Structures

4-Hour Work Weeks Aren’t For Everyone

Gerrard Lipscombe
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Being a creator means making things, daily.

There’s a limit to how much of this ‘making’ we can do, though. There’s a limit in terms of the hours we can spend sitting at a desk. And there’s a limit to how many of those hours are likely to produce anything of value.

Intuitively, we understand there must be some limit, but we rarely ask:
‘What is that threshold, exactly?’

Using data about ourselves to calculate a daily threshold — tailored to you, specifically (and not simply tied to the latest ‘X-hour-work-week’ trend) — can help us:

  • Plan more accurately;
  • Give ourselves permission to switch off when we have met our limit for the day;
  • Push harder in moments when we’re lagging behind our threshold; and
  • Measure our progress against a baseline that’s specific to us and our working patterns.

Giving It A Name

The creator economy requires new metrics.

Where the factory and organization have developed full vocabularies to better manage operations, the individual creator, too, must build a lexicon of terms that helps to plan, prioritize and manage daily resources.

Sometimes, giving a concept a name is a simple first step that helps to solidify it — making the concept easier to manipulate and put to use.

In that vein, a Daily Creative Threshold (DCT) is just a baseline figure that can be used to help the creator plan and manage their efforts.

It is simply the number of hours that you, as an independent creator, are capable of investing productively into your creative business each day.

That might be writing, producing a podcast, designing, recording, painting, photographing.

It can be planning, strategizing, doing outreach, building relations, growing a community.

Whatever the productive activity that’s contributing to your creative business— there is a limit to how much of it can be done, effectively, each and every day.

That number will vary from maker to maker; there is no one-size-fits-all advice in the creator economy, after all.

Why Does It Matter?

Constraints are useful. Defining our daily threshold is one such constraint — it forces us to recognize that the hours in the day are limited, and that if we want to produce something of value, we need to allocate wisely.

For planning purposes, constraints are key.

Suppose you’re planning next month’s content calendar. You’re a blogger, and you’d like to really dive in next month — publishing as many high quality pieces as you can possibly squeeze out.

To get a realistic estimate of how many pieces that will be, you need two numbers:

  1. How long it takes you, on average, to write a piece; and
  2. Your Daily Creative Threshold.

It sounds obvious, but this is a step that often goes unspoken. We assume we know, and thus over-plan — often, remarkably so.

We work ourselves up into a fit of inspiration — ‘committing’ to writing 30 posts in 30 days, without thoroughly auditing what that entails.

There’s nothing wrong with embracing a burst of creative motivation and committing to something challenging. It simply helps to have some data behind you when doing so — so that you know exactly what you’re signing yourself up for.

Finding Your DCT

If you already have high fidelity data kept on your past week’s activity, you can calculate your DCT based on those figures.

If not, the simplest approach is to run a test period to establish your baseline.

  • Setup a time-tracking tool like Timely to record your screen time and efforts for the week;
  • Work as normal, only be sure to log your screen time into relevant projects at the end of each day;
  • Average out the total number of ‘Productive’ hours across the test period;
  • That’s your baseline threshold.

From there, we can adapt our baseline based on a few common factors that affect your day to day limits. For example:

  • Sleep and readiness;
  • Motivation levels for the day; and
  • The intensity of the work planned.

I’ve made a little calculator to run this combination of factors for you here, feel free to try it out.

Of course, these aren’t the only factors that matter. Tailor your adjustments to whatever you believe has the strongest influence on your day-to-day efforts.

The key point is to establish a baseline, use it to plan longer cycles, and modify it for the daily or short-term cycles, accordingly.

The DCT In Context

  • It takes me 4 hours, on average, to write a blog post, and I know my DCT is 6 hours —realistically, if all I did was write during those hours, the absolute maximum I could achieve is 45 posts this month;
  • My blog is currently earning 20% of my living expenses— that means I need to budget enough of my DCT to spend on freelance and paid projects that will cover 80% of my income. Roughly speaking, that means I can safely dedicate 1.2 hours per day to writing (i.e. I can’t just write my blog for 6 hours and work freelance for 6 more, since I know there’s a limit to my high quality working hours);
  • I have 30 post ideas I’d like to explore this month. Realistically, with my other work duties, and given my DCT, I’ll plan on completing just 9 of them and leave the rest of my time for freelance work.

Keeping Track

The final step in this process is to keep track of your DCT over longer timeframes, and take note of any macro trends.

Are you in a productivity dip? Is your threshold increasing? Which factors might be affecting it?

Once you have a baseline established, and some solid data to spot any emerging trends, you can begin to speculate about possible causes and either limit or increase those factors as needed.

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