Could working three hours a day be enough?

27/3/2013 |

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One of the aims of my year of productivity experiments is to play with and experience extremities.  Working an hour a day has certainly been pretty extreme.

It’s also only possible right now because we have such a great team handling much of the day-to-day operations of the business – doing this three or four years ago, in the midst of trying to launch and grow a new business, or even this time last year, writing and editing and project-managing the launch of “How to be a Productivity Ninja“, working an hour a day would have been impossible.

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So two reflections on doing this, a couple of weeks before the 4th birthday of Think Productive UK: I’m really proud of how much momentum the organisation has without me.  I’m still a bottleneck and people still look to me for guidance or decisions on certain things, but actually not that much.  I’ve been in this position before when I’ve worked in organisations and created lots of “self-sufficiency”, but this is the first time I’ve created something completely from scratch and got it to this stage, which is great.  I’m proud of it.

The second reflection is about the practicality of working 60 minutes a day.  It’s not enough.  But it’s closer to “enough” than you might think.

Most of my 60 days have broken down broadly as follows:

  • 25 minutes – catching up with the team via emails or ‘daily huddle’
  • 25 minutes – conversations or emails about particular issues, usually providing guidance, decision.
  • 10 minutes – realising how much stuff I proactively need to create, and how little time I have to do this.

The truth is, an hour has been fine to cover “maintenance“.  It’s been fine to keep myself just about in the game.  Granted, my @action folder on email is currently standing at 63 (I usually keep mine at 20 or below, so this feels a bit out of control) but I know that some of this number is duplicates or completed issues that I haven’t had time to delete or file away.  But in general terms, one hour a day just about keeps my head above water.

What’s missing this month is creation.  One hour is never long enough to get beyond the maintenance.  Yet the idea of having six hours a day for creation feels like such a luxury.  What the hell was I doing with all that time?  If I had THREE hours a day for creation – or even just two hours – would that be enough?  Maybe.

So one thing I’m going to play around with in the future as a result of this month’s experiment is dividing my work into maintenance and creation.  It’s possible that at certain times in the life and development of an organisation, or in the cycle of a year, that creation might need forty hours a week, whereas at other times it might be a lot less.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available and having a set routine of 37 or 40 hours a week means we accept this as our bucket and work out how much we can fill it with – we never ask ourselves whether we need such a big bucket to carry what really matters.

Why doesn’t the annual schedule reflect that February and March are demanding, whereas December and August are not?  Why are so many workers and managers detached from evaluating and measuring the value they create, instead focussing on what they can fit into an artificial block of time?

We work 37 or 40 hours a week primarily based on habits and cycles that became the norm through Fordism.  Yet given how few of us have work that follows that repetitive factory pattern, perhaps it’s time to start measuring what we create, not the hours we work.

3 hours a day (Monday to Friday) as a working pattern could actually be sustainable and doable.  But only if we’re daring enough to start measuring what matters, as opposed to measuring how we spend our time, or how we spend our payroll.  As technological change continues to build more and more transparency and flexibility into how we set up and manage work, jobs and working relationships, this might not be as daring or difficult as it currently seems.


60 Minutes-02-02Like this? Try these

Change your working patterns: book one of our in-house Time Management workshops

Read more about Graham’s 60 Minutes experiment

Get Happy in 60 Minutes – Lifehacker



  1. Joanna Pieters

    It’s such a great experiment, Graham, and really focuses the mind on what matters. But part of me (while aspiring to this) thinks: is it a new industrial revolution which is dependent on the masses working to allow leisure for the few? Put it another way, could your company still run if everyone in it worked like this?

  2. Graham Allcott

    Joanna – great question. Answer is “yes and no”… Right now is the first time in the short history of TP that I’m able to do this, since so much of the day to day stuff is taken care of. I couldnt have done this a year or two ago. BUT on the other hand, any kind of constraint – particularly around time – is really an invitation to focus on what matters. Last year we had an internal project to halve the time that logistics took for workshops. It seemed impossible, and yes we had to make sacrifices, but actually we focussed on what mattered and did away with lots of less valuable stuff. So whilst it might not be possible right now, it might be possible to work quickly towards this for everyone, much as i’ve done. Three hours done in an ultra-focussed way is potentially a long time: I think 7 hours always feels like a massive luxury and most people (me included) lack discipline in using every minute of that REALLY effectively. But like with all of these experiments, they are designed as thought experiments to learn from rather than prescriptions of exactly what to do!

  3. Back to work, back to reality «

    […] quite a few reflections from the month in the previous posts, particularly the thought that perhaps 3 hours could be enough to live sustainably. And without wanting to get all sociological, perhaps doing so would reduce […]


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