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How To Survive A Death March

I suspect that everyone reading this has worked truly insane hours at one time or another. And you've probably suffered the consequences.

So as my first post for Charlie's blog, here's something slightly different: a survival guide to working insane hours, based on many years in the film industry watching dawn break from my chair in the edit suite.

Whilst I've been thinking about topics for guest-posting, I've spent some time considering what writers like Charlie and moviemakers like me have in common. And one thing that sprang to mind immediately was the ubiquitous death march. I've seen Charlie go through more than a few 10,000 word a day writing sprints, and I've pulled some pretty manic stunts on that line myself.

I'd say I recall staying up for more than 72 hours to finish the trailer for my first film. However, that would be a lie, because by the end I was so exhausted all that's left in my memory is a rather Hunter S. Thompson-esque dream sequence.

The trailer was bloody terrible, too.

Since then, I've ended up in the hundred-hour work week club at least once a year for various things. It's not necessarily a very good idea (although death marches, used judiciously, do work) but it's a situation a lot of us end up in.

And right at the moment, I personally know at least three readers of this blog who are doing massive death marches on individual projects. That includes me, as I rush to finish the biggest project of my career. (More on that in a day or so.)

So I thought I'd share some tips I've picked up over the years of injudicious working hours...

Should You Death March In The First Place?

Long term, death marches don't give you more productive time.

This has been proved time and time again, notably in "Peopleware". Few people can profitably work more than 40 hours a week for any length of time.

(Personally, I've observed that amongst people who genuinely find their work relaxing and enjoyable, that number is sometimes a bit higher, but even amongst them it peaks at around 60 hours max.)

If you work more time than your comfortable maximum and keep doing it, your productivity will drop and keep dropping. Quite rapidly, you will become less productive than you would be if you worked 40 hours. Working 80 hours a week for a year might feel productive, but you'll be getting less done than if you worked 30.

(This is probably a good reason not to buy shares in the computer games industry.)

So what's a death march good for?

A death march lets you steal time.

You can't work 80 hours for the next three months and double your productivity.

But you can work 80 hours a week for the next three weeks and double what you get done - provided you're willing to accept that in the three weeks after that, your output will be functionally identical to that of a lightly-reheated blancmange.

If you have a deadline three weeks and a day away, that's sometimes a good trade.

If You're Death Marching, You Are An Athlete

For years, whenever I death-marched, I'd ignore health. During the release window of my first feature film, I cancelled all my exercise classes and ate, essentially, sugar. I figured I could pick things up after my life had calmed down.

Rule #2 of Death Marches: that dog don't hunt. In fact, it fails to hunt to such an extent that it joins the anti-hunting protesters, graffitis the local gentry's Land Rover, and spends the next three years resurfacing local roads as part of its court-imposed community service.

If you're doing a death march, congratulations: you're an athlete. You're deliberately choosing an activity which will push your body beyond its normal endurance limits. As anyone who has suffered with a repetitive strain injury can tell you, sitting in a chair typing for 14 hours a day puts a real physical strain on your muscles, tendons, nervous system, hormonal balance, and circulation, just like any other challenging physical activity.

Deciding that you'll worry about your health later is a bit like a marathon runner deciding that he'll stop for oranges and water after he's finished the race.

In fact, if you're doing a death march, you should increase all of your health-related activities appropriately to the fact you're effectively participating in an endurance sport. Take ten minutes at the start of the day to stretch - here are some good ones to start with. Definitely don't skip whatever regular exercise you do - in fact, aim to increase it if at all possible, preferably in a way that will be very hard for you to get out of later. (Personal training sessions are great if you can afford them.)

It's worth spending money on this if you possibly can: personal care during a death march is one of those areas where small quantities of money can have extremely high utility value.

You can spend it on stuff that will support or repair your muscles and skeleton: Pilates or yoga if you're willing to give those a go, deep tissue massage, myofascial massage. If all else fails, book a session with a private physiotherapist and say "I'm about to work a hundred hours a week for a month. Please stop me falling apart.". (I've done this. It works.)

As previously mentioned, personal training sessions are also good.

You can also support yourself by buying good food that won't make you ill. Increasing your weekly food budget by 50% and buying in things that are quick to prepare, healthy, and you enjoy can prevent the Sugar Spiral Of Doom. I tend to find this works particularly well if you buy yourself all the treats you usually feel you can't afford: steak, asparagus, really high-quality ready meals from Whole Foods, whatever.

In this death march I've been careful to prioritise my health, and the results are already very obvious. The Pilates lesson I took last week, for example, dealt with half a dozen niggling aches which past experience suggests would have by now been fighting for the title of "crippling".

The Annoying Truth: Meditation Works

If you read anything even tangentially associated with productivity, chances are you've become well and truly fed up with all the articles about meditation. It's scientifically proven! Famous people do it and it works! That smug-looking guy from the famous lifestyle blog does it for an hour a day before writing his blog posts in his minimalist office sitting in the lotus position!

Well, here's the terrible truth of all this: people keep going on about bloody meditation because it bloody works.

As you may have gathered, meditation is not exactly my favourite activity. It's boring, it's difficult, and it slightly freaks me out. Nonetheless, in a death march it's my best friend. If you're doing a death march, there's a good chance that you a) have enough priorities simultaneously clamouring for your attention to completely paralyse you and b) have at least one thing on your mind that's stressing the living crap out of you.

Meditation essentially functions as a reboot for the brain. It stops the processes that are eating all your memory, kills the background task that's unhelpfully eating your CPU cycles with endless repetitions of "what if", and lets you re-instantiate only the processes that you actually need to Get Stuff Done.

Even five minutes a day makes a phenomenal difference when you're pushing the death march envelope. Concentrate on your breathing, do a body scan, repeat a mantra or visualise an image, whatever. It's an astonishingly effective way to counteract the buildup of death march stress and cruft.

In fact, I should go and do 5 minutes of meditation now.

The Only Reliable Way To Take Breaks

"Take breaks" is pretty obvious advice. Unfortunately it's also pretty useless.

If you're doing a death march, there's a good chance you're really into what you're doing. You're in flow. And when you're in flow, hours can pass like minutes.

For your body, those hours still feel like hours. Hours of shallow breathing, insufficient blinking, repetitive micromovements, and static posture. Hours for muscles to get over-strained, spasm, be supported by other muscles which then also go into spasm, and so on.

And then you get up to make a coffee, bend down injudiciously, and everything goes twang. And not in a fun way.

