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Work for only 3 hours a day, but everyday (plumshell.com)
524 points by NonUmemoto on March 13, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments

I have experienced a similar thing while freelancing or design and web development. I used to work 16 hours some days and less hours others, but then sometimes I would need to work and found it hard to kick it into gear.

I think creativity is like a well, and when you do creative work its like drawing that water out. If you use too much water one day, the well runs dry. You have to wait for the goundwater to fill it up again.

Not only did I begin viewing creativity as a limited resource I create and have access to over time, but I noticed that some activities, like reading about science, listening to music, and walking around town actually increase the rate at which the well fills up.

So now I have made it a daily habit of doing things that inspire me, and I also daily draw from the well like the author said - but Im more careful not to creatively 'overdo it' and leave myself unable to be creative the next day.

Viewing it this way has helped a lot, for all the same benefits the author listed. Im in a rhythm where I dont feel I need a break on the weekend, I just still have energy.

"Not only did I begin viewing creativity as a limited resource I create and have access to over time, but I noticed that some activities, like reading about science, listening to music, and walking around town actually increase the rate at which the well fills up."

+1, many times over.

Taking breaks and having fun are very important to maintaining high productivity and creativity when I am working. Unfortunately it's in stark contrast to the mantras I often hear suggesting "there's someone out there who is working harder than you on the same thing and they're going to win if you let up." That mentality is unhealthy and leads to depression/exhaustion.

> "there's someone out there who is working harder than you on the same thing and they're going to win if you let up."

I've heard Elon Musk say this a lot. It seems to work for him, at least.


We'd need to discuss how you define winning ? I couldn't comment on Elon, I've not met him, I can say that it's not sound to base an assessment of an individuals 'happiness' or 'satisfaction' based on their public standing or wealth or achievements, life is not a jigsaw puzzle whereby all the pieces in the right place bring about the desired outcome.

Yes but he doesn't code. He is more a manager and a good one.

Programming requires a lot of concentration that is hard to sustain for a long time (the author of the post is an iOS programmer).

He used to code and wrote his first product zip2 over the summer in 95. Not sure about the hours - I guess you can do long hours for a couple of months https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sLmeYNmZKY

(In the vid he's saying he used to sleep on a futon in the office as he couldn't afford a flat at the time)

You don't know his baseline personality/attitude. It might be he's good at the relaxing and being creative aspect, and so needs to personally remind himself to work hard. Other people might naturally work very hard, but need to remind themselves to relax.

The training and diet regimen of an elite athlete would kill most of the population. What works for the 0.001% is not necessarily the best approach for everyone.

Such a regimen would kill those who immediately jumped into it from a typically sedentary life, sure. But if eased into, there is no reason most people couldn't handle it. Elite athletes didn't become highly performing in a day, and there are no special biological qualities required to become a high performer. It's just a lot of work, and most prefer to not do that work.

As a not even close to elite runner I disagree. I can do the same workout as a world class runner, relative to my fitness. Run 20 minutes at 80% heart rate. Run 10 minutes at 95% heart rate. Repeat 4 times. (Not a real workout but it proves a point).

What gets me is recovery. I would be unable to run hard for a week after that. Younger pros do like 5 or 6 really hard workouts a week. Older pros a bit less.

I totally would follow them but my body cannot recover between workouts. In my opinion what makes a world class marathoner is not his ability to work hard, it's a special gift to recover. I would work just as hard, but I physically can't as often as they do.

Saying anyone can be an elite marathoner by running like an elite marathoner? Bull. Any decent runner can do a workout or 2. Then you need a week to recover.

What does all this have to do with programming? Maybe nothing. Or maybe what makes the super productive guys so good is they mentally recovery faster? No idea on programming front, but I am confident on the running front it is all recovery.

This is a remarkable point you're making. Everything is relative to one's own reality. Thanks for the comparison with runners, I will use it, it's a telling example of what recovery means.

I'm a programmer, and I don't know how it relates to what I do, but I've already set my mind on finding out.


Imho the core of this idea is that "recovery" applies to many things: how early can you get another 4-hour coding session? How much did the first one tire you out?

How well do you recover after a failure? Bug in my code? I jump on that immediately and don't think twice about it; an argument with my girlfriend / co-worker / boss / parents? Not so much.

I believe you can train both your body and mind to get better at this; get better sleep, see a therapist.

Even more, you can tweak life's settings to work in your favor: a stable relationship, better/quieter housing (or job), savings etc.

I was a fair recreational runner in my late 20s and the beginning of my 30s. Along about 60 miles per week I would feel injuries getting ready to start, and would know that I was on the edge of over-training. The real top-level runners trained 120 to 160 miles per week, at paces that perhaps I could sustain for half a mile.

There is a world of difference between working hard, and working long.

You can quit a job, but you can't quit a calling!

s/harder/smarter and it probably holds true.

Yes. And course if you believe the premise, then working harder (i.e. more hours) is a net negative.

I would imagine we've all been on death marches at some point in our careers. And yes it can work to meet a deadline but the long term result is usually burnout and piles of technical debt which is always less fun to work on even if you're motivated.

Do you think this is related to biorhythms? I meant to post an Ask HN on it recently, then saw your comment. I know a lot of people will dismiss it as pseudo-science, but my reply to that kind of answer, is sometimes this: if we could go back in time and describe to a cave man or even a person of two or three or ten centuries ago, some of the inventions that we take as commonplace today, like airplanes, computers, land line phones, cellphones, fax, Internet, TV, credit cards, bikes, cars, satellites, CAT scans, X-rays, etc. etc., they would disbelieve us, think we were mad, and maybe burn us at the stake as dangerous witches. Apply the analogy to today. So, many of the things that are dismissed as pseudo-science, may just be things that actually work or are true, but we just don't happen to know how they work or the physical laws that govern them, as of now.

