Reader Interactions


  1. Your articles are amazing. I read a lot of different blogs and your style is just plain clear and helpful. Thank you so much.

  2. Great article! I’m glad someone is writing about the real question.

    But this seems like really bad news for anyone who has a knowledge work job but is trying to do a serious creative project in their off hours. Any tips or insight or research about how to make that possible, when both the job and the personal project are mentally strenuous?

    • That is a great question and something highly relevant to a lot of people nowadays. Probably something I will make a post about.

      I know some who work on the creative project first thing in the morning and get up 1-2 hours earlier to make this happen. Working some on weekends is another option (although long-term can lead to burnout if it’s too strenuous).

      In general, there are three factors that you can manipulate to get more overall energy in the day, and that is what you need if you are doing a serious project besides a job:
      – optimize your physical health (a healthier brain can perform longer)
      – reduce energy inefficiencies, stressing and worrying while doing a job is wasting energy that could go towards work. Working on mental patterns helps with this.
      – take breaks, taking strategic and actually recharging breaks helps you to overall have more energy during the day as you recover some brain power throughout.

      Will post about these three things in detail.

  3. Great article! This is really making ne reflect on the high expectations we put on students to do mental work not only during school hours, but while studying and doing homework outside of it.

  4. I work as a consultant and my hourly rate is set by my experience. Being a little OCD I track my time with a stopwatch. My sweet spot seems to be around four hours per day billable but my colleagues are recording eight hours a day. Would I be dishonest to just double my hours since real time tracking doesn’t seem to be standard in my industry? I can guarantee I do as much work in a day as my colleagues.

    • That’s a really great question. I think that is a common issue with billable hours. What an individual can actually get done in an hour can vary so widely, and the more experience or focus someone has the less time they need for the same task. Of course experience also factors into the hourly rate… but ultimately I like to think of services as value based. You get a certain service and you need to decide if that is worth it the money you pay for it. How long it really took the service provider to do it, is in some ways not relevant to you. As long as both parties feel happy with what they got, it’s all good. This is also the reason why service providers often charge much higher “hourly fees” for large corporate clients. They tend to get much more value from it, so pricing goes up accordingly. There is just no perfect way to do this.

  5. This is the article I have been looking for all my life! I am the type that worries about not doing enough work each day. But what is enough? I have asked other people around me and they come up with incredible numbers that make me think I have been wasting my time all day, though I actually manage to do 3 hours of mentally demanding revision with active recall a day. Thank you so much!

    • Wow! I am so glad I could help you find an answer to this important question. Most people never really track their work so the answer will be what they “think” is the right number based on job requirements etc.

  6. I have worked in the same woodworking shop for 19yrs, and the previous one 8 years. Our office staff spend much of their day chatting, and doing every thing but their job, then when their part of a job is not done they cry foul as being too pressured. The wood shop is an open plan and most everyone is focused on their task. Yesm they may have ear buds in, and yes the younger ones often look at their phone, but only for quick looks. Part of the reason there is little talk has to do with the machinery both making noise and for the person who is using a machine not to be distracted. Some new hires do not understand shop etiquette and are abrupt in their movements, talk too much or spend too much time on their phone, which is not productive and does not equate in them learning the tasks they are there to learn. We, in the shop like to pressure them to find other employment. This does not mean that there is a negative vibe or hostile atmosphere. People take breaks, have something to eat, etc, but mostly they are on task. From what I have seen this is the norm for shop work environment. Shame so little gets done in the average office esp since they often get higher pay, and are more highly regarded by the business world.

    • Very interesting! Perhaps there is a more natural flow to working with your hands as well, seeing direct progress as you work can be very motivating as well. Maybe it is easier to get into the flow versus most of the office tasks that are perhaps a bit less natural to us humans.

  7. Hi! I partially agree to the content. Things to also consider:

    I can do a lot more productive hours than described here. That’s is programming and complex debugging.

    In the same way I went to the gym and became stronger, I pushed also my limits in demanding problem solving tasks.

    As you can correct your training form over time and get better at training and actually get more results from less training, I noticed my problem solving capacity has tremendously augmented over the year or training my brain.

    I gained new skills and now I don’t even have to use a notepad as much anymore. I can recall a phenomenal amount of details. I surpassed all my colleagues and I try to share with them how I do it.

    All that comes to mind is to use gym training as an analogy as to explain how I augmented my problem solving capacity.

    Very similar… While totally different…

    Instead of breaking down muscle fibers, I am creating new neural pathways. Like in training, I cannot do 8 hours in line, whatever the mechanics involved, which I don’t know exactly, I can only do it in bursts, you could say like pomodero style, except you try and push your limits on your bursts duration. One more minute is like one more rep.