I've only ever found one solution to this, and it sucks. Get yourself a program - here's the one I use - that forces you to take breaks on a regular interval. 30 minutes is good (as recommended by the Pomodoro Technique people). Make sure there is no way you can possibly stop it from doing its thing: disable all "postpone" buttons. And then let it run, and prepare to hate it with a blazing fury.

Being interrupted every half hour will feel hideous. But after a week, you'll notice the effects. And after a month, you'll still be able to stand up straight without screaming. And interestingly, despite how it may feel, there's evidence that it improves your focus too.

That's half the equation. The other half is what you do with your breaks.

In previous death marches, I've tried to keep up a stretching routine, but only once a day. That works, but what I've found to be supremely effective this time around is making sure to use each and every one of my five-minute breaks to perform a couple of stretches.

And I'm incredibly impressed by the results. Let's put it this way: I've been working 12-14 hours a day for all of the past month, some of it in pretty stressful conditions. Under normal circumstances, I'd expect to be a physical wreck by now. Instead, my flexibility is actually improving - I've been able to shake a nasty mid-back spasm without it slowing me down.

Of course, it helps to know what stretches to do. Personally, I'd recommend stretching your neck, shoulders, lats, and general spinal area: I linked a few good basic stretches above, but if you possibly can I'd recommend getting a couple of sessions with a competent physiotherapist or Pilates trainer. It's also very worth investing in a good book on trigger point therapy - here's one - and doing some trigger point massage in your breaks as well.

And that's it!

So far, touch wood, I'm managing to survive my current death march - but I'd be very interested to hear any other tips you have, so please feel free to drop 'em in below.

I shall be back on Tuesday and Wednesday, talking about the Future and Technology, and specifically the past, present, and future of virtual filmmaking and Machinima!

71 Comments

1:

Thank you. I think this ought to be there in every 'How To' manual there is.

One addendum: you can get away with stuff when you're young that you really can't when you're older (which is why the traditional game companies used to go for young coders, as they had the stamina). Many years back, my daily schedule was 14 hours work, 4 hours eating/reading/whatever and 10 hours sleeping. Yes, that's more than 24 hours in a day: I had a 28 hour cycle, which fits neatly 6 times in a standard 168 hour week.

I couldn't do it now. And even if I could, the last time I was doing it, my cats got pissed off and walked out on me after a year or two, and these days I have not just cats but a wife. And a life.

2:

It's also important to convey the limited-time and time-trade aspects to your employer if they insist on a death march. "If I do this, it will be for at most 3 weeks, and I'll need a week or so of vacation right afterwards. Deal or no deal?"

3:

Right now, I am on my eighth consecutive working day. (Prior to that I had three days off, for visiting relatives -- before that, six consecutive days.)

I can't pull all-nighters, but I can put in multiple weeks of writing >2,000 words per day of finished prose.

(2-3 more days and I can relax, because I'm 3-4 scenes from the end of the current novel.)

The exercise thing, I should note, does indeed get more urgent with age. During the past two months' death march, I've made a point of starting each day with a bowl of porridge (slow carbs) then hitting the gym and swimming half a kilometre non-stop breast stroke. That gives me about 20 minutes of resistance exercise with an increased heart rate every day. (Days off are allowed if I'm running a head-cold, or my right knee is acting up -- there is no point exercising to the point of damaging yourself.) The consequence of this is that, whereas in previous similar work surges I've felt like death at the end, I'm actually feeling quite healthy right now (physically fit, lots of energy, weight at a seven year low).

4:

@Bellinghman - That's definitely true! Although I've found that my ability to work very long hours has actually increased over the last six years or so, from a low point when I was about 30. I suspect that has a lot to do with some serious focus on lifestyle changes (diet and exercise both), a wonderful SO, and major improvements in my work life, though.

@brainonfire - Yes, I'd agree. I can't speak to the employment aspects of death-marching so much, as I've been self-employed for more than a decade now, but that seems very sensible.

5:

@Charlie - Damn, I knew I'd forgotten to mention something! Thanks for pointing that out - slow-carb meals are fantastic for death marching. Anything to avoid sugar rushes and crashes.

6:

BTW, interesting discussion on this post is also happening over at Hacker News:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7084747

I really feel bad for anyone who's stuck in some of the workplaces commenters are describing there. It's hard to stay healthy when looking like you're unwell is a primary indicator of Enough Commitment To The Cause.

7:

Ello! I'm an Sfx technician in the film industry and find the death march is impossible to maintain for more then a couple of weeks, however as the wrap day looms ever nearer the days actually get longer and harder and busier. Being Sfx means I end up doing ALOT of manual labour, which for a 10st girl is fine and all but, y'know, I have to work out to make sure I'm physically strong enough to do my job, unfortunately, with the job also comes a lot of guys who have been doing it for 4 times as long as me and if you can't work and keep up with them, well the hard worked for reputation of being a good worker and reliable quickly gets forgotten.
I'm all for the death march I'm a maker at heart and I love it I really do love my job, but a film industry death march is 1000 times worse then you're regular death march... I feel to be able to run the death march in the film industry makes us more then just athletes... But makes us world champion death marchers.

Thankyou for this 'how to' I shall be following it to the letter on my next production, I hope !

8:

Hi Hugh - and welcome!

Very good tips - I've used many of these myself.

One item I'd add to your list is a circulation booster. I tried one several years ago when nothing else was working on a very bad back. Figured what have I to lose at this point ... and it worked and I still use it every once in a while. In fact, there's a new, smaller/portable (for business travel) version that I'm considering (Revitive). The flip side of this also applies: avoid any device that in any way restricts blood flow, especially those so-called ergonomically designed mouse/wrist rests.

Another thing you might consider is upping some of your vitamins and supplements ... calcium and magnesium to help reduce leg/foot cramps, which combined with Vit D may help you to fall asleep better once you've finished your project and need to de-stress.

Lastly, try some HIIT after the stretching. As per Wikipedia, high-intensity interval training ... is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Although the usual HIIT sessions may vary from 4–30 minutes, all you need are sustained 30-45 second bursts of the HIIT. The benefits have been scientifically documented ... improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning. Running at your fastest speed between your parked car and your home/office, up and down stairs, stationary cycling, or jumping jacks all qualify.... as long as your heart rate goes up high enough. Your targeted maximum heart rate in beats per minutes is based on how old you are -- it's 220 minus your age. For most people, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a target heart rate while exercising of 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. For HIIT, it should hit 85% but for only a short time.

