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Facebook’s COO Works Less Than You

The Fixed Schedule Phenom

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO at Facebook.

Last year she was paid over $30 million dollars in stocks and salary.

This year she was named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list.

But here’s what interests me most: in April she revealed that she leaves work every day by 5:30. She has practiced this habit since she first had kids, but only recently did she build enough confidence to talk publicly about it.

This is a fantastic example of the fixed-schedule productivity philosophy that I’ve long preached. As many have discovered, fixing strong constraints in your working life can paradoxically make your work much stronger (as it forces you to focus on what’s important, which in turn helps you get better at what you do).

E-mailing during every waking hour might make you feel more important, but as Sandberg’s accomplishments verify, it has very little to do with your actual impact.


Speaking of interesting articles, my friend Elizabeth Saunders has a thought-provoking piece on the Harvard Business Review blog about the different types of passion and their implication for our working lives.


21 thoughts on “Facebook’s COO Works Less Than You”

  1. This is actually really impressive! She does, however, caveat it with the following paragraph:

    “I was showing everyone I worked for that I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I’m much more confident in where I am and so I’m able to say, ‘Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.’ And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally.”

    So I suspect she goes home for dinner on time but continues some of her work into the late night and early in the morning.

    Still, you gotta have a pretty solid work ethic AND guts to leave at 530 without fear of looking like a slacker.

  2. What I take from this is that if you’re arranging your schedule around appearances, you’re doing it wrong. If your work is solid and the results speak for themselves, who cares what people think about your arrival and departure times? On the other hand, if your work is lousy then fake devotion won’t cover it up in the long run.

  3. All the Moms who work at facebook seem to leave at a reasonable hour!

    From the article:
    “And what about those startup hours? Aronowitz says she’s made them work. “I told everybody I leave at 5, and that between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., I’m a mom,” she told the Designer Fund meeting. “You have to stick to your own boundaries, and if you do, others will too.””

  4. I do the same thing. I find that working more doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish your job well. I always live the office at 5pm, get back home, take a bath. I’m still unmarried so if I want to do something, just do it. I feel good and fresh for tomorrow work.
    There are a lot of guys who try to stay as long as they can but the tasks’ result is not good enough 🙂

  5. Your friends piece is good. She is much more kind or maybe better at communicating so peoples ego will buy in to my message than I am. I don’t see the problem she writes about as obsessive passion, more often I think it is addiction to chaos and a false belief that the busiest person is the most important (more about keeping a job than passion). nonetheless it is a good piece. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed my piece.

    My highest goal is helping people open up to lasting behavioral change. When people get defensive, their emotional immune system rejects outside input and they go into self preservation mode.

    I’ve found that for many people, using a “kind” approach is a way of authentically pointing out what you call “false beliefs” in a way that they can receive them.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  7. She works less than you, too.

    The computer I posted this from was still set to Italian time from a recent trip. But thanks for keeping tabs; very fruitful.

    This is actually really impressive! She does, however, caveat it with the following paragraph:

    I found that very interesting as well — evidence of a work culture that is focused on the wrong attributes.

    On the other hand, if your work is lousy then fake devotion won’t cover it up in the long run.


  8. I didn’t even know that I was doing this but fixed-schedule work is exactly what I was doing. Over the past month I have timed my work boosts, usually as an hour minimum and then when the timer goes off and Im really into it, I extend by 30 minute chunks. Its worked very well with me. It has made me focus on what’s important.

  9. For a teacher, a fixed work schedule is very important. You NEED that time away from school and time to have that personal life. I know too many teachers who stay till 8 pm every night doing work and planning, and who bring their work home. These teachers burn out quickly. If you’re a teacher, do your planning in the summer and just make tweaks over the course of the year, and organize your grading schedule so that you get it all done every week by splitting it up. Fixed work schedules would be useless without organization and focus.

  10. First of all, how do we know she is productive? It’s quite possible, if not even likely, that she ended in the position by the stroke of luck. She might just be one of the people who are good at showing efficiency while not actually being efficient. Looking at her track record, I would say she has just been in the right place at the right time, rather than actually having a visible spree of success — like with CEOs who have led their companies to growth and profitability.

  11. I love your insights, Cal.

    However, this time, I think your confirmation bias is a bit too strong.

    It is obvious that people who work in the corporate world have very little choice to structure their own time. Even when they leave early, there is pressure to “look busy after hours” by emailing at ridiculous hours.

    The lucky ones are usually entrepreneurs who CAN implement your suggestions more organically…or others whose work allows them more freedom to structure their time.

  12. I think the title is misleading. It makes it sound like she cheated her way into a big salary. This is a woman who has worked really hard to get where she is now, and (as you rightly point out) working fewer hours does not translate to working “less”, or doing less work. I would also argue that she works more than most people, balancing work and being a mom from 5pm-8am (realistically awake for 7-8 of those hours). That’s at least 16 hours a day.

  13. @Faye

    Exactly! When she started out she was working crazy hours to get to where she is today.

    Now that she’s in a position of power, she’s able to work less hours but have more effect.

    In essence, she “front-loaded” her working time when she started out.


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