The Four Hour Work Day: A Productivity System for Entrepreneurs and Knowledge Workers

By AAwosika07 | Entrepreneurship

Oct 17

“I have all this time on my hands now, I bet I’m going to be insanely productive.”

When I quit my job a year and a half ago, I thought having unlimited time and flexibility would lead to these massive workdays. Since I had so much free time, I figured I’d work 10-12 hour days every single day, non-stop, until I built this massive empire.

But, each day, my work sessions usually ended up two to four hours long.

Well, I’d do things for 8, 10, 12 hours a day, sure, but those two to four hours to start the day always moved the needle more than the rest of the time combined.

Everything after that initial four-hour period usually involved scattered managerial work, trying and failing to do more deep work, and a feeling that I never got all that much done.

I’d feel guilty because I couldn’t manage to stick with a solid 8-hour traditional workday.

Now? I realize that you only need about four hours of work per day to truly get the job done. I also realized that much of the traditional culture — both employee culture and hustle culture — were BS.

Why Arbitrary Time Periods Make No Sense

Forty hour workweeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes – train and sprint, then rest and reassess. – Naval Ravikant

I’ll spare you the full history of the 8-hour workday. It’s just clear that this is now a staple of our time. Originally created to reduce the length of arduous workdays for labor, this time length has remained for decades due to, well, I don’t know exactly.

A uniform 8 hour workday across all industries makes little to no sense for a few reasons. Different professions require different skills, tackle different challenges, and use different levels of cognitive load.

8 hours’ worth of coding is different than 8 hours worth of accounting which is different than 8 hours of project management which is different than 8 hours of assembly line work which is different than 8 hours of flipping burgers.

When it comes to corporate work, you have Parkinson’s Law that says people will stretch out a task to fit the amount of time you give them to do it. Companies all over the world are wasting money because they’re giving employees too much time to work.

If you work in an office setting, you realize how much time you spend actually working vs answering bs emails, talking to co-workers, browsing the internet, whatever. If your boss told you that instead of working 8 hours, you could work four and leave as long as you got your major tasks done, you’d take that deal.

Many companies swear by different time periods including five hour or six-hour workdays.

The way you structure your day is important, too. When I was a project manager at a small web development agency, I tried to give the codes uninterrupted time to code. But we’d lose so much time because of ’emergencies’ and requests that caused them to switch tasks too often.

In short, traditional methods have major problems. Our entire culture has a productivity problem. Somewhere along the line, we equated time spent with work and busy work with work. No Bueno.

If you’re an employee right now, try to implement the system I’m going to show you and save the rest of your time for other tasks. If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, understand this new method might help you be more productive than usual.

Hustle Pornography Gone Wild

“Working hard is great, but struggle porn has a dangerous side effect: not quitting. When you believe the normal state of affairs is to feel like you’re struggling to make progress, you’ll be less likely to quit something that isn’t going anywhere.” – Nat Eliason

Hustle porn is the idea that you should constantly work on your craft or business 24/7 no matter what.

On the one hand, you do have times where you need to hustle. Without question, you’re not going to reach great heights as a creator or an entrepreneur without some 12-14 hour days, crazy stretches to meet deadlines and 7-day workweeks.

But if hustling too much burns you out and causes you to ultimately quit, it’s not worth it. And, for most businesses, you don’t need to work insane hours to get them off the ground.

Sure, if you’re running a venture-backed tech company, building spaceships, or trying to reach some billion-dollar valuation, then, yeah, you will have to ‘hustle till your eyes bleed.’

But most of us have simpler goals and business ideas. We want to write, create YouTube videos, start podcasts, run agencies, become coaches, sell our art, run e-commerce shops, freelance, become solopreneurs, or have a small team underneath us.

You can build a six or seven-figure business without having to kill yourself in the process. It might take you longer, but, so what? Also, many of us get into business partially because we want freedom.

Well, when you reach a level of freedom, enjoy it. I don’t love the grind as much as Gary Vee. He says he ‘loves losing.‘ I don’t. I like being productive, not insanely productive. Since I didn’t want my 8-hour gig,  why replicate it when I was finally able to quit my job? Dumb.