Below is the url of an article about how exercise boosts cognitive function ...
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131010204803.htm

9:

@SFReader - Interesting tips! I hadn't heard about circulation boosters: I shall check into them.

I heartily agree on the supplementation front - magnesium and Vitamin D in particular. I'm a bit cautious about supplementing Calcium because of the studies showing a link with heart problems, but I agree that keeping electrolytes balanced is very important in minimising cramps. It's worth considering Potassium and even Sodium intake there, too - it's hard to screw up your sodium intake, but if you're cooking most of your food from scratch it's doable. (Said he from experience...)

HIIT: I've been doing chin-ups. There's a particularly fantastic doorway chinup bar available from Amazon which doesn't require any permanent attachment to the doorframe, which along with my punchbag provides most of my in-office exercise needs...

@nicmods - I'm very glad I'm on the CGI end of the film industry! I agree, whilst sedentary death marches are tough, they're nothing compared to major manual labour-based death marches.

10:

A session with a private physiotherapist isn't cheap. It's worth it for someone who's going to be glued to a chair for a death march. I say this as someone with a bad case of day job induced RSI who thinks that the amount I've paid to a physio over the last 16 months has probably allowed me to keep working full-time at said day job, rather than have to go part-time. (Yes, I'm paying for it. No, I don't need the stress involved in suing my employer to make them pay for it, even if I'd almost certainly win.)

Even one session, to get some advice on how not to break yourself, is good. A weekly session during the death march is something I can recommend from unfortunate personal experience.

11:

Vitamin D increases calcium uptake from your normal diet.

12:

I think the thing that doesn't get mentioned often enough is the time trade aspects, not just against future weeks but against your personal life and weekends. If you end up putting in a long week then you probably won't get much in the way of domestic stuff done over the weekend even if you have nothing else to do. If you continue this for a while (long weeks plus crashing at the weekend is surprisingly sustainable on a physical level) then your domestic life can very quickly go to shit.

13:

Deathmarches: done a few, and they're the reason I prefer tactical development on the trading floor to cubicle slavery.

But you do get them, sometimes. Breaks are important: so, too, is task tracking. Every project has discrete small tasks, some deferable, others that are deferred and shouldn't be - often because they are easy, and this somehow makes them unimportant.

Inject a small task into every day. Save a 'bank' small deferrables for the day when the big stuff just isn't working... But move them up the stack if they keep on getting deferred.

Yes, I exercise, and meditate, and practice breathing, stretching, and muscle-relaxation exercises: Ki-Aikido teached a structured syllabus of these phusical and mental exercises and I'd be interested if there are comparable systems out there.

Also: the Big Picture is important with death marches. Is there an objective? Really? Or is this how your managerial mediocrities release new versions / books / quarterly figures as a matter of regular business practice? Bail out pf a hell-hole like that.

Sit down and ask why this is a death march: did someone screw up an estimate? Should you be recruiting your way out of a key skills shortage. Ask a manager - if the answer is angry bluster and threats, or talk of disloyalty, 'not a good fit for the team', or 'you signed up for this, bail out.

If you feel that it's career suicide to ask at all, bail.

And if you recognise a death spiral - staff leaving or burning out, panicking managers making it even harder to get stuff done, or blame being allocated ahead of the deadlines, Bail. And get the word out to your agent, and among your professional network - be they the local Perl Mongers, your golf club, or Twitter.


Hopefully *this* comment doesn't derail us into steampunk.

14:

If by 'domestic' you mean relationships - agree. If you mean chores ... I've managed a few HIIT bursts from 'power' vacuuming/mopping, snow shoveling, mowing, etc. On a couple of occasions the laundry piled up and my trade off was sitting by my own washer and dryer or going to the local laundromat. Decided that getting the laundry out of the way in under 2 hours (vs. the whole day) was worth it. Plus I got to rest/divert myself with the magazines and local daytime TV provided.

15:

@duncan - Yeah, that's a very good point. In fact, there was an article on the subject on Hacker News just today - a CEO lamenting what years of crunching had done to his marriage.

Another reason to make sure that crunch times are short and infrequent!

@julesjones - In Edinburgh, a private physio's appointment runs to about £45, with repeat appointments being about £35. As you say, definitely worth it to keep your working life ticking over. (And much sympathy for the RSI - I struggled with it for years, and it was bloody horrible.)

16:

I struggle to manage five to seven hours a day of productive time. It's one of the reasons I can no longer maintain a full time job, but that's rheumatoid arthritis for you. Back when I was young and foolish I often did lots of hours, but that is a memory.

I have to pace myself now, otherwise it means a relapse of the rheumatoid arthritis, and going back on lots of drugs. How did I get like this? Working seventeen years in the NHS and the associated stress.

So look after your health first.

17:

@HughHancock I'm paying £45 for an hour every week or two, and it has been worth every penny.

18:

If your circumstances allow for it, and you haven't tried already, I'd suggest you give a serious shot at working on your feet — preferably not just standing in place.

Despite their discouraging Web2.0 cliché-d image, standing desks really make a difference, more so if you can afford to step away from yours without feeling too self-conscious about it.

The simple act of walking or shifting weight on your feet solves many blood circulation related problems, but beyond this obvious benefit, pacing seems to ease the unclogging of stuck ideas, much like having to explain or teach stuff does [the talking-to-self part remains optional and variably (in)advisable].

The best part is you don't have to be a bigot about standing or sitting : a good drafting chair/stool is no more expensive than a 'lowrider' deskchair of similar quality, and allows to sit down whenever you feel like it, or when sitting is more suited to a specific task.

I favor the drafting chair approach over variable-height desks primarily because of the seamless/instant transition between modes, but also for the larger selection of suitable desks it opens, and the fact I'd rather spend the same money on a better chair/keyboard/display than on an electric binder elevator [my lazy binders can take the stairs, a lot of good that'll do them].

ProTip : a standalone foot rest can be preferable when sitting, since ring-type foot rests aren't so great for circulation — I find a small wine crate laid on the side is the perfect height for me.

ProTip 2: if you find your chair drifts backwards too easily whilst resting your feet on a fore stand (and removing or firming the casters is not an option), a large doormat or cut of reasonably thick carpeting will do the trick.

19:

I was a farmer.

We don't talk about death marches. We call it harvest.

After two weeks, you start noticing things going wrong a little more often. Not breakdowns, but something like a slower reaction to a patch of different crop, and the table elevator bunging up. It's not just the evening damp.

