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for how many hours can you be productive in a day?

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genesisk5

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Any work that produces a lot of output and requires a lot of focus and/or creativity (think writing, programming etc.) are high mental energy tasks. For those types of tasks, a good upper limit seems to be 3-4 hours a day. And working 2-3 hours on those tasks per day means you had a very productive day.

before I quitted my job recently to pursue my entrepreneurial dream, I have earned some money with which I can live without working for a few months. I was going to spend all my time on being productive, mainly writing codes all day but I find myself really struggling. but because of what I’ve read about other successful entrepreneurs, that they had worked on their business all day, I thought that I’ll just have to try harder. but after having read what I quoted above, I wonder if I’m trying to do something almost impossible. do I better be productive for only 4 hours(maybe a little bit more) until I start to lose focus and admit that my mental energy has been depleted and do something else like exercising or working for a part time job? or maybe even just take some rests? when entrepreneurs say they worked all day, do they refer to the phase in their business where they only have to do so because of the external pressures, not the phase where I’m at now?

edit : thank you so much for your replies! it truly helped!
 
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WestCoast

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We all make up excuses to not work hard for long periods.
Humans have more capability than they think.

Me:
- I can generally work *hard* for a~11 hours a day.
- I can work those hours for about 15 days in a row, without much impact
- I have done ~32 days straight, with maybe a half day off in the middle, before my body told me to stop for rest.

For high intensity, strategic, deep thinking things: I can do ~4-6 hours in the morning (5am to 10/1030am). Then another round from like 2-6pm. So, maybe 7-9 hours depending on how you slice it?

I'm not special at all.
Many people work a LOT harder than I do, at more complex task, for longer.


If you're exercising, eating well, taking care of yourself, I'd be shocked if you can't do a lot more.
Honestly. Be honest with yourself.

Push.
Push hard.

That isn't pain you feel.

That's you getting stronger.
 

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I can do 3-5h of code every day. Then I go do other stuff, mainly taking care of my mind, body and health.
I'm not "successful" yet, but still think this is enough if you work really "smart".
 

Eudaimonium

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Coding is not necessarily creative or mentally taxing at all. It can often be a mechanical process, meaning you can probably do it all day, however you will notice towards the end you easily commit many mistakes, none of which tend to be critical or hard to detect.

What can drain your energy is using the wrong tools or framework, and switching between different types of tasks/environments. If you pick the right tools, places, people, plans using those precious first hours where you can think creatively, the rest of the day's work can be done mechanically / logically.
 

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before I quitted my job recently to pursue my entrepreneurial dream, I have earned some money with which I can live without working for a few months. I was going to spend all my time on being productive, mainly writing codes all day but I find myself really struggling. but because of what I’ve read about other successful entrepreneurs, that they had worked on their business all day, I thought that I’ll just have to try harder. but after having read what I quoted above, I wonder if I’m trying to do something almost impossible. do I better be productive for only 4 hours(maybe a little bit more) until I start to lose focus and admit that my mental energy has been depleted and do something else like exercising or working for a part time job? or maybe even just take some rests? when entrepreneurs say they worked all day, do they refer to the phase in their business where they only have to do so because of the external pressures, not the phase where I’m at now?
Some of my really creative activities are like you said -- 2 or 3 hours in a day and then that's it -- unless I can get into the "flow". I try to do all the lower lever stuff in the other hours -- and believe me when I say that while running a business, I have a lot of lower level activities that must be completed. Boring but necessary! So, I cherish my special moments. I try to time those precious creative hours at my mental and physical peak times of the day.

BUT, there's an another element here to consider. It also depends on your expertise. Hear me out...
The steps to expertise are:

1. You don't know that you don't know.
2. Then you know that you don't know. And you are interested in learning.
3. You try hard and the activity or learning experience is difficult. You fail a lot and most of the time, you hate the whole thing. The idea of wanting to quit comes up often.
4. You can do it, but you must think about every step in the process as you mental guide yourself through it.
5. You can do it so easily that everyone thinks that they can do it too. You do the steps intuitively and you find yourself in the "flow" a lot. You are an expert.

