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  • Jon Saft

The 4 hour workday

We love the number 4 so much we named our company after it. For us, the number 4 carries so much power because of its ability to keep us sane. We were sick of being afraid of our daunting to-do lists, so we built a product that would only ever show us our Top 4 most important, actionable tasks. Instead of managing endless task lists, we thought managing a list of 4 tasks sounded much more doable, and the science backed us up.


But the power of 4 goes well beyond just the number of tasks in your to-do list.


4 hours a day is all you need


According to Oliver Burkeman, a former Guardian columnist and author of several books, "You almost certainly can't consistently do the kind of work that demands serious mental focus for more than about three or four hours a day."


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To many of us, and many of our bosses, packing it up for the day after 3-4 hours would seem unthinkable and lazy. But once again, the science backs it up. According to Rest, a book written by Standford's Alex Pang, the brain starts to break down and lose steam after 4 hours of work. And if you really think about it, how often are you putting in more than 4 hours of undistracted, focused work in a given day?


Beyond the science, the historical evidence is overwhelming. "Charles Darwin worked for two 90-minute periods in the morning, then an hour later on; the mathematician Henri Poincaré from 10am till noon then 5pm till 7pm; the same approximate stretch features in the daily routines of Thomas Jefferson, Alice Munro, John le Carré and many more," Burkeman writes.


What about the rest of the day?


Just because we're capping our days after 4 hours of concentrated work does not mean you should spend the rest of your day deep in a Netflix binge.


The brain is able to exert maximum energy for 4 hours a day, so use the rest of your day for activities that don't require as much mental energy. Clear out your inbox, schedule meetings, indulge in hobbies - optimize your schedule to make the most of your day.


But most importantly, protect your 4 hours. Time is your most powerful asset, and you only have so many hours in a day to do your best work. Use them wisely.