And it doesn't stop when the harvest finishes. You have to cultivate the land for the next crop.

The one time I went to a Worldcon, I was knackered before I started. And I was still young in those days.

20:

When I had to do it, one of the critical mental tricks (at least for me) was dividing the task up into lots of little things. Enough to let me say regularly, "That thing's done," take a deep breath, and pick up the next thing.

21:

@Ashley - Ugh, that's horrible. I know someone with RA, and I see her struggle with the way it forces her to pace her life. Much sympathy.

@armchairdesigner - Interesting! I'm actually about to upgrade my current sit/stand setup (which is great, but only allows me one monitor - and I want three) - I'll definitely give some consideration to a drafting table. Are the ergonomics as good? I'd be concerned about not having your feet on the floor whilst sitting.

@zhochaka - That sounds brutal. Did you have any particular tricks to cope with the sudden, unrelenting need to work that hard? Or was it just a fact of life?

@Michael - Yes, definitely, agreed. I'd be going staringly mad right now without a carefully subdivided task list.

22:

My experience, first, is that you can trade extra time per day for length of the death march. I know my normal effective work limit by now; about 45 hours per week. I can do a hundred-hour week - as in one week, no more. But I can do well over two months of 60 hour weeks if I have to (that's how my thesis finally got done). The penalty time afterwards is about the same.

Second, regular light exercize is absolutely key, death march or not. I make a point of walking part of the way to and from work (about 6km in total). Also, as other commenters, I stand and work much of the day. A chair for the workstation desk, but laptop on a standing "desk" means I naturally switch between sitting and standing several times an hour. It has helped my back and shoulders tremendously.

I've heard about meditation now from several people whose judgement I normally trust. I do go to an empty meeting room and "zone out" for ten minutes from time to time. Might be time I formalized that and learned how to do it properly.

23:

I encountered an interesting bit of research on working long hours and decision making.

I believe the specific study was of parole boards in Israel. The result was that they were far more likely to grant parole in the morning, than in the late afternoon.

This was aligned with some other results in the same vein and the finding appears to be that tired people unconsciously avoid making decisions.

For a parole board paroling someone is a very strong decision with possible consequences, however not paroling is a far weaker decision because that case would just come up again in, I think in this specific situation, three months.

Apparently people will just avoid deciding things when they are tired. If forced to decide they will tend toward the weaker decision (the one that preserves options).

The implications for working long hours for managers where indecision tends to create work for multiple other people are pretty severe.


BTW I think the research says that you can't double your output over three weeks by working 80 hours a week (unless you are digging ditches under threat of punishment in which case overtime is very effective for a long time). Productivity goes over the cliff at around the end of the second week, but is already down some after the first week. During the third week you are seriously into diminishing returns. And most of the research is of more like 60 hour weeks, not 80. Effects are presumably more severe the more hours are worked.

I would imagine that people with extreme motivation might respond somewhat differently, but it is a much safer assumption that you are pretty normal than that immunity to overtime is your superpower.


Basically the evidence is that you can use overtime for about two weeks so that work is completed at the end of two weeks instead of three.

24:

Or make your work environment more exercise friendly. For example I bought a sit-stand desk from geekdesk.com a few months ago and find myself standing about 1/3 to 1/2 of my workday instead of sitting all the time. Now I'm setting up a treadmill with a workstation so I can walk while working (I find now that I can stand I really want to move around more). Even if I only do 30-60 minutes of walking a day while working that 30-60 minutes extra exercise I wouldn't have gotten before. None of us are getting any younger, time to start taking care of ourselves.

25:

Oh also metrics/data, there's a ton of sensor things in wristwatch/clip on form that will measure your step count/movement/sleep/etc all around $100. I've started on using one of these so I can collect data at least and start applying some methodology to my exercise/activity as well as tracking how well I sleep more objectively (better sleep is a good indication that you're getting the exercise you need/etc.). Speaking of which I'm gonna go hack ice off the driveway for another 20 minutes and level up in my fitness dashboard.

26:

Drink lots of water. If one is slightly elderly and overwhelmingly female, you *will* get up from the keyboard at periodic intervals. Well, it works for me...

27:

You don't necessarily need a drafting table : the key is the drafting chair.

There is plenty of choice of regular desks that can be readily upgraded to standing height by the simple replacement of legs/tresles or the addition of a small platform under the feet.
[For a long time, before I switched to a custom desk, I used an IKEA-type thing with built-in top shelves — merely had to assemble it with the main board set a few holes higher on the metal frame, no mods required.]

Ergonomics wise, any desk that works in standard height seating will work just as well standing, when 'raised'. The main change once you seat at standing height is you're just as comfortable standing or sitting.

As for the dangling feet issue, that's what the aforementioned vine crate is for. ;)

28:

"If you continue this for a while [...] then your domestic life can very quickly go to shit."

I'm in the computer gaming industry, so crazy work weeks here and there. This statement is spot on, and the key is to make your home run smoothly without you. For me that meant putting all my bills on auto pay and getting a maid that comes just frequently enough to keep the place from falling apart.

Set all this up when you're not death marching (it takes time to find good domestic help). As a bonus you'll have eliminated activities that suck your free time even when you're not crunching.

Also a while back I started a small computer game company and as an experiment my business partner and I had a full kitchen put in during the office build out. Full as in as nice as your house, with a fully functional stove. We were trying very specifically to combat the detrimental effects to our health when we were crunching. It worked better than either of us could have imagined...

For many of us there was this weird psychological pressure when crunching that we had to be at work first thing (usually because we're already running late, because we worked too late the night before...) so everybody would skip breakfast. But once at work it was psychologically acceptable to put off work for 20 minutes while you fix yourself an omelet and some coffee. People talked in the kitchen while cooking, so important work did get done. In fact the kitchen became the social center of the office (there were eight of us) for both breakfast and lunch, and even when not crunching it increased communication, health and morale.

Seriously, best business decision I ever made. Go figure.

29:

As luck would have it I read Ed Yourdan's book on how to survive death march projects before I fell into my first one. I'd recommend it as a survival guide for anyone out there in project land, and not just IT projects.

My thoughts are that to truly qualify as a Death March, you have to know the project is going to fail in a large and spectacular fashion and, despite that knowledge, you and your team members are forced by management to labor on and on. Less mission impossible and more hell fire pass.