As I said, you’ll have times where you have to shift gears and work super-long hours, but you can build a foundation for your business or career in just 2-4 hours per day.

The Four Hour Work Day: A Simple Approach for Increased Creativity

“Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.” – Cal Newport

You get the premise upfront. You want to spend up to four hours working on a task that’s important to your career or business. Often, the most important tasks that move the needle require concentration.

If you commit to this time-block daily, you’ll habitually put yourself into a flow state — that deep in the zone that helps you make breakthroughs. Some of my best articles come from these flow states where I feel possessed. I get so deep that I’m no longer writing the articles, some daemon is.

You won’t have breakthroughs in your career or business if you don’t spend enough time focused intently on being creative. You can get a ton done if you commit to this time-block and use it for important tasks.

What’s an important task? It depends on what you do for a living or for your business. It also depends on what stage of the process you’re in. I usually spend two to four hours writing a new article or two each day. I might have a product launch to prepare for so that time-block might be spent doing a task like creating a sales page.

Use the mantra from the one thing strategy to help you decide which tasks to put in your time block:

“What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Benefits of the Four Hour Workday and Tips on Structuring Your Routine

Working in shorter periods more consistently has many benefits:

  • When you have more recovery time, you’re fresh for each new session
  • You avoid diminishing marginal returns, meaning you get less output for your effort as time passes. Sometimes, if you do a task in a suboptimal state, you’ll have to go back and fix it anyway, so it wasn’t even worth doing
  • You get out of the hustle hamster wheel that causes anxiety. When you put yourself under so much pressure to succeed super fast that stress creates a net negative output. It’s okay to leave money on the table. You know that, right?

When it comes to the tasks themselves, short and simple to-do lists work best. 3 items are enough. Imagine ruthlessly executing on 3 important tasks, four hours at a time, for a few years. You’ll get a ton done.

Lately, my creative time-block includes tasks like writing, focusing on product launches, and working on one of my marketing platforms. I spend most of the time writing, but I might work on a major sector of my business in the span of one time-block, e.g., shooting and editing all my YouTube videos for the week in one sitting.

Think of what moves the needle most, think of how you can batch, and think of what requires the most cognitive load.

If you work for yourself, you have complete control of your time-block, so structure accordingly. If you’re an employee, do what you can to create boundaries in your environment. Let your manager know about your strategy and ask your team not to bother you unless it’s an emergency. Batch answer your emails if possible. Do your best to avoid meetings during your time-block period.

Next, comes the ‘house money’ time. If you work for yourself and complete your 4-hour work session, you can either call it quits for the day or decide to keep going.

Sometimes you get in a groove and you can ride that flow state for the whole day. Sometimes you just feel it. Ride the feeling when it comes but don’t pressure yourself.

Personally, after my deep work session, I work on managerial tasks like answering emails, but I never put myself under a ton of pressure to get that stuff done.

The more I’ve ignored my inbox, the more I realized how unimportant 99 percent of it is. I have a running list of tasks that I’d like to get done. I used to let this bother me. Now, I allow those tasks to reside in the back of my head where they belong.

Try some variation of this process for yourself and see how it works. You’ll likely come to realize you’re much more productive in much less time

Let’s Build a Truly Productive Culture

“The answer is not more hours, it’s less bullshit.” – Jason Fried

You might struggle to create this process depending on where you work. Maybe this should give you pause, though, and lead you to search for a different business with a different culture, or work to build a bridge to self-employment.

More companies, entrepreneurs, creatives, and other individuals are starting to realize that time spent does not equal valuable work. When it comes to creating a new path for your life, go at an optimal speed. This doesn’t mean you have to go slow, per se, but understand that cumulative impact of these creative bursts combined.

Many of you are in a situation where you have a side hustle and to quit your job. I used a mini-version of this workday, before I went to my actual job, and quit my job eventually.

For those of you who are on your own full-time, remember why you got started. You wanted to do something that provided creative satisfaction. You also wanted to have freedom and flexibility. I’m sure you didn’t work so hard to quit your job just to give yourself another job.

There’s more to life than work. You work to facilitate more life, not more work. Remember that.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.