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The 3 Hour Workday: An Operating System for Knowledge Workers

A Distraction-Free Environment

A distraction is anything that is competing for your attention and unrelated to the work you're doing at the moment.

  • Visual distraction: If you're working in one application and you see a notification pop up, that is a visual distraction. 
  • Auditory distraction: Anything you can hear, like people screaming, for example. Use noise cancellation headphones.
  • Kinesthetic distraction:  If your chair is uncomfortable, or the air too hot, it counts as a distraction. 

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The 3 Hour Workday: An Operating System for Knowledge Workers

The 3 Hour Workday: An Operating System for Knowledge Workers

https://medium.com/the-mission/the-3-hour-workday-an-operating-system-for-knowledge-workers-3da380e81233

medium.com

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Key Ideas

Rethinking the 8-hour workday

Knowledge workers aren't factory workers. There is no direct correlation between how much time they spend on the job and their output.

For knowledge workers, the 8-hour workday doesn’t make sense. It doesn't account for diminishing returns with our productivity and attention spans. To increase efficiency for modern knowledge workers, we have to consider what is not essential priorities.

Quality vs Quantity of Time

The structure of most working environments punishes people for efficiency and rewards them for looking busy. We need to shift our focus from the number of hours spent on something to the quality generated.

Build the Right Environment

To make a 3-hour workday feasible, design the right environment to make it possible.

  • Behavior is the result of environment. If you have many apps open, you’ll be more likely to be distracted.
  • Eliminate the need for willpower. Think of willpower like a bank balance. For every decision you make, you spend a unit. Design the right environment, so you avoid depleting all of your willpower.

A Distraction-Free Environment

A distraction is anything that is competing for your attention and unrelated to the work you're doing at the moment.

  • Visual distraction: If you're working in one application and you see a notification pop up, that is a visual distraction. 
  • Auditory distraction: Anything you can hear, like people screaming, for example. Use noise cancellation headphones.
  • Kinesthetic distraction:  If your chair is uncomfortable, or the air too hot, it counts as a distraction. 

Email Distractions

We don't change the world by looking at emails. It only diverts our attention. We usually spend  3-5 hours a day on email.

  • Compose the emails you plan to send in another tool to your email client to help you avoid your inbox.
  • Set up a separate email address for subscriptions and new apps you want to try out. If you choose to sign up as a paid customer, move it to your primary email address.
  • Batch process. Choose set times to check your email; otherwise, keep your email closed.

Social media

It might be tempting to think you need a social media footprint to build your brand. However, as Oprah Winfrey stated, "The brand comes from the work you do."

Quitting social media for 30 days can increase your productivity. Interleaving social media with your work shifts your attention and prevents deep work, flow states, and creative breakthroughs.

How You Spend Your Time

First, break down how you spend your day from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep. Use an app to track your time.

If you know how you're spending your time, you will also see how you're wasting it.

Starting Your Day

Attention is the currency of achievement. Learn to manage your attention. Two things will derail your 3-hour workday:
  • Starting your day on the internet
  • Turning on your devices first thing in the morning. 

It puts you into a frenzied rather than focused state. For the first hour of the day, replace everything digital with something analog. 

Interval Training

If you've spent the last few years clicking and updating your social media, don't expect that you'll be able to focus with unbroken concentration for an hour. You will need to use interval training to increase your attention span.

Start with 10 minutes, then 20, and progressively work your way up to an hour. During the time you're not trying to focus, don't flit from one stimulus to another.

The Right Working Habits

  • Track your progress to increase your motivation. 
  • Flow. It takes 90 minutes of unbroken focus to reach flow. Flow can increase your productivity by 500%.
  • 90-Minute work blocks. Allocating two 90-minute work blocks forces you to choose your task for the day wisely.
  • High-value breaks. You're human so make sure you take simple breaks, like getting up for a glass of water and going for a quick walk. Refrain from using social media during this time.

Defining Your Workflow

Workflow is a step-by-step break down of the process you use to complete any of your work. Any part of your workflow where data is collected can be automated. For every workflow, ask yourself 3 questions:

  • What are the steps?
  • What are the tools you can use to execute the steps?
  • What are the data points you need?

Build Systems

Any workflow that has repetition can be changed into a system.

Automate with software. If you have a system for any part of your work, there's a good chance you can probably automate it. 

Rest and Recovery

Proper sleep is one of the most significant performance enhancers we have.

Sleep deprivation decreases immunity and increases symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

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Shockingly Unproductive
  • Studies show that employees spend more than five hours per day reading and replying to emailsWhile it may seem like urgent work, email is not the best kind of work.
Facilitate Deep Work

A few smart strategies that can be deployed:

  1. Installing pods for deep work while having common areas for collaborative work.
  2. Wearing headphones that are easily seen to signal that you are not to be disturbed.
  3. Turning your office into a library, following the same culture of quietness where everyone is hushed and respectful.
Email is not Real Work

Real work, by definition, should be rare, valuable and cognitively demanding.

Email does not check any of these boxes, and is, therefore, a pseudo work.

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The State of Flow
The State of Flow

Being in flow means focusing your complete attention on the task in front of you. It is an underrated aspect of our happiness at work.
Flow requires simplicity: if a task is too...

Make Frustrating Tasks Easier

Work tasks are rarely chosen by you, so they rarely have optimal difficulty. To make them more likely to produce flow:

  1. Slow down on your work and let go of the expectations you have related to your tasks.
  2. Complex tasks can seem very overwhelming and frustrating. So break them up into more manageable sub-tasks.
  3. Lower your standards temporarily to get the faucet running. Perfectionism will not help you in this case.
Make Boring Tasks More Interesting

You tend to start daydreaming spontaneously when you don’t have something harder to do. To make boring tasks more engaging:

  1. Up your game. Even a slight increase in standards is often enough to make your focus sharper.
  2. Measure your performance, keep track of it as you go and make the stakes higher for whatever you’re doing.
  3. Do it differently. If you change up your explicit strategy, removing the ability to do it by rote, you can increase engagement.
Reactionary Work

Reactionary work is the stuff that we do out of a reaction, like picking a phone because it is ringingChecking email, replying to a text message, is all reactionary work. It is...

Planning Work

Planning work is time spent on listing, prioritizing and scheduling your work. 

Planning helps us become efficient in our execution. Thus, allocating special time for planning work is crucial. Proactive planning can be exceptionally productive and beneficial in the long run.

Procedural Work

It is the stuff we have to do, like writing a check to pay our bills, preparing our tax returns, or even making a daily report.

Procedural work is best tackled by technology: automation minimizes the time spent and errors generated in any procedural work.

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