How to Be Productive Without Working Past Noon.
This is why productivity and free time are friends.
Often, someone will ask me how they can be productive for eight hours every day.
That question is a mess. Do they want to be productive? Or do they hate having free time? Those are two different problems.
The person asking is used to blocking off eight hours for work because they’re used to being unproductive. It takes them eight hours of goofing off to get one hour of work done.
I can teach you the secret to being productive and having free time.
What is your real productivity goal?
I’ll use a real example about a student named Abe.
Abe wanted help finishing his dissertation. He asked me:
“How do I write for eight hours a day? I keep getting distracted and then procrastinating.”
Abe is normal. We’ve all been in this situation where we mistook quantity for quality.
So maybe knowing the following will help you achieve your real goal next time you’re in that situation.
Abe’s goal was not to work for eight hours a day. His real goal was to finish his dissertation.
What’s your real goal? Start there.
Some Famous People Get Off Work Before Noon
I was Abe’s coach for a few weeks.
At the end of the coaching relationship, he was writing consistently and procrastination was no longer a problem. He’s gone on to finish his dissertation and get his PhD.
There’s something I kept from the Abe but won’t keep from you.
I never, not even for one second, intended to help him be productive for the full 8 hours.
People who want more time are most often suffering from a problem of focus. If you fixed your focus, you wouldn’t need all that time.
Of course, that’s obvious. Imagine you said you wanted to study effectively for eight hours and then found a solution that was just as effective but only took 30 minutes. You’d be thrilled.
The greatest living example of this is Stephen King.
Stephen King writes 2,000 words per day. He only skips that goal under the most dire of circumstances (like if he’s in a coma).
But here’s the key fact: he almost always finishes before 5 pm. Sometimes he finishes by before 1 pm. (Source: his autobiography, On Writing).
Stephen King has written more than 70 books and sold more than 350 million copies without ever working past 5pm.
His work is a powerful critique of other workaholic cultures. If you’re focused and consistent you won’t need to work all hours.
I’m embarrassed for my startup industry. Lots of us know how to work long hours, but few of us understand how to work a single productive hour.
Taking this back to the student I was coaching, Abe. I started him with a very simple exercise.
I asked him to get a timer and report back to me the next day.
His challenge was to measure how many minutes it took between sitting down at his desk for the first time and writing his first sentence.
That cured him of procrastination instantly. Instead of trying to bite off eight perfect hours, he just had to get one sentence done.
He reported back that he’d gotten the first sentence down in three minutes and then kept going for another two hours.
During those two hours he wrote more than he had on any other previous day.
He kept that pace up for months, just writing for two focused hours every day until he finished the dissertation.
Never once did he report wanting to move up to 8 focused hours. He was so consistent that he even reported writing for two hours on his iPhone.
I can’t imagine anyone who was struggling with focus writing for two hours on a phone.
I use this in my training material for coaches as a demonstration of two things, momentum and framing.
1. By focusing on momentum, you change the dynamic from someone who is failing (can’t focus, even for just 8 hours) to someone who is succeeding.
2. The reason this worked for Abe is that momentum changed his framework for thinking about writing. He was thinking about hours spent instead of output. And that was tripping him up.
In summary, the answer to the question of how do you work efficiently and effectively for 10 hours is to work efficiently and effectively for 1 minute and then expand from there.
That can be generalized to almost all productivity goals. And if you master this lesson, you’ll be getting your work done first thing, often before noon.
What you do after that is up to you. More work? Exercise? Have friends and a social life?
If you’re prolific, you never need to feel guilty about being home for dinner with your family.