If you are at level 3 or 4 on this scale, it's going to take all of you poop to complete your task. And you really can't work at that level hour after hour. Learning new skills and information is very taxing. They say it takes 10,000 of applied practice to get to level #5. Notice the term is "applied practice". That is different from going through the motions. This is where you are all in with your whole heart.

So, rather than comparing yourself to others, explore what is your "best" today. Keep pushing yourself further, just a little bit at time. If you were going to start running, you wouldn't start with a marathon. You would start slow and build up to that full race. This is a race -- just in business.

I can also talk to you about how we learn new things. There are techniques that can speed up learning based on how information is stored in the human brain. But, this is enough for you to chew on at the moment...
 

genesisk5

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Some of my really creative activities are like you said -- 2 or 3 hours in a day and then that's it -- unless I can get into the "flow". I try to do all the lower lever stuff in the other hours -- and believe me when I say that while running a business, I have a lot of lower level activities that must be completed. Boring but necessary! So, I cherish my special moments. I try to time those precious creative hours at my mental and physical peak times of the day.

BUT, there's an another element here to consider. It also depends on your expertise. Hear me out...
The steps to expertise are:

1. You don't know that you don't know.
2. Then you know that you don't know. And you are interested in learning.
3. You try hard and the activity or learning experience is difficult. You fail a lot and most of the time, you hate the whole thing. The idea of wanting to quit comes up often.
4. You can do it, but you must think about every step in the process as you mental guide yourself through it.
5. You can do it so easily that everyone thinks that they can do it too. You do the steps intuitively and you find yourself in the "flow" a lot. You are an expert.

If you are at level 3 or 4 on this scale, it's going to take all of you poop to complete your task. And you really can't work at that level hour after hour. Learning new skills and information is very taxing. They say it takes 10,000 of applied practice to get to level #5. Notice the term is "applied practice". That is different from going through the motions. This is where you are all in with your whole heart.

So, rather than comparing yourself to others, explore what is your "best" today. Keep pushing yourself further, just a little bit at time. If you were going to start running, you wouldn't start with a marathon. You would start slow and build up to that full race. This is a race -- just in business.

I can also talk to you about how we learn new things. There are techniques that can speed up learning based on how information is stored in the human brain. But, this is enough for you to chew on at the moment...

thank you so much. it really helped. the 5 steps to being an expert is like... I was surprised that there are already generally defined steps about what I'm exactly going through(currently 3~4 like you estimated). I thought that this is just something specific to me and other smart people will just skip some steps and become an expert sooner. and I'm also interested in the learning techniques you mentioned in the end. is there a book about the whole knowledge you just shared? could you recommend me a book about it if it exists?
 

WJK

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thank you so much. it really helped. the 5 steps to being an expert is like... I was surprised that there are already generally defined steps about what I'm exactly going through(currently 3~4 like you estimated). I thought that this is just something specific to me and other smart people will just skip some steps and become an expert sooner. and I'm also interested in the learning techniques you mentioned in the end. is there a book about the whole knowledge you just shared? could you recommend me a book about it if it exists?
I don't know of any human who can skip the steps to becoming an expert. Even genius kids who are "naturals" practice hours and hours every day.

I don't know of any one book that has information on how we learn. I've been studying the subject of learning and the brain for years, so I have many sources of information over the years. If you are interested, I could write some posts on what I have learned from my studies.
 

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I don't know of any human who can skip the steps to becoming an expert. Even genius kids who are "naturals" practice hours and hours every day.

I don't know of any one book that has information on how we learn. I've been studying the subject of learning and the brain for years, so I have many sources of information over the years. If you are interested, I could write some posts on what I have learned from my studies.
I am interested. Please do.
 

WJK

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I am interested. Please do.
I have been studying how we learn and how the brain works for years. I'm NOT a doctor nor an expert in this field, so I am speaking from my understanding. I raised a "throwaway" kid, Lee, who was abandoned by his birth mother. I have a lot of hands-on experience since he had severe learning disabilities.

I learned that there is a big difference between how we store temporary information and things we remember forever -- or even for a while.

In business, I have read that it takes 8 contacts with others before they remember us and know what we want. I found that it's true. It does take a whole bunch of contact before they connect with me. And that is a good example of how we learn and remember our world.