30:

I've found being a specialist in Software Configuration Management and Build Automation is survivable in big corporations as a Consultant, but not as a regular employee. Managers need a financial disincentive not to stretch your hours even when the rest of the project is not on deathmarch (and God help you when there is an actual department deathmarch, if asking you to work odd hours plus be available to support the standard shifts doesn't cost them anything).

I'm not how this generalizes to other jobs.

On the other hand, last year I've found new killer work patterns involving travel time on top of the actual 40+ hours week. I'm going to need to watch that in my next few contracts.

31:

I'll go with the "keep fit" (but not over-fit) rule.
I weighed myself ysterday - 84kg, height 1.79m, same trouser size as when I was 30 ( & that was 38 years ago )
However, I don't think I've evr gone past 65 hrs in a week, & I don't think I oould do that ever again ....

Oh minor correction ... the "gentry" use RANGE rovers these days ... I'll stick with my old Land-Rover, complete with moss & lichens on it ....

32:

A word
Stakhanovite
[ CCCP ]

A name
John Henry
[ USSA ]

Be careful what you wish for.

33:

The key thing to remember here is that a deathmarch project is a failure of planning, or to put it simply, failure.

Specifically, it is a failure of management. They knew the constraints of how things ought to operate, and they screwed up. A deathmarch is a desperate last gasp to snatch a stalemate from the jaws of defeat. Once a blue moon is excusable, but regular deathmarches are an infallible sign of seriously crap management.

Good managers are a dream to work with. They make everything so much easier all round; crap ones are hell to work for and they never, ever get any better. If you have prima facie evidence that the management chain of a company is rubbish, then walk away before your sanity and health suffer; you're not being paid enough to sacrifice those for a company that will in all probability die a slow and painful death anyway.

34:

The forty hour working week had its origins in the union movement: it was based around giving people who had previously worked ten- to twelve-hour days in various jobs a balanced lifestyle. Eight hours work, eight hours rest, eight hours leisure each day (plus Saturdays and Sundays off as extra recovery time).

The thing which intrigues me these days is the workplace culture which has now grown up (particularly in IT related fields) where working extra hours is now regarded as a necessary part of the job. It isn't questioned, it isn't queried, it's just accepted as "one of those things you do" because if you don't do it, well, you're infinitely replaceable. I suspect this particular mindset got germinated during the great "downsizing" binges of the eighties and nineties, where the people employers would keep were the ones who were best at office politics, rather than necessarily being the best people at the actual jobs. They were the ones who'd be conspicuously performing overtime, or conspicuously being the "yes men" to the boss - and gradually workplace cultures warped around these particular examples, because the people who did these things were the people who kept their jobs, despite being less productive, despite being actively poor workers in some cases.

So now, nearly thirty years down the line, we're looking at workplace cultures in which the people who have been there the longest are the people who survived the purges of the eighties and nineties, and the managers who have been shaped by these employees - and these days, working regular overtime is regarded as a sign of "dedication" (rather than its previous label of "inefficiency") and sucking up to the boss and never contradicting them is expected as a normal behaviour (to the point where pointing out actual problems is regarded as being hideously negative and grounds for, at the very least, a bad mark on your annual report).

35:

which along with my punchbag provides most of my in-office exercise needs...

Mental or physical?

36:

John Henry

I'm from the US and it wasn't till I was in my30s that I found out what was meant by a "steel driving man".

Hammering holes into granite and such with a sledge hammer using a steel bit. 2 meters or so so the rock could be blasted. Typically deep in a tunnel. Many teams consisted of at least 3 people to with "tongs" to hold the steel bit and slightly rotate it between blogs and one or two to swing the sledges. In a rhythm 2 or 3 times a minute. And it would take a day or few per hole. 10 to 50 or more holes per blast.

Hard to imagine physical work that much more demanding.

Pneumatic drills/hammers put these guys out of business. Thank goodness.

37:

Oh well. Blogs should be blows

38:

Personally I like using a Spanish work schedule when I am able, ie start working around 7-7.30 in the morning, lunch at 12, then take it easy, go for a walk, maybe have a nap and then start working again around 3-4 pm and keep it up till around 8-10 depending on the work load.
With that kind of schedule I find it easier to work for more days (6-7 days a week) and since I get to spend som time outside around noon it doesnt feel so dreadful as it would have otherwise.

Some swedish companies have tried reducing work time to 6 hours without decreasing their output.


In the health care sector there are som studies relating to work load and end results. It's pretty well documented that psychologists results decrease if they have more than four appointments per day.

For emergency doctors both mortality rate and recovery time for the rest increases if the doctor makes more than nine admittations in the same 24 hour period.

More of those kind of studies in other fields would probably decrease the pressure for doing deathmarches in those fields as well.

39:

Anyone who WANTS to see what a death march is like, join a contractor to work on the ACA/Obamacare. Apparently while what the public sees as the web site is almost reasonable now the back ends are severely not done. The entire process of how the government will get calculate subsidies and generate payments to carriers is months behind schedule and (per government procurement notices) MUST be up and running by March or April or things can get dire.

Think about it. You're an insurance company collecting $100 per month from an individual with $300 a month due from the government. And the government can't pay you for a 3 to 6 months. Multiple this by 10,000. They are looking into un-audited and/or estimated payments but that means even more systems design work to back all of that out at some point.

Yes I'm ignoring that some folks think the ACA is a bad idea or that bankrupting insurance companies make some dance with glee.

40:

One addendum: you can get away with stuff when you're young that you really can't when you're older

At around age 30 my body basically said "it's over". I gained 20 pounds in a month and my productivity fell by 1/4 or more. Poof.

Many years back, my daily schedule was 14 hours work, 4 hours eating/reading/whatever and 10 hours sleeping. Yes, that's more than 24 hours in a day: I had a 28 hour cycle, which fits neatly 6 times in a standard 168 hour week. I couldn't do it now. And even if I could, the last time I was doing it, my cats got pissed off and walked out on me after a year or two, and these days I have not just cats but a wife. And a life.

Ditto. Except I think my body really wants the day to be 28 to 30 hours long. Almost 60 and still fighting this. If I sleep 8 hours I'm not ready for bed for about 20 hours. If I go to bed I have real trouble getting to sleep. If I cut my sleep back to 5 or 6 hours I tend to fit into a 24 hour cycle but get cranky after a few days.

One thing I did when my kids were growing up was to get up at 4 or 5 and work for a couple of hours (I work from home/self employed) then take them to school, then take a nap for an hour or so. Then I was good to stay up till 11 or 12 that night and start the cycle over again. But if I didn't get the nap, things got unpleasant many times.