I have found a daily cycle of rest and work much easier to sustain for long stretches of time without creative burnout a lot easier than weekly work/rest cycles. Now I wake up on the weekends and fill note book pages with ideas and plans and concepts and I often go build them, where before it was all I could do to keep working when I had to work without running dry.

I feel like great philosopher, Juicy J, "I'm still working while I'm on vacation, You can't tell me nothing 'bout my dedication"

Well Said Mr. J.

In a similar comment of mine, someone points me the Theory of Complexity:


> So, many of the things that are dismissed as pseudo-science, may just be things that actually work or are true, but we just don't happen to know how they work or the physical laws that govern them, as of now.

I would say the opposite. Systems we use (like money, laws or politics) that we see as natural or inevitable are based on pseudo-science because we don't know their nature or rules.

We use the discoveries of our ancestors and think we are better than them. We are still in the matrix waiting for the red pill without knowing it.


Interesting, notice the word "rhythm" at the end of your upper comment, just now.

It most likely is. Studies of published authors find that their writing is either done around sunrise at 6AM; or otherwise in the middle of the night, around 1-3AM.

Mature creators fall into the morning producing group, while 'young geniuses' usually do their best work in the late-night hours.

I think some of the question is Research versus Development. If you're doing creative work, constraints and deadlines help, but working past coherent thinking doesn't. You hit this point later (but still eventually) in Development projects where the creative demands are lower.

Exactly. This reminds me of the book "Willpower" by Roy F. Baumeister.

If I told you that every car needed 8 gallons of gas to drive 100 miles, you'd point out I was wrong - so many different makes and models, not to mention variables from tire pressure to driving style.

Yet for the potentially even more complex range that is different people, it amazes me that so much of the advice is didactic - we all need 8 hours sleep, 8 glasses of water, and 8 hours of work with breaks is optimal.

The closest I get to advice is 'learn your body and what works for you'. Thanks to the OP for sharing what works for him.

This is one of my gripes about working in an office. More often than not I cannot work continuously from 9-5, and end up wasting time just trying to get myself back into working mode - which usually descends into browsing HN/Reddit/etc or just working half as effectively as I usually do.

When I work remotely and have freedom over my time, I can take a few hours off to go for a walk, sleep, go for a long lunch, meet friends, or even play games. Afterwards I feel recharged and can be 110% productive, and usually end up working more hours than I would in an office.

I did this for a lot of last year, as I needed to overlap with teams in India and PST, so I usually worked 10am - 10pm taking a few hours off in the afternoon. I was able to get so much more done because of that extended break.

> I usually worked 10am - 10pm taking a few hours off in the afternoon. I was able to get so much more done because of that extended break.

I did this off and on for about 6 months, pretty much by accident: When I worked from home, I wandered in and out of my responsibilities all day, so I couldn't get my work done until probably 9 or 9:30 at night. I was absolutely miserable, and I think the case would be the same if I tried it again, albeit more mindfully.

In theory, being able to take breaks helps me clear my head. In reality, though, I find my brain interprets "It's 10 pm and I just finished work" the same way whether I worked straight through from 9 am or took a 3-hour break in the afternoon. I hate it.

A friend at work prefer to stay at work incontrolably doozing rather than taking a cut, because "that's not proper", even though he will spend that time on reddit, self loathing, doubling the negative effect.

That sounds like the typical Japanese salaryman lifestyle, from what I've heard...

Joel Splosky chatting about HN/Reddit vs in the zone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF8ZVB-v3IM&feature=youtu.be...

I agree with your point, one size certainly doesn't fit all. However, people should also be aware that they are not special snowflakes and there large groups of people who have the same tendencies and benefit from the same advice.

Therefore, even though I appreciate that this isn't a solution for everyone, I don't think it's fair to say that this boils down to just a personal experience with no external value.

I think maybe the larger lesson is to timebox work so that it's not overwhelming. This can tend to reduce procrastination and time-wasting distractions in some people, as it's less intimidating to start a three hour work session than an all-day one, and easier to stay focused with a clear ending time already known. Whether that's three hours, or four, or two sets of two hours, maybe is less important.

"and 8 hours of work with breaks is optimal."

8 hour of work is 24/3. That is a turn in a factory. It have nothing to do with 'optimal', at least that we are talking optimal for the factory.

More specifically, it was arrived at as a target for labour rights campaigners after the 10 hour day had started becoming common. Owen formulated the famous "eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest" slogan in 1817, but it took half a century for the 8 hours day even to become the main goal for labour organizations most places (because they were still fighting for the 10 hour day, or even the 12 hour day), and it took more than a century from Owen's slogan for the 8 hour day to become widespread.

Since then labour organizations in many countries have set goals for shorter work days, and many countries have seen the work days shortened further to various extent, but given how long the fight for the 8 hour day took, we can expect it to take a long time.

But as you say, it has absolutely nothing to do with 'optimal'.

Now it's more 10 hours work, 2 hours commute, 5 hours recreation (read: cooking, cleaning), 7 hours sleep

This reminds me of 7 minute abs:


I agree with what you're saying, which is also why I think the title of the blog post should really be: "I work for only 3 hours a day, but everyday". It's less of a command or suggestion and more an expression of what works for him.

As a freelancer, I understand where some of the comments "As a freelancer this won't work" are coming from. However, the last year I've flipped my freelancing model where I offer a more productized service with a clearly defined scope and set price. Instead of doing design work for $XXX/h, I'll deliver A,B,C within Timeframe Y, for Price $XXXX. With clearly defined services, I've actually been working for the last 12 months using a similar model, usually constraining myself to 4h/day with weekends off. My productivity + revenue have increased dramatically. Productizing your service makes it easier to market and generate leads, while it gives you the flexibility to work the way you want and actually free up time. Awesome post OP!