And it's not just the contacts themselves -- it's also dependent on the timing of those contacts. If they happen too fast, they don't work. Our brains ignore them as white noise. If they spaced out too far, again they are useless. They are not linked to each other. It's like starting over again each time.

What does this have to do with learning? Use the same idea whether you are learning new material or learning to recognize another person.

Another rule here. The brain does NOT multi-task. Take it one thing at a time. You can add to your past learning, but you can't walk in two directions at the same time.
1. I start by reviewing the material I want to learn. I skim through it and then I stop and take a break for a few minutes.
2. Then I take my highlighter and break down the different parts that I want to learn. I pick out one that catches my interest and read it again. Then I rest again by doing something else for a few minutes.
3. I study it by reading it and studying it in depth for a few minutes.
4. Two hours later I repeat #3, but I spend less time.
5. Four to 6 hours later I repeat #3, but I spend less time than I did in #4.
6. Within 12 hours I repeat again.
7. Within the 24-hour mark, the 48-hour mark, and the 36-hour mark, I do it again...

I review the material leaving more time between the sessions and using less depth. By the end of a couple of days, I am ready to add another related subject to my study time. Then I just scan the first information and start the process to study the add-on information.

If I find that the information hasn't stuck, I go back a step or two and repeat them.

By going through this process, you can move the information from the temporary file in your brain into your more permanent file. You will have to review on some kind of regular schedule if you want to continue to retain it. The only exception to that rule is if it is related to a very emotional event. Generally, though, you will have multiple frames of reference since you are linking related bits of information together, making it easier to recall.

Most people try to binge their learning. The brain doesn't work that way, so they are shooting themself in foot. By creating the pauses as we learn something new, we give our brains the time and space to record the information in its filing system. It's really interesting what connections our brains find to the stuff we already have learned.
 

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Breakfast + Coffee + Adderall = Less than 6 hours as in average depending on workload
 
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genesisk5

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I have been studying how we learn and how the brain works for years. I'm NOT a doctor nor an expert in this field, so I am speaking from my understanding. I raised a "throwaway" kid, Lee, who was abandoned by his birth mother. I have a lot of hands-on experience since he had severe learning disabilities.

I learned that there is a big difference between how we store temporary information and things we remember forever -- or even for a while.

In business, I have read that it takes 8 contacts with others before they remember us and know what we want. I found that it's true. It does take a whole bunch of contact before they connect with me. And that is a good example of how we learn and remember our world.

And it's not just the contacts themselves -- it's also dependent on the timing of those contacts. If they happen too fast, they don't work. Our brains ignore them as white noise. If they spaced out too far, again they are useless. They are not linked to each other. It's like starting over again each time.

What does this have to do with learning? Use the same idea whether you are learning new material or learning to recognize another person.

Another rule here. The brain does NOT multi-task. Take it one thing at a time. You can add to your past learning, but you can't walk in two directions at the same time.
1. I start by reviewing the material I want to learn. I skim through it and then I stop and take a break for a few minutes.
2. Then I take my highlighter and break down the different parts that I want to learn. I pick out one that catches my interest and read it again. Then I rest again by doing something else for a few minutes.
3. I study it by reading it and studying it in depth for a few minutes.
4. Two hours later I repeat #3, but I spend less time.
5. Four to 6 hours later I repeat #3, but I spend less time than I did in #4.
6. Within 12 hours I repeat again.
7. Within the 24-hour mark, the 48-hour mark, and the 36-hour mark, I do it again...

I review the material leaving more time between the sessions and using less depth. By the end of a couple of days, I am ready to add another related subject to my study time. Then I just scan the first information and start the process to study the add-on information.

If I find that the information hasn't stuck, I go back a step or two and repeat them.

By going through this process, you can move the information from the temporary file in your brain into your more permanent file. You will have to review on some kind of regular schedule if you want to continue to retain it. The only exception to that rule is if it is related to a very emotional event. Generally, though, you will have multiple frames of reference since you are linking related bits of information together, making it easier to recall.

