Welcome to the very first Overemployed Day on September 13th, a week after Labor Day. Thanks to the Pandemic, we finally had the chance to re-examine our relationship with work. As a result, the Great Unplugging is happening. Let’s spend this week reflecting on the history behind Labor Day, dispel some assumptions about being Overemployed, and philosophizing on The Overemployed Way – a manifesto on life and work.
The future of knowledge work is to earn sustainably and live a rich life in body, mind, and spirit. To this end, the core mission here at Overemployed is to spread the message of The Overemployed Way – a way of living that runs counter to the overworked culture most will have you believe in. It’s time to take the red pill and unplug from the Matrix.
The Sad Truth About Labor Day
In the summer of 1894, federal agents were dispatched to break up the Pullman railway cars strike, resulting in the death of a dozen workers protesting poor working conditions. Shortly after, Labor Day was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland on June 28, 1894, as an effort to conciliate the bad blood. The Industrial Revolution sparked unprecedented exploitation – the average American worked 12-hour days and seven days a week just to make a living. Additionally, laws were circumvented to employed children as young as five to six years old in mills, factories, and mines. The shift from farm work to industrial work exacted a terrible toll on humanity in the name of progress. One should question why we still think we need to work a 40-hour workweek.
When The Rules Don’t Apply To Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and Other Big Tech Companies
Fast forward to today, if the FBI was called on to break up the recent protest at Apple about workers’ rights, how would you feel? Instead, big tech companies are way more sly – their teams of lawyers work around the labor laws to tack on non-competes and dispute arbitrations onto at-will employment contracts. Some even go so far as to discourage workers from additional employment through scare-tactics policies like code of conduct and ethics or conflict of interests. Mind you, these are company policies – not laws. The Overemployed Way is to challenge these anti-competitive labor practices.
Check out When Rules Don’t Apply to big tech companies – a website required by an anti-labor class action settlement in which the US Department of Justice won on behalf of tech workers. Coincidentally, the When Rules Don’t Apply website is rather hard to find – makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
The Overemployed Way is to play by the rules set by governing laws and to live a better life with your family in mind. Keep your guard up against corporate malfeasance. Go vote and let your voice be heard. Here’s a short clip protecting the freedom of labor. Let this video below burn into your mind about corporate hypocrisy when someone argues how Overemployed is unethical or illegal, which it is neither.
Work and Think Like A Family Inc.
Nowadays at-will employment contracts read like business-to-business contracts. While these contract addenda are legal (formed by well-paid corporate legal minds), they aren’t entirely enforceable (hard to proof). They’re more like paper tigers. The Overemployed Way is to push that legal limit right back at the other side. Hence why we consulted our own employment lawyers and wrote why it’s legal to work multiple remote jobs.
Therefore, you and your (future) spouse should start thinking about your collect labor as a family business, harkening back to pre-Industrial Evolution craftsmen. Like craftsmen who sold to multiple buyers, the knowledge workers today can avoid layoffs and financial ruin by selling their knowledge to multiple employers and businesses.
Why not diversify your income streams like Apple does selling not just iPhones but also Apple Watches, Airpods, iCloud Services, App Store, and more. Warning: don’t get crazy ideas like employing your children in the family business – their days will come. Instead, school them on the knowledge they’ll need to live The Overemployed Way. Honestly, let kids be kids, please (no kidding, this idea has come up in our Discord, e.g. let kids reply to emails or Slack messages 🤦♂️🤦♀️).
Refuting Some Assumptions About The Overemployed Way
1) You have to overwork to make double income
👎 Old school manufacturing thinking. While I understand why – our schools excel at producing manufacturing minds – the tech knowledge worker doesn’t have to overwork to double his or her income. Your knowledge and skills alone, in a free-ish market, command the income you deserve. Not your timed output. A single brilliant line of code could have a 100x revenue impact. Think about that for a minute. In this non-linear, asymmetrical world, more effort does not translate to greater output. What’s the saying…work smarter, not harder?
2) Exempt salary employees are required to work 40 hours per week
👎 Let’s start by noting why the 40-hour rule exists and its relation to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The 40-hour rule applies to non-exempt (from FLSA) workers, mainly hourly wage workers. This is to protect non-exempt workers from being taken advantage of with overtime. Sounds familiar to what happened during the Industrial Revolution?
Today’s tech companies are global. A vast majority of tech workers are exempt from FLSA protections. Exempt employees are given a salary and expected to finish the tasks required of them, whether it takes 30 hours or 50. So if you want to work 24/7/365 around the clock, I can guarantee you it’ll make your employer very happy.
Also, in our experience, we’ve never seen an exempt employment contract explicitly stating the hours you must work. Instead, it’s understood that the fiduciary duties of an employee are to meet employer expectations (whatever they might be), namely, be available by phone, email, or text during work hours, as required. For the exempt knowledge worker, “work hours” aren’t defined anywhere in employment contracts, ever. If you find one, please let me know. I’d love to see it because that means the employer is willing to cap your salaried hours explicitly to 40-hours. We all know how that’s not true, and why overworking is a problem. The Overemployed Way is to average out all the overworking by underworking and earning sustainably.
Bottomline: companies pay for your knowledge and availability to solve their problems, not to make “x” number of widgets in “y” number of hours. Go build your knowledge and earn sustainably for a life that suits you.
Living A “Rich” Life: Reflecting On Desires And What’s Matter Most – Then Priotize Sustainability Over Overachieving (Time Matters)
Here’s where we start to get real deep. We start by acknowledging time is the most valuable and unreplenishable resource we own. If you say yes to something, you’re implicitly saying no to other things. Therefore, in an 80-year lifespan, that means we’re slowly dwindling down our 4000 weeks of time. Now think about that for a second. We’re asking you to live your life like you’ve less than 4000 weeks left.
