financially stability. Obviously you downgrade your brands/habits etc but at times I even feel guilty about a $6 sandwich!

My point is that you'll probably be affected mentally too; where it could be a nuisance(best case) to outright stress that distracts you and breaks your drive from your actual project. I too suggest a 80/20 or 70/30 time split (weighted more on your project). Once you're not worried about the cash flow, you'll likely make better business decisions. Also, market acceptance is usually 2x to 4x the time that's in your (=visionary) head.

If you've got only 2 more weeks of development left, just go for it I say. Once the product launches, you'll have some more time (or at least flexibility) to take additional clients while marketing your launched product. So you'd pretty much be following what Ryan and I are saying. Beyond 2 weeks, say 2-6 months, I would choose the 70/30 track. But you're you! Either ways, all the very best and congratulations on the road so far!

answered Oct 12 '11 at 08:28
649 points
  • Sid thanks very much! – Jw60660 12 years ago


It really depends on how quickly you can monetize your project and what the sales cycle is for your normal clients, and finally how long can you go without revenue before you start considering selling blood plasma for Ramen. I'm going to assume you've already done the analysis to determine if your time invested in the project is going to produce sufficient returns for the time invested (including lost cash flows from alternative projects).

The first question (how long until revenue shows up from the project) is likely hard to answer, and usually takes longer than anyone anticipates, especially if it is a new product/service/whatever that requires development of customer awareness and education. So you're going to have to go back to the clients to backfill revenues while you're working on marketing the new project. Assuming that your timeline is correct (Mr. Murphy has a law about this), you should have an idea of how long it takes to turn a client lead into a client job into more revenues in your bank account (the length of the sales cycle). Using this sales cycle info plus the project timeline plus padding, is this a comfortable length of time for you to go without cash flows? Now double it, because you actually need to have a comfortable margin and everything always takes longer.

Beyond these logistical issues, ask if there is a benefit to slogging so hard on the project. Is there some compelling reason why it has to be done quickly? Certainly it helps to be able to dedicate decent sized chunks of time to a new project in order to sustain momentum, but unless there is an insanely urgent reason why this must be done NOW, it is often beneficial to task-switch and give your brain a chance to process problems in the background. Studies show that we are more prone to mistakes, and less efficient when working crazy long hours. In fact, there is a turnover point where mistakes and lost productivity give you diminishing returns at some point (this varies from case to case), so try to judge when you've hit this point.

answered Oct 12 '11 at 05:56
431 points
  • I totally considered the blood plasma thing. Never went there though. Ha ha!!!! – Ryan Chatterton 12 years ago
  • Thanks very much tt. You're right about brain overload. I do try to switch tasks, there are many in this project. – Jw60660 12 years ago

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