This approach has a lot of pros and cons. By committing to a fixed price for a project, you're taking a lot of risk on yourself.

What if it takes more than Y? What if you weren't able to expect the true scope of the project? What if the customer isn't cooperative and wastes your time? What is considered a reasonable delivery? How many bugs do you continue to fix for free without charging more? How many changes to you put in your design without charging more?

Working at an hourly rate saves a lot of legal and contractual headaches. Its also critical when you're working with an agile company that has constantly changing needs and expectations.

Many of the issues you mention are solved by carefully defining the scope and what is included for the price. You typically don't productize a service until you have done a number of similar projects on a hourly basis and truly understand what the "typical" customer needs and what it takes for you to deliver it.

You can also win more work because some clients aren't comfortable with the undefined nature of hourly work, and prefer to pay a fixed price for a service so they can budget accordingly and not get any surprises at the end of the month...

I don't have a lot of experience with software services but when I was a consultant (IT industry analyst), most of the work that we did was fixed price. Sometimes this was straightforward because the time was explicitly capped (e.g. an advisory day). Other times, it was a standard deliverable of a type we had done many times before (e.g. a paper); these could take more or less time in a given case but they were pretty predictable. And sometimes, it wasn't all that standard but we knew the day rate we were aiming for and could take a pretty good swag at the time required; here is was very important to spend time up front scoping the work.

(And sometimes, we really weren't sure, in which case we wouldn't do the job for a fixed fee.)

What if it takes more than Y?

No problem there. Educate your clients. Tell them if it takes significantly longer than expected you will come back to them. Tell them it is not likely but you want to be straight from the beginning.

You still end up taking the financial risk on yourself.

It's one thing if the project is delay because of you. Its another thing if the project is delayed because their backend guy hasn't fixed a few bugs and you're stuck creating ugly workarounds in the client code.

In the contracting world these types of contracts have more risk but are more profitable. The key is to get you ducks in a row beforehand. Your project management has to be very good. There is some type of work fixed price isn't suited for, obviously, but lots of work where fixed price makes a lot of sense.

Alternatively, consider charging by the day. It's unconventional, but it makes sense for a number of reasons.

in the UK contractors / consultants / freelancers do charge daily and i definitely prefer it over hourly rates or fixed per project prices

I've been checking UK ads looking for contractors, and I was wondering: How do you take into account long (8h+) vs short(4h+) days?

it's an assumed 8 hour day... if they notice you're only working 4 hours they'd expect you to bill half a day

That's interesting, what do you do exactly? Designer? Developer? :)

I'm both, but offer a couple of productized design services. I'm actually right now in the process to figure out if if I'm able to replicate the same model for some dev services. Curious to find out.

I realize this may not be the thread for it; but you seem to have a good enough handle on your freelancing to be evaluating different product strategies, which is significantly more detail than I typically hear mentioned. Do you have any writing/thoughts on getting this far, for someone stuck in the bigCo land who has always dreamed of more autonomy, but stumbled on the "building a freelancer client network" block?

this stuff isn't mine, but a big source of inspiration for me has been the stuff casjam.com has put up. Check out his blog/podcast. You can also find some webinars he's done on youtube. You'll find some golden nuggets in there

Found this book to be valuable when you think about different pricing models and what that means for your services as a provider: Pricing Design by Dan Mall https://abookapart.com/products/pricing-design

I'm actually trying to make this switch as well, for development services.

I see a lot of value in putting a price tag on deliverables. Do you mind if I reach out over email to ask for some advice on making the switch?

I started contract work last fall. I set me rate assuming a 25 hour work week. At first I tried working ~4 hrs / day everyday day. I quickly realized this did not work for me. Working everyday, even just a little is not sustainable for me. I have a family and they are still on the 9 to 5 schedule, so working even a few hours on weekends cut into my family time which is important to me. So now I force myself to take at least one weekend day off with no prgramming. This is hard because I love to program. Also I have a hard cutoff time during the week days at about 5:30pm when my wife and kid get home. I usually feel like I want to keep working but that forces me to stop (at least until my daughter goes to bed). So now I work 5 or 6 days a week but seldom exceed 6 hours/ day. Most days are closer to 4hrs. It's great at this pace because I usually always feel like i want to keep programming so I don't get burnt out. And if I do have an off day I just don't work.

The problem I am running into now is what do I do with my spare time? All my hobbies are computer based (video games and Raspberry Pi projects) but I am trying to minimize my screen time in my off hours. This will get better in the spring and summer as the weather gets better but during winter on the Oregon Coast going outside is hit or miss.

And I hear you about not being able to go to bed until I solve a problem I am stuck on, that drives me crazy.

Since you mentioned Oregon, you should try rock climbing. This is one of the best places in the country to be a climber given we have Smith Rock, Broughton bluff and other climbing areas.

I've been climbing for years outside work and I feel like it's a great hobby for programmers. It gets you outside and you are essentially problem solving. I found my side projects (video games, rpi things, fun programming) are much more productive when I spend time climbing.

I also found it helps me not think about work. Before I started climbing, I would think about my next work day non-stop which was totally counter-productive. I would over think things and then get stuck in a rut for weeks at a time. I now care less about my work when I'm off and I think it's actually made me a better employee.

Anything where I have to really focus on motor skills seems to work for me.

I used do indoor and outdoor rock climbing. I also used to free climb buildings, when I was younger and less risk-averse (I'm not suggesting anyone free climbs buildings; it's dangerous and illegal :P).

Right now I don't have the opportunities to do as much climbing as I'd like, and I started learning to play the violin. It has a similar effect because I have to really focus on what I'm doing, and there's no mental space for other issues. I'm also not really good enough for creating music to be a creative process. Mostly I just work on drills and scales. Doesn't really get you outside though.

