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Four Hours. An Experiment

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

I don’t know about you but I still live in a world where ‘time is money’ and working long hours is seen as a badge of honour. I can feel change coming but it’s not quite fully here yet.

I’m also aware of the effects of having way too much time to work on a creative project, so that staring at the wall becomes a new pastime. Or so little time that it disappears like sand through your fingers and 3 months has flown past. Is there a ‘goldilocks zone’ to working at your best and most creative?

I’m going to try an experiment.

After reading and listening to more self help and productivity books than my brain can cope with, the magic number of concentration hours that keeps cropping up is 4. 4 hours per day. It seems like both a lot and a tiny amount at the same time.

I’m working freelance for a separate team at the moment so I currently have one day a week in my studio to get my concentrating and deep tasks done and I’m desperate to guard my time, energy and attention.

My experiment is going to be to use this 4 hour idea.

4 hours in the morning to push all distraction aside, to have everything ready to attack the task and then I can either carry on a little bit longer if I have the time and ideas or to log off, switch my brain down a gear and to go and do something else. Basically to use the set time to concentrate and then ease off the pedal.

I mentioned in this post about organising your to-do list to be a bit more streamlined and focus ready. Get that to-do list to hand, define your 4 hours and GO!

I’ve included a few more tips below to help you to be even more streamlined and super efficient, you might want to give those a go too.

Define your deep work task- what’s your deep goal task that can get you towards a bigger goal? This isn’t the time for shallow tasks like ordering a new laptop cable or signing a birthday card. This is time for creativity and moving things forwards.

Define your time- 4 hours. Full concentration, no distractions. set a timer if you need to stay focussed.

Hide- 'Go and hide somewhere people won't bother you' John Cleese- Creativity

I understand that hiding isn't an option for a lot of people but the more quiet space you can get, the better. If you can’t hide, signal to others that you’re working without distraction- can you use headphones to do this?

Digital distraction- Take off the smart watch, turn off notifications, close the email tab, go as far as turning the wi-fi off if you have to

Have your tools to hand- Roger Kneebone talks about 'mise en place' in his book Expert. In this context he's using it to describe how surgeons, a taxidermist and chefs use their workspace to have everything to hand and in it's correct place, they know where each tool is and that they can access it without distraction or sometimes without even needing to look.

If you don't have a permanent workspace, can you get the tools you'll need ready in a pencil case/laptop bag/ tote bag? This will make starting your task easy if you don't have to run around the studio collecting the tools you need.

No excuses- Have your snacks, water and a scrap piece of paper (for any interrupting thoughts) ready at your desk. Remove any excuse to go for a wander around the house/studio

Have you worked out a good routine that suits your line of work? Have you tried the 4 hour deep work idea?

If you have a friend who might enjoy this kind of discussion, feel free to share this with them or if you have any thoughts on this subject please do leave a comment or drop me an email. To keep up with the latest blog posts, join my monthly round up here.


Interesting reads:

John Cleese Creativity

Roger Kneebone - Expert

Cal Newport - Deep Work

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