    You can do much bigger bursts over time. There is definitely a cost to create all those neural pathways, it uses something as an energy source and you run out of it at some point. If you overdo it, you might cumulate some debt yes. You should only push your limits a little…

    Consider this factor as well: programming is like playing for me, imagine yourself as a kid playing games all day long. I’m enjoying myself every day like if I was on vacation. I become a better “player” everyday (well you can plateau too though). If you do because you “need to” that’s a whole other game as to stay focused and productive.

    Picture this, the kid that dances in place because he has to pee but doesn’t want to let the game go… Of course don’t do that haha but that kind of drive has to be in there is what I’m saying.

    Now I admit, you will be lucky if you ever get that dream job. That you are so much into it and feeling so good that people will lock the office and set the alarm without even noticing you are there… Yep that happened to me.

    Now if you don’t feel like that about your work, you will never really have the drive to push yourself over the limits and get better over time.

    That drive, I think it part of the energy source I mentioned. Plus all the chemical stuff I suppose, that means sleep well eat well etc… Otherwise you won’t recover fast enough and you won’t ever be able to focus at some point.

    So many things are as mentioned in this article and I agree with them. Not all because it’s missing the evolving element, as if you are born with a capacity/mental endurance and there is a spectrum of that … Yes but what about changing that and getting better… That is my main point I guess.

    Getting better and having the motivation to want it and to respect your limits, while always pushing them a little so that you recover faster, or last longer, or having more efficient neural pathways over time or etc….

    • Thanks so much for your amazing comment! Completely agree. There is much that affects how much you can work in a day. And I only brushed on a few of them. If you do something a lot and build strong neural connections around it, you will be able to do this longer. It is mentioned briefly in the point about the more mental energy something takes, the less you can do it. Similarly, when you enjoy doing something there is less energy wasting on negative emotions and fighting against our amygdala who tries to keep us from doing something takes extra energy. So if that factor is gone because we fully enjoy it and derive primitive pleasure from it, our brain can do it longer. Another key point is to improve the brain/body on a physical level. I want to write a follow up post about how you can increase that limit, whatever limit you have right now. And a big part of that is optimizing brain function.

      I think the key point is that no matter how optimized things are, there is a natural limit. At some point you have to sleep and efficiency decreases. And I wanted to show that many people have way too high expectations for themselves and feel like everyone else but them is productive. And that is very destructive.

  8. Great article! I’m wondering if you have some kind of practical advice for a mechanical engineering student. I have 18 hours of class every week and honestly they all feel like they require pretty intense mental focus. If I divide 18 by 5 days of week, that’s about 3.5 hours per day, on average (Mon-Fri). Sometimes, after I have my class, I feel like I have little focus left to keep doing homework or studying. But I have to do them sometime, so I guess my question is:

    Do you think it would be practical to work/study on the weekends as well? Or do you think it’s better if I have a day or two of no work at all to recharge?

    Thanks for the great article! Just found this website and I will be checking the app soon!

    • Great questions! Couple of thoughts. First off, I would think about how much you get out of the lectures. Because it is an intense time and energy commitment. I am a poor auditory learner and at university I realized my time is totally wasted in class. So I stopped attending all classes for my last semesters (except where attendance was mandatory) and just used that time to study/do homework instead. Ultimately, it’s about doing things that give you the most bang for your buck (the most learning for your time/energy investment). Everyone learns best in different ways.

      Another thing to consider is energy levels throughout the day. Perhaps after class you are in a low period of focus. Perhaps you have some extra time in the morning instead where you have more energy, or after a few hours of break time you find there is another window of 1-2 hours where you are capable of studying some more. It’s all about experimentation and noticing patterns.

      There is no universal answer about the weekends. It’s all about learning to listen to your body. If you sit down, try to work, but it just feels like an endless struggle, get up and do something fun/restoring. Ideally something that benefits you on a healthy level (socializing, physically active, creative, resting, nature etc.) and includes a change of pace/scenery. If you try again later and you feel the same, maybe give yourself the whole day off. When our minds are not cooperating, it is a sign we need a break/to take care of ourselves.

      I find, most people do really appreciate to have at least one day off completely every week. Where they can feel completely unburdened and just live into the day. It can be very restorative. But if it makes you feel more stressed (at least short-term) because you feel behind, give yourself a limited time frame on the weekend where you work. Limiting timeframes can help you be more focused when you do work, because you know you only have X hours to get your stuff done. If you give yourself all weekend, work expands to engulf the whole thing. But you just end up being very inefficient and/or spend a lot of time forcing work, when it’s hard.

  9. Hi Christina,

    Just for clarification, you are mostly talking about 5 days of work with 2 days of rest for this, right? 6 hours a day max for 5 days equaling 30 hours of work a week? For the most intensive work its 3-4 hours a day max for 5 days equaling 15-20 hours a week?

    Or are these not supposed to be including 2 days of rest?

    Erick Campos

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