Most people try to binge their learning. The brain doesn't work that way, so they are shooting themself in foot. By creating the pauses as we learn something new, we give our brains the time and space to record the information in its filing system. It's really interesting what connections our brains find to the stuff we already have learned.
I think I can relate to this, regarding how my coding skills got better. when I was a complete beginner, what I thought to be ideal was that I follow a course from the beginning to the end straight without much problem then automatically become a good programmer although you may go through a lot of mistakes coding alone but the point is that I thought that you can easily be on track of being able to code by yourself and make mistakes which you can improve from. and every time I got bored and frustrated that I quitted for a while(days to weeks), I didn't think of it as normal learning steps so I almost gave up several times thinking that I'm just not talented enough so that I better outsource the coding part of my business. but as I came back and repeated from the beginning several times I felt getting better and more familiar with stuffs. now I'm so relieved that I haven't gave up.

I've learned from you that all the frustrations and the following halts in my learning process were not something wrong or inferior but just part of the steps required to learn something. actually I'm quite surprised at how exactly I was actually following the steps you mentioned. thank you so much for sharing about that. now that I've explicitly learned the exact learning steps from you I think I can take advantage of it next time and not be frustrated when learning something new.
 

WJK

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I think I can relate to this, regarding how my coding skills got better. when I was a complete beginner, what I thought to be ideal was that I follow a course from the beginning to the end straight without much problem then automatically become a good programmer although you may go through a lot of mistakes coding alone but the point is that I thought that you can easily be on track of being able to code by yourself and make mistakes which you can improve from. and every time I got bored and frustrated that I quitted for a while(days to weeks), I didn't think of it as normal learning steps so I almost gave up several times thinking that I'm just not talented enough so that I better outsource the coding part of my business. but as I came back and repeated from the beginning several times I felt getting better and more familiar with stuffs. now I'm so relieved that I haven't gave up.

I've learned from you that all the frustrations and the following halts in my learning process were not something wrong or inferior but just part of the steps required to learn something. actually I'm quite surprised at how exactly I was actually following the steps you mentioned. thank you so much for sharing about that. now that I've explicitly learned the exact learning steps from you I think I can take advantage of it next time and not be frustrated when learning something new.
Once you understand the steps, the process becomes SO familiar. I find myself laughing at my starts and stops, step by step, as I go through the process. I'm glad I was able to help you...
 

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5. You can do it so easily that everyone thinks that they can do it too. You do the steps intuitively and you find yourself in the "flow" a lot. You are an expert.
Once at expert stage you may also find it hard to explain to others how you do it. AKA the curse of knowledge.

I suggest a hidden level:

6: You’re an expert AND can explain so beginners understand.

I love how the wisest typically have the simplest explanations!
 

WJK

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Once at expert stage you may also find it hard to explain to others how you do it. AKA the curse of knowledge.

I suggest:

6: You’re an expert AND can explain so beginners understand.

The wisest typically have the simplest explanations.
Ditto.

It is hard to explain how you do "it". When I make a decision or completing a task, I don't think about it step by step. I just intuitively go forward. The individual steps are already baked into the process. Since most beginners don't even know what steps are required, it's many times VERY difficult to explain how I got from A to B.
 

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I don't know how you define productive, but when it comes to work on my business/laptop time, usually no more than 5 x 50 minute pomodoros, it's hard to be creative and productive later and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

6 to 7 only when it's absolutely needed.

Then I can be productive one hour at the gym too or read some books, which is also productive I guess.
 

WJK

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Here's what I've been reading (listening to) about how we store information in our brain...

And it goes like this:

We store each bit of data in a picture and in sets of pictures.

Then we play them back like shuffling a deck of cards to find the right one...

or like the frames of an old movie played back-to-back sequentially to see the whole idea...

Knowing that system, we can use that information to jump-start our learning. This storage system explains why we can remember stories more easily. So, I have incorporated creating stories to aid me in my learning. And I love to add humor. When I must learn something difficult, I try to create a funny story that contains all the elements. It sticks in my brain much better.

