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I tried working only 3h/day for a week. Here's what happened & why I'll do it again.

Published or Updated On: 
December 24, 2022

Every entrepreneur I know has worked crazy hours at some point. Some of that is just the nature of the beast. Starting a business is hard. Long hours are also glorified by the hustle culture around startups, so one can be forgiven for thinking late night grinds are required to succeed. I definitely did. 

Working lots of hours can come with real drawbacks though, and not all of them are obvious. Beyond the cost to your personal life, it can actually stunt the development of your business.

⚠️ Problems from an abundance of available work hours

If you think of yourself as having a huge number of available hours for your business, you’re more likely to…

1. Spend time on stuff that doesn’t matter as much

When you’ve got 10h+ in a day, you don’t have be incredibly discerning with how you set priorities. Then Parkinson’s Law comes into play and you spend 2h on something that could’ve been 30 minutes. 

2. Build something dependent on you

You have the time, so you can bandaid gaps in your system by just doing the work yourself. Ultimately, this keeps you trapped in the day to day. 

3. Do work below your pay grade

This goes along with the above. 

4. Burn out

You can only keep a suicide pace up for so long.

my guy underwater with thumbs up
Entrepreneurs when asked about their workload

💭 “If you could only work 3 hours today, what would you do?”

I’ve heard this prompt many times before, you may have too. It’s a thought experiment that is supposed to help you see your priorities more clearly, so you do more important work. It’s a good thought experiment. But an even better real experiment.

I’m suggesting you don’t just think about what you’d do if you only had 3 hours to work in a day, I’m saying you should actually do it. Limit yourself to 3 hours/day. 

I found there was a big difference between theory and practice. Limiting my hours led me to do more important work than I was doing before & in less time. I limited myself to 3h of work per day for 3 days, then expanded it to a full week because of the results I was seeing:

🧪 I tried it. Here’s what happened:

Priorities became crystal clear 

I thought to myself “I’m working so much less than usual, I need these hours to be super high leverage in order to actually move the needle” and planned accordingly. I emphasized building myself out of projects so they could run without me and strategy work about where to make investments. 

I also realized more viscerally just how shockingly easy it is to spend time on something which isn’t high leverage: that enticingly distracting question on Slack, that interesting sidebar thought I want to Google.

My focus became laser sharp

“I literally only have 30 minutes left to do this or it isn’t going to get done! Can’t fuck around!”

I had Day 1 enthusiasm

I came into my 3 hours hot & ready to make big waves. It was fun! I got them done before 12pm which meant I had the whole rest of the day.

I also finished my days more satisfied, because I was doing high leverage work, and because I had a clear answer to the perpetual question founders ask which is “have I done enough?”

My inbox piled up

I developed a backlog of requests, emails, and stuff that I’d classify as “not mission critical but needs to get done fairly soon”. But because priorities were so clear, I didn’t feel bad about leaving these unattended for a while. This kind of housekeeping isn’t what grows your business.

maverick flying in top gun
How it feels to work in one of your limited hours

📈 My lasting results

I expanded my hours again after the week. In addition to working on my business, I also work in my business right now & that means there’s some day-to-day for me.

But there has been lasting benefit: I have reduced the amount I’m working in the business, and got myself out of the day-to-day on a few important areas. With the expanded hours, I’ve maintained the focus on high leverage work and that’s kept my enthusiasm up. The experiment has had the effect of sharpening my blade, so to speak. I’m a little less focused now then when I was doing only 3h/day, but I’m OK with that.

📌 How to do it yourself

If you’re in a position where you can control your hours, the first step is to make the decision to try it.  You don’t have to do 3h, but I recommend cutting whatever your current hours are by at least 50%. The goal is to have a radically different amount of time available to get your work done.

When thinking about duration, I advise setting a minimum number of days to try it, but don’t set an end date. With no clear end date, this will help prevent it from becoming merely a period of half days where you’re not too concerned about your output because you’ll be “back to normal” soon.

I used a timer for each of my 3h to make sure they were actually 3h. I use an app called Timer RH, which does countdowns from 60min and can float on top of your screen, always letting you see how much time you have left.

When your 3h runs out, you have to be done working. No emails, no light or administrative work - nothing! You must stick to your heavily limited hours to gain the benefits of the experiment. Enjoy your time away from work, and don’t feel guilty. This will be a net benefit to your business.

If you don’t already do this, I advise choosing the things that you’re going to work on for your 3h a day ahead of time. This will further enhance your sense of momentum and focus.

You might consider writing a few sentences in a “work journal” at the end of each day to record what your experience is like. This could help organize thoughts on how you feel like the experiment works (or doesn’t) for you.

If you had good results, then you can rinse & repeat as needed throughout the year.

Good luck!

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