Personally, if I really want to unwind my brain, I find a super pulpy book series and read it. The less intellectual the better.

I'll second this recommendation. Outdoors sports, especially rock climbing, are the perfect counterbalance to programming. Where programming is in your head, climbing is in your gut, your body, and in the current moment.

Personally, I also ski, run, play frisbee, and jam on the mandolin. But agreed, doing things very different from programming are the most rejuvenating for me.

I agree with everyone else about the physical hobbies, but I find you need something else to fill the evenings when you don't necessarily want to go outside, or when you just want to spend half an hour doing something that's not coding and not reading.

Music does that for me. If you're at all interested, check out justinguitar.com (no affiliation, just love what the guy does) and try it out. There's something about the meditative aspects of playing music that really works for me.

Have you considered practicing a Martial Art? It definitely helps resetting your mind for the duration of the practice.

I agree with this article mostly, although 3 hours a day might be too little to make good progress with work for some people.

This article reminded me of my previous workplace (about 7 years ago) where my manager discouraged engineers from working for more than 6 hours a day. He recommended 4 hours of work per day and requested us not to exceed more than 6 hours of work per day. He believed working for less number of hours a day would lead to higher code quality, less mistakes and more robust software.

Although, he never went around the floor ensuring that engineers do not exceed 6 hours of work a day, and some engineers did exceed 6 hours a day, however, in my opinion, his team was the most motivated team on the floor.

It's another "magic short cut" article. They're like crack to HN. Fun to read; probably not wise to take seriously.


Yep, and just like crack, most people can't afford it!

I've found 6 hours to be about the right amount day in and day out.

Same here; I've build a system around this, i.e. 6 sets of 50 minute sprints. No pressure hitting this volume, it's not a goal, but more a data point.

Did he differentiate between more demanding work like writing code and less demanding work like going to meetings?

No, he was not specific about what the 4 hours of work included. However, working on code consumed about 90% of our time. Meetings were held once a week for 30 minutes. The time spent on emails and updating bug tracker usually varied anywhere between 0 minutes to 45 minutes per day.

Less demanding??? I would gladly trade meetings time for hardcore programming work, anytime.

3 hours a day is just not enough for everyone.

For some projects it's perfectly fine but some tasks can only be done if you focus for a large amount of time on it, work obsessively on it until you reach a milestone.

The greatest work I have ever done, was always done when I retreated like a monk for several weeks, cutting myself of the whole world and working almost non-stop on the task until I made a significant breakthrough.

Then I go back to the livings and share the fruits of my work, and of course, take a well deserved rest for several days.

The trap into most people fall is that they are confusing being active and working.

I too do my absolute best work in that kind of mode. However, I'm thoroughly lacking on the "take a well deserved rest" part after crunching on my own. Since no one actually sees me working so hard, I have no idea how I would go about making sure client/boss would be happy with that.

I'm pretty sure this has worked for the author, and it will work for a lot of other people as well, but a lot the benefits raised can still be achieved when working more than 3 hours a day.

A few points are raised in the post: 1. If you only work 3 hours, you're less tempted to go on twitter/facebook/hacker news.

True - but that's really a question of discipline, work environment and how excited you are about what you're working on. It's perfectly possible to perform for 10 hours straight without distractions, just make sure to take an occasional break for physical health.

2. Better prioritization.

Treating your time as a scarce resource helps focus on the core features. But your time is a scarce resource even if you work 12 hours a day. Programmers are in shortage. They cost a lot. And the time you're spending on building your own apps could have been spent freelancing and working for someone else's apps. Always stick a dollar figure on your working hours. Even if you're working on your own projects. You should always prioritize your tasks, and always consider paying for something that might save you development time (Better computer. better IDE. SaaS solutions, etc).

3. Taking a long break can help you solve a problem you're stuck on.

Personally, I find that taking a short walk, rubber duck debugging or just changing to a different task for a while does the same. If I'm stuck on something, I don't need to stop working on it until tomorrow. I just need an hour or two away from it.

On the topic of work environment: in one job I worked at, we had the Internet machines completely separated from the work machines. If you needed to check something you had to physically walk over to the Internet desk. Great for focussing on the task at hand without distraction, and considering carefully what information you need.

"Air gapping". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_gap_(networking)

It's common practice in classified environments, as a necessary security precaution. But it's a true productivity killer imho. Better to just install an extension that blocks twitter/facebook etc, than completely cripple your ability to search for technical information as you need it.

Also - good luck installing tools and plugins when you have to start copying things from the internet computer to the classified computer.

After the initial period of adaptation, I found it actually increased productivity. Perhaps it was just preventing already-established bad habits that arise from having the internet constantly available.

> Better to just install an extension that blocks twitter/facebook etc, than completely cripple your ability to search for technical information as you need it.

With godoc, man pages, info pages, a local copy of the Common Lisp Hyperspec and Usenet, what more does one need?

At the last place I did sysadmin work, this was basically how I functioned. Just about everything was done to prevent having to use google, stackoverflow, etc. It was absolutely amazing in terms of learning and gaining confidence in the tools and documentation, etc.... but nah. After about 3 months of that, I gave up. It's possible, but it led to so may "time wasting" rabbit holes in trying to figure things out. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best use of time while at work (and should be frowned upon if management ever suggests it)!

But then how do you copy and paste from Stack Overflow?

You can download the information to use locally, it's only about 35Gb last time I checked

On a serious note, this is a terrible habbit. SO code is questionably licenced.

Any questions about the license not answered by this? http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/271080/the-mit-licen...

I don't think that answers anything. Just because some anonymous poster put code online doesn't make it usable under the MIT license no matter what the ToS of the website says. The poster may have copied that code from a GPL code base...

That's true even if you find code on GitHub explicitly labeled as MIT, CC or Apache.

