How to make a 5-hour workday the most productive

One thing’s very improper with the conventional nine-to-five: it doesn’t work.

Scandinavian nations dominate the World Happiness Report—Norway being the third most productive country in the world and Helsinki profitable the title of the best city for work-life balance. And their normal working week is lower than 40 hours lengthy. They work a whopping 359 hours much less than People yearly.

How I started working five-hour workdays (accidentally)

Once I stop my job in the nice resignation of 2020 to develop into a freelance author, I used to be decided to proceed working eight-hour days. I used to be a “actual” full-time author, in any case, and I wanted to show it by working similar to everybody else works.

That’s till I couldn’t.

I contracted COVID-19 in Could 2021. After coming again to work in June, I started to discover my focus and vitality falter. The physician informed me it was brain fog—a frequent side-effect seen in those that’ve recovered from the virus. I knew I might need to take it down a notch for a few months.

On most days, I couldn’t work past 5 hours. However surprisingly, my productiveness didn’t budge with the discount in working hours: I earned the similar earnings, met deadlines comfortably, and left the desk fulfilled. My shoppers had been simply as pleased as earlier than.

However was my skyrocketed productiveness simply the results of the relaxation I had to take whereas recovering? I used to be skeptical. I made a decision to proceed the shorter workday, regardless of absolutely recovering in July. And I’m by no means going again to the eight-hour workday once more.

eight-hour vs. five-hour workdays

I work in Pomodoros for the whole lot—from writing to responding to emails to networking. I monitor what number of hours I work, what I work on, and the way a lot time I take to end a activity utilizing the Pomofocus timer and the knowledge it gives.

Earlier than, I labored eight or 9 hours a day. However I hardly attributed my burnout and lack of inventive satisfaction to overworking. “Perhaps I haven’t rested sufficient, deliberate effectively, or discovered sufficient productiveness strategies,” I believed.


It wasn’t unusual for me to finish days pondering, “if solely I had extra time”—as a result of I all the time had some objects unchecked on my to-do checklist.

Now, after I’m working solely 5 hours a day, I discover I cross off nearly all my duties. Realizing I solely get 5 hours has made me more intentional with my to-do list: I assign priorities higher, say no extra, and enroll just for the obligatory conferences. I’m working smarter, not harder. The identical duties additionally visibly take much less time to full now. I can write a well-researched 2,000 to 3,000 phrase article in half the time, which supplies me extra time to develop my enterprise.

My relationship with work shifted. Having solely 5 hours pressured me to say sure to solely thrilling freelance writing jobs that will additionally pay effectively. And as a substitute of working until 1 a.m., I began to ask for more lenient deadlines (and my shoppers fortunately agreed).

Nothing is as pressing because it appears.

Main a fuller life exterior of labor—having hobbies, socializing, going for lengthy walks, taking part in the violin—additional boosted my creativity and psychological well-being. With extra idle time and fewer hours chained to the chair, I may make area for private ardour tasks like bettering my newsletter (check it out here), engaged on my web site (here), and laying the groundwork for my podcast.

But it surely wasn’t simple. I usually felt like I may do extra, made unrealistic to-do lists, and struggled to problem my mindset about working. I’d like to share a few issues that helped me, in case you’re beginning to take into consideration experimenting with the five-hour workday too.

The mindset shift

The largest barrier for me wasn’t managing duties effectively in the restricted 5 hours—it was convincing my mind that there’s no correlation between the variety of hours I work and the way productive I’m.

I can’t overstate the significance of fixing your mindset first—earlier than you are worried about the sensible issues. 81% of people spend lower than three hours a day on inventive work anyway.

I counsel doing a time-tracking experiment to see what number of hours you’re employed in a day and what number of of these are productive. You’ll probably discover that after a sure variety of hours, sitting any extra simply will get you diminishing returns. That’s when you understand you must cease working for the day.

Work in your psychological peaks

There’s a time of the day you’re employed higher. Perhaps it’s in the morning earlier than your youngsters are awake, possibly it’s late at night time with no distractions, or possibly it’s in the afternoon lull. You have a tendency to do your finest work in these hours and get extra accomplished in much less time. It’s your finest time to focus.

For me, the movement state is simpler to seize in the mornings. I make a acutely aware effort not to schedule any conferences or private appointments throughout these early hours to get most accomplished.


You could find these psychological peaks by way of trial and error or by using a time tracking app. As soon as you understand your finest hours, you must optimize your day in accordance to them—handle your vitality, not your time.

Prioritize and worth relaxation

Whenever you carry your workplace with you in every single place, you want to be disciplined about relaxation. In his guide, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang talks about the significance of downtime and emphasizes why work and relaxation will not be opposites however complementary. He broke down the schedules of extremely profitable individuals from varied industries—from scientists to artists—and located a comparable schedule: work intensively for 4 to 5 hours, and spend an equal period of time on deliberate relaxation.

For individuals with much less management over their workdays, like docs and executives, Pang suggests taking lengthy holidays with out expertise or utilizing the weekends to interact in pleasing actions which can be additionally a little bodily and mentally difficult.

I set a laborious deadline for myself to stand up from my desk at 5 p.m. and never verify e mail on the weekends. It offers me sufficient area to relaxation bodily and mentally, unplug a little, and return to work extra refreshed.

Plan your workday deliberately—and realistically

Once I began to discover the enhance in productiveness, I started difficult myself to do increasingly more in these 5 hours. I let pointless duties seep into my to-do checklist and set unrealistic expectations for myself—which not solely affected my psychological well being but in addition compromised my high quality of labor.

I shortly realized I used to be setting myself up for failure. I knew I valued high quality over amount, so I acquired choosy. I’d restrict my to-do checklist to three objects, estimate how lengthy they’d take me to end and add an hour of buffer time.

Listed here are my three golden ideas for reasonable planning:

  • Underestimate how a lot you will get accomplished in a day.
  • Overestimate how a lot time a activity will take.
  • Overestimate interruptions throughout your day.

You don’t want to complicate it. Go simple on your self, and make it a level to be extra conscious whereas making your to-do checklist.

5 hours is sufficient (generally, it’s greater than sufficient)

Personally, my life turned the wrong way up after implementing the five-hour workday. My psychological well being has by no means been higher, and I’ve by no means gotten a lot accomplished at the similar time. Now, my days have room for spontaneity, daydreaming, and tedium.

For those who’re simply getting began with working fewer hours, I counsel taking it gradual and customizing the ideas on this article in accordance to your life. It’s higher to construct a routine that works for you by experimenting somewhat than going round trying to find the excellent system you can’t follow.

How many hours we work per day is a query that hardly holds any significance right now. It’s time to ask higher questions: How can you discover more time to think? How are you able to minimize distractions? How are you able to manage your energy well? These are the questions we should always all be specializing in as a substitute.