1 Day’s Work in 4 Hours: A Simple Challenge

If you want to be more productive, you have to push yourself. Just a little bit.

Does your job require 8 hour days? Mine did. It wasn’t a company policy, but everyone kept tabs on each others’ time.

If you came in at 8am, the earliest you could leave was 5pm. 4:30pm if you eat lunch at your desk.

The expectation of being in the office for 8 hours lead to a lot of goofing off. Lots of ping-pong and water cooler discussions.

One day, someone even set up a live stream of a guy trying to break the Donkey Kong world record.

You can imagine how much work was done that day.

Why do people goof off so much? A couple of theories:

  1. The average person simply can’t do 8 solid hours of meaningful creative work (programming, design, writing). Burnout sets in after extended periods of 8+ hours.
  2. Without an incentive to work efficiently, you won’t work efficiently.

It’s Not Just Goofing Off

Having 8 hours booked for work often leads to subconsciously stretching out your work for the day. You’ll work on less important things. You won’t constantly be progressing.

You might be working. You may feel productive. But are you being as productive as you can be?

It’s Not Just Full-Time Employees

Freelancers and self-employed folks can fall into this trap, too. I did.

My family expects me to be done around 5:30pm every day, so I have a tendency to fill the entire day with work.

The Power of Constraints

Constraints are wonderful tools for productivity.

This post about a knitter trying to use up her material comes to mind – by limiting herself to the materials she had on hand, she was forced to come up with a creative way to use it.

One of the easiest constraints you can put on yourself is on your time.

Constraining your work to smaller chunks of time forces you to focus on the most important parts. No tinkering with insignificant details allowed.

You can’t reach peak productivity until you’re forced to get something done before a deadline.

If you’ve never put constraints on your time, I have a simple challenge for you.

Oh, how I wish I’d tried this earlier in my career. I can’t fathom how much more I’ve done because of it.

The Challenge

  1. At the start of your day, figure out what you’d like to accomplish. What would make today a “productive” day? Write it down.
  2. Start working: 2 blocks of 2 hours each. Take a 15 minute break in-between. Don’t read blogs or news. Just start working, with the expectation that you must finish within 4 hours.

That’s it. I know, not exactly groundbreaking. But here’s the important question:

Look at what you wrote down. Did you finish?

If no, were you close? I’d guess you’re more than halfway done. You have another 4 hours to finish.

If yes, great! You can go home! Unless your job won’t allow it – in that case, ping-pong is calling. Or other work, you workaholic.

What do you have to lose? Try limiting yourself to 4 hours of work for a few days. See if you can get the same amount of work done. You might surprise yourself.

Join the Hacker News discussion or ping me on Twitter if this worked (or didn’t work) for you.

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2 comments

  1. Buddy Casino says:

    This is not an ethical judgement, as I agree that productivity can be very variable – but I take it you don’t bill hourly?

    • Andy Adams says:

      I typically bill by day or by week, but even if you bill hourly I’d say the challenge is worth it. If you estimate something can be done in 8 hours, and you finish in 4, you’ve just proven that you can charge 2x whatever you’re charging now 🙂

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