If you're worried about using code from stack-overflow, use it as inspiration only and write your own code. Or conduct a short search first to see if it WAS copied from another code repository.

There's a big difference between a git contributor explicitly saying their code is a subject to a certain license and SO magically declaring it to be so for all code on their website just because it happens to be in their ToS. I think a better system would be to ask people providing code snippets to specify what license it's subject to.

I agree with the author with some exceptions: when you are working as a contractor or freelancer for someone else's project maybe 3h/day is not acceptable. When you've got externally imposed deadlines 3h/day may not be sufficient.

But i agree that working less than 8h/day could be really more productive. I also liked the "less stuck for coding" topic as "...it is sometimes hard to go bed without solving some unknown issues, and you don’t want to stop coding in the middle of it..." so maybe forcing themselves to stop could be a solution.

Anyway, i would really like to work 4 or 5 hours a day but keeping holidays and weekends free from work and i think this can only be achieved if you can pay your living with products of your own such as your apps and not by freelancing (i am a freelance and i know it!).

But i enjoyed the idea behind the article and i will try to achieve it one day.

> when you are working as a contractor or freelancer for someone else's project maybe 3h/day is not acceptable. When you've got externally imposed deadlines 3h/day may not be sufficient.

There's an easy solution to that problem: don't take on those projects. If they don't fit into your schedule don't do them.

You could say that but it seems like you will be turning down a lot of work. If you are only working 3 to 4 hours a day it is not that hard to double yours hours for a week or two to meet a client's deadline. It will keep your clients happy and if you charge by the hour it a nice bonus on your invoice.

I think the assumption of the author is that the 3 hours he does work are best-case productive hours. If you work 40+ hours a week, you still have to account for all those staring-at-your screen hours, that are not contributing towards meeting the deadline.

Somewhat related: I found it is a lot easier (and natural) to estimate projects in terms of 'ideal' hours. And then just assume there are only 20 to 25 of those a week. That quite closely matches the 21 hours of the original post.

This is somewhat different but, back when I did consulting work that often involved writing in some form, we tended to think in terms of the work that we could do in a "production day" of about 4 hours. The thinking was that, on a given day, we'd spend about half on project-based work and about half on the phone with clients and others, doing miscellaneous research and "research," internal discussions, and various administrivia. Sometimes we'd buckle down more to get something done and other times we were at conferences and the like--but we found this a good rule-of-thumb.

> When you've got externally imposed deadlines 3h/day may not be sufficient.

Lots of deadlines companies and thus their employees face are externally imposed (often from their customer(s)).

they are also often bullshit deadlines that users dont care about but gets a few brownie points for management.

I don't think "no true Scotchman" means what you think it means...

It's about criticizing something as invalid, BS, problematic etc. -- is not even about saying something X doesn't belong to an idealized category.

It's about shifting the discussion to "X doesn't belong to an idealized category" AFTER you were OK talking generally about it previously.

This means that when one talks morally/ideologically/etc. about what constitutes "a true scotchman" (e.g. not in the plain sense of citizen of Scotchman") it's not a fallacy to ascribe certain attributes to the notion (because "true" here essentially means "ideal", "most representative" etc, instead of merely "actually existing").

True, they're still deadlines. But, since they are BS, that might be fixed somehow, no?

What evidence do you have the the negotiating partner doesn't have good reasons for insisting on the deadlines despite they look BS to you?

I mostly agree with the author, but I don't see the point of stopping yourself when you're "in the zone". Why lose the flexibility?

What works for me is having a baseline of 3 or 4 hours of daily work, and not imposing any hard limits when I want or need to do extra hours. This works out great, because I have no excuses not to do the boring routine work as it's just a few hours, but I also have the liberty of doing obsessive 10h sessions when I'm trying to solve a tough problem or when I'm working on something fun.

I totally agree with you. "The Zone" is arguably the ideal state for productivity (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)), so why cut it short?

I'm currently experimenting with a very long kata (tens of hours) where I do 1 pomodoro a day (although I frequently miss a day, and occasionally do 2 pomodoros in a day). What I have found fascinating is that stopping early keeps my interest up for the project. I "feel like" working on the code every single day and only miss days due to illness or other unavoidable circumstances.

There is something to be said for always leaving yourself wanting to do a bit more. Never being satisfied means that you are always hungry for more.

It probably depends on the person. When I do what you are suggesting, I seem to burn through too much "cognitive resources", getting a ton done, then crashing into a haze for a few days to more than a week. At that point it's hard to get started again. So I see the advantage - for some people - of cutting "in the zone" time short.

I should note that "in the zone" time for me can last a few weeks. Most recently, a long one came after spending a lot of time at the gym doing cardio. When I hit "the zone", I stopped going to the gym and just worked. Now I'm in the "haze phase". The problem with the haze phase is it's hard to focus on anything, including going back to the gym, which should theoretically spur another "in the zone" phase.

I have a lot of trouble achieving balance.

The author thinks in the long run the 10h sessions hurt you. They acknowledge specifically that got a week long exercise more work will produce more results but that they feel their average productivity is much higher over months or years by never getting bogged down even when they're making progress.

The 3 hours every day pattern might work for the author and many other people but it won't work for everyone. That's the problem with generalizing. There's no one size fits all solution for an optimal work schedule.

I think the lesson to learn from this is that we should work harder to not only remove the stigma of unusual work schedules, but encourage them so people can discover their maximum productivity schedule for themselves.

There is a much better alternative: work really hard for 2 to 3 months per year and then take the rest of the year off. If you're doing high value consulting you can easily do this. You may have to forego some luxury but that's a very small price to pay for the freedom you get in return.

That was my schedule the past 8 or 9 years (actually it was closer to working 4 months and taking 8 months off because I'm not that high value). The problem is that I like what I do but the months I was working I enjoyed it less and the months I was off I missed working. Also it's killing for your social life when you're working nonstop. Another problem is you'll lose clients if you're not available for months at a time. My new schedule is closer to what the post describes and it works much better for me personally.