Determining Mimetic Desires Versus Deeply Rooted Desires
On Overemployed Day weekend, I was listening to Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast and got blown away by this episode.
TL&DR: Don’t play “keeping up with the Jones,” set your own pace in the solo race of life, and create a system of regular sabbaticals to reflect deeply about your thin and thick desires and who may be influencing you. Get rid of the bad apples in your life, if need be. Chances are, you’re reading about The Overemployed Way is because the status quo is no longer cutting it – you need a change. Start with reading (or listening) Luke Burgis’s Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.
Prioritize And Achieve Your Highest Net Present Quality of Life (NPQOL)
Now that you’ve identified what matters most, the Overemployed Way uses NPQOL to prioritize activities that allow a rich and wonderful life, separating you from trivial activities that suck your time and happiness away.
Let me briefly explain NPQOL (not surprisingly, it’s a concept I borrowed from finance where I used to work). To understand NPQOL, it’s important to, again, think in time – the idea that we only have 4000 weeks in an 80-year life. While NPQOL is a bit hazy in measurement, it’s nonetheless a useful tool to gauge if we’re living a rich life. It’s the idea that every time tradeoff decision we make will either contribute or deduct from our NPQOL. The higher the subjective score, the richer your life is at that particular moment in time.
But beware of its shortfalls. Since NPQOL is a long-term average, it does a good job at hiding acute negative quality of life. More on earn more by doing less at the end.
Putting NPQOL into Action
Here’s a concrete example to demonstrate NPQOL thinking. As a young professional, a friend reached out to see if I can give her a mock interview. I can 1) politely decline and say I’m busy (when in reality, I just wanted to play some video games for a couple of hours), or 2) spend a couple of hours mock interviewing her and help her land a job. The cost of this decision is a couple of hours either way. Which activity do you think will contribute most to a higher NPQOL ten years from now?
Admittedly, I’ve oversimplifying. But having played a lot of video games in life, I can unequivocally say it was a big waste of time. It might not have seemed that way at the moment, but all the house I had spent playing video games meant I didn’t do much of anything else. These hours are gone, likely contributing none to my NPQOL. Yet, by helping a friend, what if she’d become my spouse for the next 60 years? Now NPQOL is way, way up! Sigh, if we only know the future. The friend could also get the job and then promptly forgotten about me. In that case, NPQOL would even be slightly negative since I might have gotten a quick dopamine hit from playing video games or go on to get inspired about starting a business. Now I know, that’s crazy talk!
Circling back to the concept. I’ll admit NPQOL can be a bit hazy and uncertain since no one knows the future. But it’s the best yardstick we’ve to put some discipline around relative time trade-offs. The Overemployed should think in NPQOL – it’s the secret time-trading weapon.
Sustainably Achieve Over Burnout and Overworking
Don’t be Boxer, the hardworking but naive cart horse from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and the farm’s most dedicated and loyal laborer. He believed, falsely, that any problem can be solved by him working harder. That’s until he collapsed from overworking and was sent to the slaughterhouse instead of the veterinarian. If this cautionary tale wasn’t enough, then just listen to the first six minutes of Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most by Greg McKeown. This is why Overemployed runs counter to all the hype out there about working harder but not smarter.
The Overemployed Way is “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” borrowing a phrase from the military in teaching recruits how to systematically draw and aim a weapon. This could apply to almost anything in life, like launching a tech product or performing CPR on a child. Slow down, remember your training, and follow the process. Trust the process you’ve built for yourself. The Overemployed Way is to focus on improving your processes to drive behavior changes. We’ll say it again, system win championships. Have a system.
My personal system for decision-making and time management is NPQOL. If working three remote jobs simultaneously means I’m trading my present quality of life in hope of a better future quality of life, then I’d do it. However, I’d be very cautious about trading down my quality of life since it could get very sticky, e.g. locked in by potential lifestyle creep. So once you go down this rabbit hole, you might not be able to get out. Buyer beware. For me personally, I rather go the route of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” by sustainably 2x while enjoying life’s every moment along the way.
The Overemployed Way – Key Takeaways
1) Labor Day was created because of overworking. Overemployed Day got created today because of overworking. With the productivity gains over the last century, why do we still need to maintain the notion of a 40-hour workweek?
2) Tech companies cheat. They make plans behind the scenes to keep your wages low and lay you off when it’s convenient to them. So, you should operate and treat your work life as a Family Inc.
3) Just say no to overworking, at least over the long-term because of its negative impact on net present quality of life (NPQOL). The Overemployed Way is to work smart and sustainably with two or more remote jobs in 40 hours or less, preferably 20-25 hours a week.
4) Deeply understand your desires and separate deep ones from shallow ones. This will help you prioritize time and life.
5) Model your life like you’ve only 4000 weeks in an 80-year life because it’s really true, and time is ticking. What would you want to do if you’re already at half-life?
Any feedback and additional wisdom are always welcome. Please comment below. Welcome to Overemployed Day and living the Overemployed Way. Take the red pill.
What I want to know is how to work two jobs in today’s Agile-happy workplace where close to half your day is eaten up by meetings?
Don’t go to BS meetings — when you 2x, you just decline them and ask why am I needed. Thinking meetings = agile is a bastardization of agile. Wherever you’re at, the org design needs to get an update to adapt to remote work.
Do you have any recommendations for non-tech workers?
Hi Roger – the general concept of the Overemployed Way applies to any multiple remote work or clients situation, in or outside of tech.
I just got fired from the 2 firms I was working for. Any thoughts on a good attorney?
First, very sorry to hear that. Where are you based? Any additional context of what you did and how the firing happened would help. Feel free to email me directly.
Agree with this 100%
Optimise life to what you want, rather what you are told to want.