As to death marches, back in the 80s when I was single and had a minimalist life style I would put in 80 to 100 hour weeks of hard core programming and get a LOT done then take off for a week or so of almost nothing or at least regular hours of just meeting and such. After one period of 2 or 3 months of these 80 or 100 hours weeks I was talking to my dad and he mentioned he needed to get his roof replaced. I asked why he just didn't do it. (He was a contractor as a part time job while I was growing up.) His comment was it was too much for just him. He would have been about 60 at the time. I told him if he would take a vacation week I'd fly down and do it with him. Turned out to be the hottest June in western KY in 20 years. 105F every day. So we re-roofed from 6 or 7 till 10, then from 4 to 8. Durring the middle of the day we put up a 6' high wood fence around the back of the yard.

My point? At the end of that week I felt great. I went back to my "job" of programming and was able to get back the flow and be very production at once. Sometimes the needed break doesn't mean not doing anything. It just means doing something totally different.

Now one thing that made this possible was it was a small software company where the president did most of the original programming and by the time this happened I was doing about 70% of it. And my relationship with him allowed me the flexibility to work my own hours and take off on almost no notice. Not a typical corp job.

42:

I'd agree that long-term death marches are a sign of a critical failing in management.

However, short-term crunch does happen.

You're running up to a hard-deadline launch and you want to do as much as you can for the project before it. An unexpected opportunity drops into your lap with a tight deadline - "conference X suddenly has a slot for us to demo not-quite-there-yet feature Y". As zhochaka says, you're a farmer and it's harvest time.

At that point, doing a few weeks of serious overtime, particularly if you're self-employed or otherwise highly invested in the project / company, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

If that starts to happen more than once or twice a year, though, or the "few weeks" become "few months", then that's not good, and as I mention in the post, also hurting rather than helping productivity.

43:

@David L - That's a great point. The old saying is "a change is as good as a rest", I believe.

I once took a week's holiday after a rather intense work period to install a new kitchen. It was great fun - one of the better holidays I've had in recent years.

@petterwr - That's something I didn't get into in the blog post for lack of time, but you're absolutely right: just as increasing your hours doesn't necessarily increase your output, the reverse is also true.

I've experimented with working 20 hours a week in the past, and for many tasks, my output sat at about 85% - 90% of my 40-hour level.

Mind you, it's more complicated than that. Task prioritisation becomes much more important, and much harder. Those 20 hours end up being more intense, and if you're working in a job where you have to do scary things, reducing to 20 hours means you'll be doing more scary things.

But it's definitely a point worth noting.

44:

My approach has always been to make sure that my desk takes note of all of those boringly, screamingly obvious, "VDU workstation assessment" courses that the better HR department insists on. I've spent time making sure that my chair fits, my desk fits, my monitor/keyboard fits, and my eyes are regularly tested. I've got a headset for my work telephone, and I use it. And I sit properly.

While I'm largely sedentary these days, I still cycle to work occasionally, and I have decent core stability thanks to a youth spent doing various activities that demanded it. As a result, I'm over 25 years into a career that involves at least 40 hours a week at a keyboard, and I've got no RSI problems or similar chronic issues.

One point for the other nearly-fifties out there: I recently made the move to variofocal glasses. I splashed out, and went for the expensive Zeiss glass; it's well worth it. According to the optician, many of the "oh, I just can't get used to variofocals" experiences come from lower-quality lenses - when it's your eyesight, don't skimp.

PS :) A good physioterrorist is the answer, now what was the question? :) On a serious note for Edinburgh residents, the university sports centre at the Pleasance hosts a world-class physio resource that is open to the public, called FASIC. No more expensive than the average physio, but with a very serious stamp of approval.

Oh minor correction ... the "gentry" use RANGE rovers these days ... I'll stick with my old Land-Rover, complete with moss & lichens on it

Slightly off-topic, but the "gentry" don't...

A Range Rover is bought to insulate you from the off-road environment; A Land Rover is bought so that you can work in the off-road environment.

For example: you can hose down the inside of a Landie to get the mud out, and it's assumed that you'll be wearing suitable outdoor clothes (hence the feeble heaters and lack of insulation) and don't want to take off your muddy jacket / trousers every time you enter or leave the vehicle.

All the "landed" types I've met, i.e. those with a chunk of Dorset or Argyllshire, own a Landie for the estate work. As a family car, they've generally got a Subaru Forester, and those Fiat Panda 4x4 were very popular in the 1980s...

The way to keep your large estate in the same family for several generations is to think long-term, and not waste money on "fashionable" vehicles. It's not as if they need to use their vehicle as a visible status symbol, is it? Leave that to those who earn their money elsewhere, and only visit the country at the weekend in their Morningside Tractor*...

* I nearly said "Chelsea Tractor", but I am an Edinburgh resident, after all...

45:

Except I doubt you'd want to have to hose out a Freelander or Discovery either. So really, unless your Landie is 30 or so years old, you're limited to the Defender (as it is now known).

46:

Modafinil

47:

You're right, I should have made it clear (brother-in-law has worked for Land Rover for a couple of decades now, I've got no excuse). I should have said "Land Rover Defender" (or "County", i.e. they put a radio/cassette in it). Generally covered in mud, smelling of dog, and not rusting because the bodywork is aluminium.

I like the LR Discovery - the first version wallowed like a barge, but they're much nicer these days. I meant "not a soft-roader like a Freelander or Evoque".

Having said that about Range Rovers, I still remember watching the 1970s film of Blashford-Snell driving Mk.1 Range Rovers from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including a lot of dodgy jungle bits in the middle.

48:

Correct
I only wash 3 parts of mine.
The windows
The lights
And, once a year, in Spring, I get underneath with a hose - because even "Defenders" [ 1996 110" 300Tdi County to be precise ] will rust in the chassis, if you let salt get to it long-term.
Needless to say, when I'm travelling along either Essex lanes/tracks or narrow London streets, when confronted with someone in a shiny BMW or Merc, they suddenly become much less aggressive drivers on approching my mud-spattered vehicle - I wonder why?
And yes, one has to actually brush the inside out, after too many loads of horse manure have been transported ...

49:

I just completed a death march of my own: in this case, 93,500 words of first-draft novel in 57 days. The last 9 of them worked consecutively.

(It's now awaiting debugging, steaming slightly as it cools.)

((It's the third novel I've drafted in 9 months. I'm not normally this prolific, honest!))