> Another problem is you'll lose clients if you're not available for months at a time.

Yes, I can see how that would be possible, this is not a problem for me because of the work that I do but in other lines of work it could really kill your momentum.

It reads like someone who isn't doing much of realtime support. This works great for projects that haven't been unveiled or even ones that require little ongoing maintenance like a game. But if I worked 3 hours a day, my clients would crucify me.

Sadly, it isn't always possible.

When I was freelancing there were a lot of days when I didn't do much but then there were days when I got into the flow and worked 2 or 3 days almost straight. Most of the time this ended up at around 40 hours/ week on average but in spurts. This was probably the best work environment I have ever been in.

I hate about the corporate workplace that it doesn't accept any kind of rhythm but treats you like a machine that performs exactly the same at all times. Nature is built around seasons and so are humans. They are not machines.

I would much prefer to have a time sheet where I can do my 40 hours whenever I feel like it.

This is one thing about federal work that I can appreciate, if nothing else, it is at least flexible.

I work on a remote team and I am only accountable for my output. I end up working 15-25hrs a week. Sometimes more if something is on fire.

I usually work 7 days a week, but invariably a couple days a week I only work an hour, checking email and replying to people.

The work I do is of better quality, I'm happier, and I easily could work at this pace until the day I die.

I work 4-5 hours everyday but everyday on my own project. I wish I could have more time on work since most of the rest time I have is allocated to housework and taking care of two little ones. I guess the key is to control your work pace. When a sprint is needed and you are ready for it, a two-week with 90-100 hours in each week would not be a bad idea. Just like running. Listen to your body, pick your pace and keep going towards your goal.

How to pull this through when you are paid by the hour?

You either learn to live on less, or switch to billing by project ;)

You bill like Lawyers--lie. Yea, I know, I can't lie as easily as Lawyers either. I guess they learned to lie without guilt in ethics class?


I actually had similar routine while at school, but it was 6 hours a day total. 3 hours in the evening, usually just before I went to sleep, might be 19-22, or 21-24 and 3 hours in the morning when I woke up and continued for ~3 hours and then left for lectures.

I started doing this because I realized that I am no longer capable of pulling all-nighters. And it worked surprisingly well :-)

> Making money on the App Store is really tough, and people don’t care how many hours I spend on my apps. They only care if it is useful or not. This is a completely result oriented world, but personally, I like it.

I would guess that, if the OP had a competitor, then the OP would be easily forced out of the market if that competitor worked 4 hours a day :)

Not really, that's exactly the point. OP would be forced out of the market if that competitor produced better results. Not the same thing.

One size certainly does not fit all, however, my one take away is that this is huge benefit to paying close attention to what works best for you and optimizing your life around that. When you focus on productivity and happiness (often the 2 are linked) ignoring, when possible, schedules dictated upon you your quality of life will improve.

3 hours is not enough time to get anything done. I'm self employed. I go 12 hours straight before I realize I should probably eat something. I love what I'm doing so I'm drawn to it all day, every day. At the end of the day I've hardly made a dent in my project though. 3 hours is just getting warmed up.

Do you do this every day? I also used to go 12 hours straight but then there were days I would take off and not do anything. I am not capable of going 12 hours hard every day.

> At the end of the day I've hardly made a dent in my project though.

I read an essay several years ago that suggested working three focused hours a day. But, it suggested slowly increasing the hours worked while keeping the same level of focus, and doing restorative activities in the remaining time. The idea was that this would "triple" productivity.

I'm about to quit my day job and work on my own projects. I planed to maintain a 9-6 working style by going to a library with wifi. Reading this post I'm now thinking maybe I can experiment with different work routines and see which one is more productive for me.

What about work 11 hours a week and be happy? Works for me, and I am a freelancer.

Edit: I usually do three blocks of three hours each and one two hour block each week. I find three hours perfect to tackle a problem, and a good chunk to be able to reflect upon afterwards.

This is so true of people who give 100% every moment they work, but can't work long hours without feeling drained. compared to someone who goes at 50% and can manage the 40hr/work-week, I wish this method would become more recognized.

"Work for only 3 hours a day, but every day".

'everyday' is an adjective

Work hard. Not too much. Focus on what's important.

So no going out for drinks where you might have a hangover the next day?

If you really want alcohol, why waste the next day with hangover when you can just drink one or two drinks and be well?

Getting drunk is part of the point. There's no gain in pretending it's not.

I really like drinking but I hate being drunk. I am happy with a buzz but if I drink more after that is unpleasant to me.

My apologies to Xg15 for down voting him or her. It was accidental, my finger slipped and there's no "undo" button that I know of.

No offense taken - I didn't notice to be honest.

There's a spectrum: tipsy, drunk, pissed, belligerent, shitfaced, and finally poisoned.

From pissed on you're probably going to get a hangover.

Historically, working 24 hours a day (I include sleep because after a certain number of hours you even dream of code or your business) for 1 year typically accomplishes more than working 3 hours per day for 8 years. Or 1.5 hours per day for 16 years. There is just some kind of economy of scale.


EDIT: I got downvoted. Come up with whatever standard of productivity you want (ANY standard that you want) and adduce a single human who in 16 years times 90 minutes per day accomplished more than I can find a counter-example of someone doing in the same field in 1 year. 1 year of 24 hours a day strictly dominates 16 years of 90 minutes per day, and you cannot find a single counterexample in any field from any era of humanity. Go ahead and try.

oh and by the way, in 1905 Einstein published 1 paper on the Photoelectric effect, for which he won his only nobel prize, 1 paper on Brownian motion which convinced the only leading anti-atomic theorist of the existence of atoms, 1 paper on a little subject that "reconciles Maxwell's equations for electricity and magnetism with the laws of mechanics by introducing major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light. This later became known as Einstein's special theory of relativity" and 1 paper on Mass–energy equivalence, which might have remained obscure if he hadn't worked it into a catchy little ditty referring to an "mc". You might have heard of it? E = mc^2? Well a hundred and ten years later all the physicistis are still laying their beats on top.


