Radical Work Paradigm - 3 Hour Workday

As a new year begins, I have a new work paradigm to propose for all information workers. This one is radically countercultural, but incredibly powerful – even life-changing. It’s the step that will take your personal capabilities to the next level, and give you the daily freedom that your soul yearns for.

Gorgeous futuristic clock.

Challenge: During each workday, limit your work to a maximum of 3 hours.

Background: 13 years ago, I read Tim Ferriss radically revolutionary book The 4-Hour Workweek. At the time, it opened my eyes to a new way to look at work. Since I was still in college at the time, most of the concepts were a bit far from being applicable. It’s an incredible book, but the title is somewhat intentionally misleading. The result is achieving a 4-hour workweek, but the pathway to arrive is incredibly difficult and requires insane amount of sacrifice. Building a lifestyle that allows you to have a 4-hour workweek may requires years of poverty, struggle and 80-hours workweeks. There are many quick-fix gurus who will try to convince you otherwise, but the universe ultimately abides by the law of the harvest.

Having worked in numerous industries in my software career I have observed the following ubiquitous workflow issues:

  1. Workers spend more time working than they do thinking about HOW they work
  2. Waste is regarded as an inevitability, rather than a surmountable challenge
  3. Most workers don’t understand or utilize leverage

I also have lots of experience with rapid-development projects that operate under extremely tight budget, staffing, and time constraints. I have observed some other interesting things in these projects:

  1. Workflow process is the key thing for productivity
  2. People working under constraints outdeliver unconstrained worker by a very large factor (5x-7x)
  3. Constraints prevents many classes of work problems (communication, prioritization, reinventing… etc.)

There is a well-known law that effectively expresses a part of what I have observed.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

The corollary is also largely true. Work contracts to meet tight time constraints.

The Antidote

This is one of the key problems in the America information work culture.

People confuse time spent with results generated.

Bosses think that if they don’t get 8 hours of work, workers aren’t giving their best.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Establishing an 8-hour workday guarantees waste, in insane amounts.

Therefore, I propose that information workers should do no more than 3 hours of work per day.

What should be done with the newly freed up time?

This is a big enough topic that it merits its own blog post. You can look forward to my next post on how non-work time will make everyone work better, enjoy it more, and become more individually capable.

What counts as work?

In this case, I’m referring to concrete task-oriented effort. In well-organized companies, anything that moves the needle on the project backlog, helps to meet formal business commitments, or works on planned features.

Your mind will tell you if it’s “work” or something else. You can feel it in your gut.

Unstructured effort doesn’t count as work. Reading that business article to learn more about the industry with no specific goal is fine. Talking to co-workers without a work agenda is fine. Going for a walk and brainstorming about general things isn’t work. If it’s something that you aren’t held accountable for and doesn’t impact your KPIs, then you can do it even after your 3 hours of work are finished for the day.

What are the core goals of the 3-hour workday?

  1. Enable more deep work
  2. Strengthen prioritization
  3. Capitalize on natural attention tendencies
  4. Restore balance between thinking and doing
  5. Encourage microtasking
  6. Maximize psychological health
  7. Reduce unnecessary waste

A New Year - A New Work Paradigm

If you are a worker, I give you permission to try your best to fit all of your assigned tasks into just 3 hours. Once you have put in those three hours, you must stop working.

If you are a leader or a boss, I encourage you to limit your employees work to just 3 hours a day. This is the very best to enable them to operate the most effectively, and generate the most value.

If you aren’t certain how this will impact your career or your company, then I encourage you to try it with your team as an experiment, for just 2-6 weeks. Then, compare the results.

  • How does work completion velocity differ between 8-hour days and 3-hour days?
  • How does team morale differ?
  • What unexpected costs are there to 3-hour workdays?
  • What unexpected benefits are there to 3-hour workdays?