((Although, as book 2 of a tightly-coupled trilogy -- a single thousand page story in three volumes -- it could be argued that I've only written one-and-two-thirds novels in that time: one of them was simply extremely long.))

50:

Congrats! - Now go do some laps...

51:

This business of sitting puzzles me. Exercise when you need it for locomotion is useful, such as when chasing a mastodon. But it wears joints out, so surely it's perverse to need its side-effects when you don't need the exercise itself, such as when inventing a mastodon trap. So why has evolution built us to find thinking easier when we exercise?

I suspect someone is going to tell me that humans are evolved to tinker, so that the best way of inventing a mastodon trap is with the pieces in front of you. And that manipulating them is exercise. But there are problems whose pieces you can't tinker with, because they're non-physical. Such as when working out how to cajole the local deity to drive mastodons into your trap. It seems utterly pointless to need the side-effects of exercise when solving that kind of problem.

That said, I find it beneficial to walk or run for an hour or so each morning. It helps thoughts flow, especially when I have to write. The words and phrases that come to mind feel more convincing than those that I invent when sitting. On the four fine days that we have each year (I'm British), I run round Oxford for two hours or so, and that is relaxing.

As far as meditation goes, I've been using an art technique called blind drawing. This is where you look at a subject, concentrate on it, and draw without looking at your paper. Artists say that it increases your observation and helps develop your style. The other day, I did a 1½ hour session, drawing customers in my local Costa, and the concentration left me with an intense inner glow that lasted for the rest of the day. I don't know whether it would work if you don't want to learn to draw: it would be interesting to hear from people trying it solely as a mindfulness technique, rather than for art.

By the way, since one is not looking at the paper, blind drawings often look thoroughly mangled. Accuracy isn't the objective, so that doesn't matter at all. I've found that they become better with practice though, as I developed a sense of where my hand is on the paper. For anyone interested, the images from that session are at http://www.j-paine.org/dobbs/costa_blind_10_1_2014.zip . Warning: they're big.

52:

"So why has evolution built us to find thinking easier when we exercise?+

Oxygen -- our big evolved brains need/use about 25% of all O2 that our bodies get. The more O2 (up to a limit), the better our brains work. Some of the benefit of meditation is re-learning how to breathe correctly -- thus get more oxygen into our bodies/brains.

53:

"But it wears joints out"

It doesn't.

It CAN, but this isn't always a consequence of exercise. Too much exercise is bad for your joints. So is noexercise.

54:

I'm going to add something that sounds stupid but isn't:

Play frisbee with someone if you can find the space.

My problem for years now is very stiff neck and shoulder muscles, which first introduced themselves as a throat so tight I had trouble swallowing, due to long stretches of 1500 words/day writing.

Yes, I have to stretch (indeed, I need to stretch more than I do), but frisbee helps. We play with an Aerobie Skylighter, which has the advantage of having a couple of little LEDs in it, so we can play after dark.

The trick with frisbee is to use multiple throws (underhand, overhand, whatever), with both hands, and to do it for 20-30 minutes a day. All the different angles help stretch your shoulders and upper back in a bunch of different directions. It's also nice because you get instant feedback about how stiff you are from where the frisbee goes when you throw it. If you're like me and detest mindless repetitive exercise, chasing after the frisbee is definitely not repetitive, nor is throwing it every different way you can think of. Personally, I think accuracy is a better goal than distance, because distance tempts you to strain, while accuracy means you need to loosen up.

It's also not competitive, which makes it a useful destresser. In fact, it's so not stressful that I've noticed that people doing everything from teeth-gritting wind-sprints to boxing workouts tend to leave the park when we start playing. Apparently we're messing with their mood or something, even though we're nowhere near them. OTOH, kids follow us around if their parents let them, so it's all good as far as I'm concerned.

And yes, I've played frisbee in the snow. Why do you ask? Rain and wind are much bigger issues.

55:

I guess this might have something to do with alertness and maybe general circulation; adrenaline is wonderful, though somewhat tricky stuff, and most situations necessitating high alertness also involve some physical activity.

56:

I suspect it's about blood flow. You need the movements of your big muscles to move your blood back to your heart. When you're moving around, this naturally happens. When you're sitting, moving the blood back is harder. I suspect that's why people fidget.

57:

And then they say "deal", and death-march you for *four* weeks... then tell you, "you slipped up in the last week, so it's your fault we're behind schedule... we need two more weeks of this!"... and then a week later that gets extended another week, and then another... and then after 12 weeks, you drop of exhaustion and they just fire you and swap in a fresh horse.

58:

Ah yes the, 'if prisoners do not work, all rations will be cut by half' theory of management. Thats what I'd call a true death march.

The way I differentiate is to think of a four quadrant matrix, happiness with low to high on the vertical axis and chance of success low to high on the horizontal. If you're happy and there's a good chance of success then it's a mission (im)possible. Low happiness and low chance of success then it's a death march. If you're happy but the odds are way against you that's a kamikaze run (development projects) which can be fun.

59:

Heroism can be admirable, but its necessity is usually a symptom of poor planning. But if you must be heroic to get the work done, or (more likely) to keep your job irrespective of how inappropriate it were to getting the work done:


Less caffeine, more often. For me, weak black tea were best, 2oz once every two hours.

_Mild_ opiates for pain (twice death-marched with a tooth---not the same tooth both times---that had to be pulled, once with back-spasms ab initio).

Watch your blood glucose carefully if you're diabetic or pre-.

Catnap _before_ your head hits the keyboard.

Sex is iffy: can cheer you up, can wake you up, can screw-up your back royally, can put you to sleep.

Martial arts practice is good, but stick to basics and to forms you've internalised---give your neo-cortex a rest.

60:

It's now awaiting debugging, steaming slightly as it cools.
And, I said about the manure in the back of the Land-Rover ..... (!)
Very well done, thoug ... how long before you will / can afford to take a deep breath &start in on P3 ??
( Hint: Don't overdo it. )

61:

Hello,
I'm a translator and death marches are quite frequent. I know I'm making them happen and on balance I don't mind them, though at 45 they are getting shorter. Allnighters are becoming very infrequent.

I'd like to second the work standing up approach. It's a recent innovation for me. After spending literally years occasionally wondering about elevator desks or even a taller desk, one day about a month ago I made it happen: two large, sturdy cardboard boxes gaffataped together and covered with a cloth on top of my regular working desk. It works a treat. Improves circulation, alertness, focus and over the last 4 weeks or so it has eliminated back pain. It forces me to take more breaks (if only to walk around a few times in a circle or to fetch another coffee). Happy all round. My wife is a sensory integration therapist so we have quite a few odd bits of equipment lying around: I can work standing on a single-person see-saw, and when I'm watching video, I can even play around on the wobbly thing which only has a single point of contact with the ground. Balancing on that (for 10-15 seconds at a time, admittedly) appears to be excellent exercise.