Your turn. Point to someone who did as much in 16 years by working just 90 minutes per day.

Closer to our own field, Instagram was sold for $1 billion about a year after its founding date, to Facebook. Point out anyone who built $1 billion in value over 16 years working just 90 minutes per day.

There is just some kind of economy of scale.

I feel the opposite is true. Working longer hours actually reduces my level of productivity because at some point I start making mistakes that take time to undo. For me that's only about 6 hours of coding; if I work 12 hours then half of my time is spent undoing mistakes or finding better solutions, so I'm less productive than if I'd only written code for 6 hours in the first place. I definitely don't find that I'm more productive if I just put in more time ad infinitum.

6 hours is my sweet spot too.

Regarding your edit - no one is downvoting you because they believe they can do more in 90 minutes than 24 hours. You're being downvoted because you're saying that productivity is infinitely scalable - I believe that's wrong. Over a certain amount of work productivity drops to the point where it creates a negative impact on your effectiveness.

If you find that you're effective for every hour you work regardless how long you work for then you're very fortunate and exceptionally unusual.

Why would you say that I'm stating productivity is "infinitely" scalable? Is a billion "infinitely" more than a million?

I'm saying if you want to accomplish something great and groundbreaking, it's better to work 24 hours a day at it than three hours a day, and, yes, you can stop after a year or two. You literally have as much life left, but you can accomplish a huge amount more, by concentrating the work rather than spreading it out. I don't know why this is, it just is.

But you know what's even easier than working three hours a day? Working zero hours and signing up for unemployment benefits. You certainly won't suffer from exhaustion or burnout.

You can choose smallness, but just be aware that you are doing so. That's what choosing to work three hours a day means. I don't think I'm saying something even a tiny bit controversial and I am utterly perplexed at the votes I received on it.

If you want to do something big, then concentrate your work on it, don't spread it out over a longer time period. You literally are not able to achieve as much in the exact same number of hours, if the hours are spread out over a longer time period.

I can't believe anyone finds this even the slightest bit controversial or finds any objection to what I've written.

Why would you say that I'm stating productivity is "infinitely" scalable?

Because you're saying that doing more work is always more effective than doing less work, all the way up to the maximum possible amount of work. That's the definition of infinite scaleability.

I'm saying if you want to accomplish something great and groundbreaking, it's better to work 24 hours a day at it than three hours a day

And that's what I'm saying isn't true, although I'm using the lower value of 6 hours rather than 3. Typical people can't work 24 hours a day for months on end without having a catastrophic crash in the end. Similarly, typical people can't put in more than about 8 hours solid work without becoming less effective, to the point of negative effectiveness. Personally, if I work for 14 hours a day I make lots of mistakes and have to spend time fixing them, which means I'm not really doing 14 hours work - I'm doing 14 hours minus the time it takes to fix things. I might as well just do the 6 or 8 or 10 hours that I can do without things going wrong.

Saying that you can work for any number of hours a day ad infinitum without ever getting burnt out is controversial because anyone who's been a developer for more than a few years knows it isn't true.

I think your point with Einstein is invalid.

"Einstein immigrated to the United States in 1933, where he held a professorship at Princeton University until his retirement in 1945. His routine there was simple. Between 9:00 and 10:00 A.M. he ate breakfast and perused the daily papers. At about 10:30 he left for his Princeton office, walking when the weather was nice; otherwise, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. He worked until 1:00, then returned home for a 1:30 lunch, a nap, and a cup of tea. The rest of the afternoon was spent at home, continuing his work, seeing visitors, and dealing with the correspondence that his secretary had sorted earlier in the day. Supper was at 6:30, followed by more work and more letters."

(Source: Mason Currey – Daily Rituals: How Artists Work; found on http://jrbenjamin.com/2013/08/08/the-old-elephants-tricks/)

Clearly, this quote doesn't cover the time of the 1900s and 1910s but I doubt Einstein significantly changed his work habits (that had enabled him to be so successful in the first place) after emigrating to the States. In any case, he certainly did not work on theoretical physics for 8 hours per day, let alone 24 hours.

Besides, being a theoretical physicist myself, I can tell you from personal experience that thinking about theoretical problems is hard work and depletes you of energy rather quickly. I don't think success in theoretical physics depends on how much time you spend (beyond a handful of hours a day) but rather on your perseverence, on what problems you choose and on your ability to come up with new ways in which to rephrase the problem.

If that still doesn't satisfy you, you can also google for biographies of successful mathematicians to see that a lot of them considered rest to be important and didn't work more than a couple hours per day. See, for instance, http://mathoverflow.net/questions/9799/how-much-work-does-it... .

We are discussing the suggestion that people work 3 hours. (Indeed the title of the article is literally "Work for only 3 hours a day, but everyday".)

Your quote does cover 3 hours of work very clearly:

"At about 10:30 he left for his Princeton office, walking when the weather was nice; otherwise, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. He worked until 1:00". That is almost exactly 3 hours. Your quote clearly describes about three hours of work per day, from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM. The only problem? Your quote continues "then returned home for a 1:30 lunch, a nap, and a cup of tea. The rest of the afternoon was spent at home, continuing his work, seeing visitors, and dealing with the correspondence that his secretary had sorted earlier in the day. Supper was at 6:30, followed by more work and more letters."

Literally "the rest of the afternoon was spent at home continuing his work...dealing with correspondnece..." and after a 6:30 pm supper "more work and more letters."