I learned to do that skill when I was in law school. I was in my early 40's, so I went back to school after my kids were grown & gone. It all started with a set of flashcards. Some brilliant person had created a set of cards that had a bunch of the law concepts told through classic fairy tales. They were funny and oh, so helpful. I took that idea and made my own flashcards for the other subjects as I went through the different classes. Those cards helped to level the playing field for me. I was working 60 hours a week in my career and carrying 9 grad units. Law school was brutal.
 

Martin Z

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3-5 hours in the business. 4-5 hours on the business.
 

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Today is Saturday, here is how productive I've been:

Wake up: 3:07am.
I started working right away.

~650am, I stopped, did my pushups and shower.
~730am, I made tea, and was working again.
~9am, I took a break for video call with fiance.
~945am-1130am work
1145am, light lunch, read a few chapters in a book, light work till 1pm.

1pm to about 215pm, go for walk, fresh air, relax

215pm got home, relaxed for a bit, read a book. (my energy fades in afternoon)
~3pm - Did some deep thinking, mapping.
Spent another hour working.

530pm - Ate dinner

Now working again till maybe 730pm.
45 minutes to unwind, then bed.

*edit, right on time: I just finished a really complex project at 710pm.
Was quiet, and I crushed it in 90/120 minutes of deep work.
Now it's time to screw off before bed!!

--
So, I don't know, that's around 15 hours I've been awake? and probably 4 hours not working.
Call it ~11 hours of hard work this Saturday.

Deep work early morning.
Light work midday
Deep work early evening.



--
I love what I'm doing - I do it happily.
It's hard work, but, doesn't feel hard.

I'm not that smart. But I like working hard.
If I can do this, think about what the 26 year olds can do! They can CRUSH these hours.

--
Almost bedtime, but at 4am tomorrow, Sunday, I'll do it all again.
7 days a week at the moment, for the last 6 weeks non-stop
Do it until the job is done.

I want what I am working for - BADLY.
So, I'm willing to work the hours required to make it happen.


--
Hard work is good. But I think consistent hard work, is even better.
 
Last edited:

Steeltip

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Today is Saturday, here is how productive I've been:

Wake up: 3:07am.
I started working right away.

~650am, I stopped, did my pushups and shower.
~730am, I made tea, and was working again.
~9am, I took a break for video call with fiance.
~945am-1130am work
1145am, light lunch, read a few chapters in a book, light work till 1pm.

1pm to about 215pm, go for walk, fresh air, relax

215pm got home, relaxed for a bit, read a book. (my energy fades in afternoon)
~3pm - Did some deep thinking, mapping.
Spent another hour working.

530pm - Ate dinner

Now working again till maybe 730pm.
45 minutes to unwind, then bed.

*edit, right on time: I just finished a really complex project at 710pm.
Was quiet, and I crushed it in 90/120 minutes of deep work.
Now it's time to screw off before bed!!

--
So, I don't know, that's around 15 hours I've been awake? and probably 4 hours not working.
Call it ~11 hours of hard work this Saturday.

Deep work early morning.
Light work midday
Deep work early evening.



--
I love what I'm doing - I do it happily.
It's hard work, but, doesn't feel hard.

I'm not that smart. But I like working hard.
If I can do this, think about what the 26 year olds can do! They can CRUSH these hours.

--
Almost bedtime, but at 4am tomorrow, Sunday, I'll do it all again.
7 days a week at the moment, for the last 6 weeks non-stop
Do it until the job is done.

I want what I am working for - BADLY.
So, I'm willing to work the hours required to make it happen.


--
Hard work is good. But I think consistent hard work, is even better.
If you don't mind me asking, what kind of work is it? Is it some kind of work that requires mental heavy lifting?

The reason I am asking is I find that I can only do about 5-6 hours of coding every day and then anything after that is essentially a waste of time. I can do other work 12+ hours no problem as long as there is not so much mental work. Though if it is a lot of mental work how do you get past that block?
 

WJK

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If you don't mind me asking, what kind of work is it? Is it some kind of work that requires mental heavy lifting?

The reason I am asking is I find that I can only do about 5-6 hours of coding every day and then anything after that is essentially a waste of time. I can do other work 12+ hours no problem as long as there is not so much mental work. Though if it is a lot of mental work how do you get past that block?
I too get tired after a few hours of creative work. Continuing becomes counterproductive.
 
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