62:

I'm a translator and death marches are quite frequent. I know I'm making them happen and on balance I don't mind them, though at 45 they are getting shorter. Allnighters are becoming very infrequent.

This relates to decisions about life and having children. I want to smack folks up side the head who talk about waiting till their 30s or 40s to have kids. For me it wasn't a conscious decision. I just didn't get married till I was 33. And guess what. An all nighter with a sick kid when you're in your late 30s or 40 is incredibly draining compared to when you are in your 20s.

63:

I've been freelancing for 20 years. I have six kids. I know what you mean. :)

But actually, speaking from experience, working all night while minding a sick kid was only easier in my twenties because all-nighters in general were easier. As my fondness for extreme bouts of self-inflicted heroism waned, I honed my planning skills... a little bit.

64:

"Oxygen -- our big evolved brains need/use about 25% of all O2 that our bodies get. The more O2 (up to a limit), the better our brains work."

That's commonly-repeated nonsense, sorry. Neurons (or, more probably, their supporting glial cells) call for oxygen as they need it, on a timescale of tens to hundreds of milliseconds: tracking that is how PET scanners work, using a short-lived radioisotope of oxygen as its tracer.

The brain gets all the oxygen it needs almost all the time: it gets priority on oxygen shipments from the lungs, as it were. If you don't get enough oxygen, you become lightheaded, possibly start to hallucinate, and pass out. You don't just think less clearly.


It is not clear why exercise improves thinking on a timescale of minutes. It is even less clear why exercise improves thinking on a timescale of months to years, though here it is possible that brain capillary health may play a role, as exercise improves circulatory function on those timescales. It's almost certainly not just oxygen, since if that were true all exercise would improve thinking in the same way, which is not the case. (For me, running worsens thinking: walking improves it drastically. If oxygen perfusion was the cause, the opposite would be true.)

65:

Yeah, the 40-hour week was due to decades of unions and socialist organizations pushing it... and Henry Ford, who had a study done, and wound up agreeing with them - there were more accidents and producivity dropped after 40 hours.

But we don't need unions now, esp. in the tech industry, we love death marches, "no formal comp time policy", or salaried == billable time, and anything else you make up, or use your vacation (all time off is "vacation time", including sick time).

In the mid-nineties, I worked for Ameritech, one of the Baby Bells (since swallowed by the Evil Empire, SBC, er, now "AT&T" (no, it isn't)). For about a year and a quarter, I was doing 45, 50, 55 60 hours/week, and the one that I broke 70, I swore I'd never do again. And I was wearing a pager (remember them?) 24x7x365.25 (except for the couple months I wore *two* of them). And they used them - one Sunday I got *seven* pages....

But at the same job, one young consultant (Anderson, now "Accenture" - who treat their people as consumables) told me that one week, he did 119 hours. No, there's no typo there. He also was working for another consulting company a year later.

They treat us as consumables. Think about that. And all the stuff about surviving a death march? How many times does the death march end in failure (a lot). Oh, and how about your life - do you even have one? My ...late wife..., partway through that, semi-jokingly threatened to sue Ameritech for alienation of affection.

But seriously, you HAVE NO LIFE on a death march. You're not working to live, you're living to work for your management. Are you *really* being repaid what all that's worth? Really?

If you're reading this, the odds are 99.99% you ain't a millionaire... so the answer is not just no, but *FUCK* no.

mark

66:

Thanks for the correction/update ...

How about dopamine? Is that still tied to exercise and improved learning, cognitive performance - or has that fallen by the wayside?

There's so much research being done in neuro, it's hard for mere lay folks to stay current.

67:

Could it be that (moderate) exercise, flexing & stretching muscles etc, improves the rate at which fatigue poisons are "flushed out" from the syatem?
Just a thought.

68:

or use your vacation (all time off is "vacation time", including sick time).
Really?
Anyone try that here, they would be lucky not to be fined into the ground, with lots of lovely publicty.

69:

Hm, the substances I know that come closest to "fatigue poisons" would be adenosine, with possible effects of some prostaglandines and other eicosanoids(leukotrienes and like). Where my personal favourite way of dealing with adenosine is still competitive neutral (or inverse?) antagonism, aka caffeine, of course. Problem is, all of these are also created by exercise; on another note, that would indicate some cross-reactions with exercise and caffeine or NSAIDs, at least the somewhat more COX-selective ones.

My personal take? Well, as already said, I guess the short-term boost by the usual catecholamines, e.g. adrenaline and noradrenaline, is to blame. Also, fatigue is somewhat task-specific, which explains why you can still play computer or frequent OGH's blog after getting tired of work. In the long term, it seems like exercise has some effects of BDNF levels, which might also explain why it helps with depression in some. Taken together with indications brain mass is highly fluid in singing birds during mating season, we might guess it's something of a mechanism to cope with annual rhythms; in winter there is little to do, you don't move, and it's best not to waste energy on thinking. Come spring, you move more, and it's important to put resources to work. Which might indicate the issue might be somewhat tied to SAD.

70:
How about dopamine? Is that still tied to exercise and improved learning, cognitive performance

Quite likely, if nothing else because dopamine is tied with about anything; I guess it's somewhat tied to opposite, e.g. sleeping (Parkinson's leads quite often to sleeping problems) or impaired learning and cognitive performance (some dopamine agonists can have funny behavioural effects, like gambling).

What exactly happens depends on a plethora of factors, for starters, there are at least five dopamine receptors, not counting splice variants,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine_receptor

with different affinities and sometimes opposite effects on second messengers.

And then, these same receptors are part of neuronal structures, both on a synaptical (autorecpetors, for starters) and somewhat larger level.

So, well, dopamine has likely something to do with learning, but so do serotonin, opioids, GABA, you name it.

Also, it might be interesting that most things raising dopamine also rise the other catecholamines, especially noradrenaline, and it seems some alpha2 receptors for the latter are quite important for learning and behavioural control.

71:

It sounds to me like you're really talking about "severe deadline", rather than deathmarches as I understand them... doomed projects where people are forced to go through the motions of proving that despite inhuman effort, the deliverable is not possible by the deadline...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_march_(project_management)

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