I will thank you for not cutting your quote off at the word "he worked until 1:00", which is the kind of example I was asking for (describing a 3-hour workday). The only issue is that an additional 5-10 hours of work follow. It's no example at all. In fact, taken as a whole it's pretty much the lifestyle I was describing, working from morning until late into the night.

If you do know of any scientist who worked for 3 hours a day I'd love to hear it.

It's really difficult to compare work in different fields though. "Work" for a theoretician can be an unrelated activity where they're thinking about concepts (perhaps lazily); does work include inspiration time?

I can't remember who it was concerning but I recall an anecdote about a scientist who would appear to be asleep - they would then suddenly "wake" and write something down or try a calculation; are you working if you're lying in bed and your brain is subconsciously processing a conceptualisation of a hypothesis?

Are those the papers he wrote in his spare time while he was working full time as an office clerk?

upvoted you. So, this is really important and let's look at this very carefully. (I'm not a historian.) Obviously you mean to imply that he had just spare time for his papers only, and that from our point of view 8 hours were taken as irrelevant non-work (if we consider the science to be the work), so that perhaps something like 3 were left for physics.

But is that accurate? If we look at the article I linked on that miracle year, it says: "He worked as an examiner at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, and he later said of a co-worker there, Michele Besso, that he 'could not have found a better sounding board for his ideas in all of Europe'."

I'm not trying to "rebut" you, let's understand what really happened. Did Einstein really do irrelevant clerical work that was time he simply lost from his day? Or did he really not only slack off during his job, and spend some time doing physics on company time, but even have his coworkers' input into it? i.e. get extra resources from his day job?

I am genuinely curious, but I think that it is probably the latter! What I mean is that suppose you take away his job at the patent office and his connection with his colleagues there. Instead you rewind history and just I don't know make him win some kind of lottery or give him the same money that he made but from some other source, or you make him a mailman or something, but at any rate you take away any positive direct contribution from his position.

What is your personal opinion about whether the four papers would still have resulted? Given everything I know about working on private projects on company time, or the history of Bill Gates at Harvard or a number of other similar stories... and given the direct quote... I think it quite likely that his 8 hour "office clerk" job in fact contributed to his physics research.

It would have been a purer example if he were a chauffeur or something. But given the quote, I think perhaps we should consider even those 8 hours as contributing to his physics research.

It is a real shame that we can't ask "what would have happened if he hadn't been working as a patent clerk."

On balance I think it supports my theory that it takes 24 hours to do something. You raise a good point however and I'd be interested in a historian's perspective. This is an extremely interesting venue to ask about. I wonder if anyone wrote about his work habits during those couple of years?

Probably depends a lot on the amount of intrinsic motivation involved: burning for something you love until it is done? Much more efficient per hour than revisiting it as a side project for some leftover hours each day. But when you are just exchanging hours for money, you will see acceptable (but not stellar) productivity at a reasonable amount of hours that will sharply drop when you add more.

I feel that there were times when working 24 hours / day was effective and times when working such long hours was ineffective.

There are two issues that I know of when I worked for long hours: tunnel-vision, communication and burning out.

If one works long hours, one has to evaluate an idea all the way, to check if is correct or not. For me, his hampers evaluating competing ideas effectively. This might not be the case for everyone.

Working as a team requires feedback from other team members. If you get stuck or need feedback/communication with someone else, you can enter a feedback loop such that the additional time that you spent on it does not bring additional value. These type of loops are possible even if working less hours per day, so it can be a good idea for additional research.

And burning-out: there is only so many hours in a day. A worker can have interest outside the technical question at hand: if they have priorities outside of work, would you require that they forego their priorities for work?

Says who? I've not found this to be historically so at all in my own perception. Feel free to share some data.

I mean historically as in, in the annals of history. I've now updated my comment with two examples.


I don't see how the Einstein example is relevant, feel free to elaborate.

On instagram... you're introduction valuation, not nominal productivity.

i.e., imagine I can either produce 1 smartphone after a year working 100 hours per week, or produce 100 smartphones after 10 years, working 10 hours per week.

Well, nominally, the latter example is way more productive. You produce 10x as many phones per year while working 1/10th the time. There's absolutely no way you can say that the former is more productive.

But, building today's smartphone in 10 years is obviously going to leave you with little value. In 10 years, your 10-year old tech will be valued very little.

Your instagram example is like that. The engineers working on it may have been much more productive if given 10 years to work on their project, but its valuation would be shit because it's last to market instead of first to market. So, not a great example.

If you're trying to say that working hard in short periods, allowing you to get to market before anyone else, is better than taking your time, then obviously that's true, but that's more a function of competition than it is of productivity!

Further, it's a poor example. Show me data that's meaningful for a large group of people, not extreme outliers. How many people do you know that created a $1b company or came up with g relativity theory? It's like saying 'dropping out of school is a great idea, look at Gates and Zuckerberg'. When in reality the data overwhelmingly supports the notion that finishing school has positive outcomes in your life. You can prove anything by looking at selective (outlier) examples, but show me examples that commonly occur.

Meanwhile overwhelmingly studies show that productivity drops sharply after some amount of hours. You get more work done per unit of time when working 8 hours per day, than 16 hours, period. That's what productivity measures.

There is obviously some lower bound, if you work in 3 minute intervals you're spending a lot of your time 'starting up' your workspace and getting your brain tuned in your work, and so productivity (work per unit of time) drops. I wouldn't be surprised if 4 times 90 minutes was less productive than working for 6 hours, that makes a lot of sense. But there's also an upper bound, where you lose concentration and motivation and are better off resting and getting back to it the next day, such that working two days of 6 hours is more productive than a single 12 hour session. Feel free to look at the many, many studies that confirm this. The above applies to virtually anyone, any organisation, any individual, productivity has diminishing returns as you scale way down or way up.

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