What My Four Hour Workday Actually Looks Like

I originally started writing this post as a "Day in the life of..." type thing, because I enjoy reading those myself to pick up ideas for how I can be more efficient, or more intentional, or sometimes just because I'm nosy and like reading about other people's lives. 

I realized after starting it though that I was a little bit embarrassed, maybe ashamed even, to share it with you. Why was I ashamed to share something so mundane as my work schedule on my own blog you might ask? 

As silly as it might sound, I was ashamed to admit to a bunch of bloggers and entrepreneurs that I only work four hours or so on an average workday. It feels like there's this stigma right now, especially in the solopreneur world, that you can't get ahead unless you're putting in 12 hour days and burning the midnight oil while your cat takes care of your family. There's a constant push to hustle. And in case I haven't mentioned it, I'm not a huge fan. 

I didn't want to be judged for not working hard enough. 

But then this article popped up on Facebook touting the benefits of the four hour workday and naming off some of the famous world changers who have worked the same way. It made me realize a couple of things:

  • This is what works for me and my business, and I'm sure for lots of other people as well. It doesn't matter what anyone else's schedule or version of success look like, only that I'm reaching the goals I've set for my version of success.
  • Four hours of intense, focused work is honestly quite enough. I don't count scrolling Facebook in my time, or reading blogs in the morning. I track my actual working time every day, and trust me when I say that most days four hours feels a hell of a lot longer to my brain and eyes. 

So what does success look like for my business? Right now it includes creating a massively comprehensive Squarespace course, adding a line of pre-made branding kits to the shop, working with clients on three week Brand + Site builds, putting out weekly blog posts, becoming a member of Squarespace Circle, and handling my retainer clients needs. Yes, in 3-5 hours every day. Not because I'm building crap products or shorting my clients, and not because I'm somehow special; only because that's the optimal amount of time for me to turn out my best work while avoiding burnout.

Maybe if more people were willing to talk about what their actual work schedule looks like we could lose some of this "Hustle Harder" mantra we've fallen into and find more balance. Something healthy, like setting reasonable goals and working until your body tells you it's time to take a break. Taking afternoons off to go for walks or cook good food or just watch TV if that's what relaxes you. And still running a profitable business. 

Now, there's caveats, don't get me wrong. If you're just starting out you probably need to invest more than a few hours a day into your business, I've been at this for years now. If you're charging by the hour that's also going to be an issue (we'll talk later about why you should probably stop doing that anyway). And just because my days average 4 hours or so doesn't mean I'm not sometimes writing a blog post from my phone in bed or thinking about that client's website while I'm walking the dog. 

As entrepreneurs we already have to be overly intentional with our time, especially since a lot, if not most, of us are working for ourselves because of a deep seated desire for more freedom in our lives. I personally have reached a point in my life where my definition of success has shifted. 

If I have to work 7 days a week, I don't feel like I've been successful in designing my life. The same goes for finding myself at my computer late at night. I like my downtime. I need quiet time, and fun time, and time to get away from my business altogether to recharge, because as cliche as it sounds I have every intention of working to live and not living to work. 

So all that to say that I decided to share this post anyway, with the hopes that it will help some burned out freelancer find the courage to push back her chair and go enjoy her life.

Keep in mind that this is just an average weekday, because my weekends have very little structure. Also, this isn't a hard and fast schedule. It's definitely a guideline I try to stick to, but I've also learned that being flexible is crucial for me. One of my coaches pointed out to me once that our energy ebbs and flows constantly. So there may be (are, definitely are) days where I struggle to stay focused and engaged to get the bare minimum done, but the next day may be so productive it should have been two. I'm okay with that. But in the end, this is the guideline I try to live most of my days by right now.

5:30am - 6:30am

Wake up. I've been playing with my wake up times this year while trying to perfect a morning routine. Because yes, I am that nerd. So I started getting up at 5:30 in December and have eased the alarm forward to 6:30 most days. I loved that extra hour in the mornings but I was definitely paying for it later in the day with a lack of energy and sometimes a pretty blah attitude. I tried starting an afternoon nap habit, but it just never stuck. So I still do my morning routine, but I don't hate on myself for not being up at the crack of dawn to do it. 

6:30am - 7:15am

I love mornings. They're my quiet time on the couch with a cup of coffee, a blanket, and the cat. I'm still figuring out my routine, but for a few months now the very first thing I do is read for about 30 minutes. Okay technically the first thing is pee, manifest coffee, and give all the animals sleepy belly rubs. But then, reading. Right now it's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck by Mark Manson. Definitely recommend. {That's an affiliate link BTW, which just means I might make a few cents if you buy the book, so... thanks for that!}

So I get done reading and immediately pull up my Trello list of affirmations. Read those out loud, then shut my eyes and do some visualization. I usually visualize the high points of the day, any big launches or life stuff I have coming up, and my life a few years down the road. Sometimes this goes great and I feel like I can do anything... other times I fall asleep a little bit and drool on myself. Balance. 

7:15am - 8:30am

Work on a big project, study if I'm taking a course, or work on blog posts. The activity varies, but this is my quiet time to work on the business instead of on client work. It's important to me to build several streams of income, so working on my own courses and content has to be a priority. This is probably my favorite chunk of time too, before emails and social media and phone calls... just quietly creating. 

8:30am - 10:30am

Because my boyfriend goes into work later in the day right now we usually spend this time hanging out, making breakfast, and getting ready for the day, although I do sometimes jump on Pinterest from my phone and pin any resources I think my followers will like. Right now I base my schedule loosely off of his by starting work later in the day, because it doesn't mess me up to do that. When he's able to have an earlier shift I'll shift mine as well. 

We also try to meditate for 10-15 minutes during this time, right before breakfast. Then usually make either avocado toast, turkey bacon and eggs, or oatmeal. 

10:30am - 11am

Back at the desk, getting settled in with a fresh cup of coffee and a few articles I've saved in Pocket. Or scrolling Facebook, depending on how the day is going. 

11am - 12:30pm

Processing email, working on client projects, or knocking some admin tasks off the to-do list, depending on what's going on that week. I try to get in the zone for whatever I'm doing, which usually goes one of two ways. Either I'm intensely focused on a creative task, ambient focus music going on Spotify; or I've got 57 windows open and I'm listening to podcasts. My favorites right now are Bosses & Booze and The Honest Designers Show

12:30pm - 2pm

Originally I was exercising in the morning right after reading time, but when I started sleeping later I sacrificed morning workouts for quiet work time. It actually works better for me though, as long as I don't get too much in the flow and forget to stop and exercise. There are definitely days when I make myself do yoga at 6pm because I worked through lunch, so it's a work in progress.

On a good day though this hour is a 30 minute workout, followed by a shower, then lunch while watching part of a sitcom or reading blogs. My workouts are usually a yoga, Barre, or kickboxing video on YouTube, or I'll go to the apartment gym and do circuits with the weight machines. 

2pm - 5:30 or 6pm

Butt in chair time. I usually try to work in one hour to 90 minute segments with few interruptions. I'll turn my phone on silent, crank up the focus music, and get in the flow for an hour or two. This will be mostly client work, so what I'm doing varies from day to day. There are several small breaks in this timeframe, sometimes to talk to friends or my boyfriend, sometimes to feed the dog and stretch my legs, but then it's back to the desk.

6pm - 10:30pm

I try my damndest to be through with work by 5:30 or 6pm most days. One of my metrics for success is the amount of time I get to spend relaxing, or cooking good food, or watching shitty TV, or basically doing things I enjoy, and honestly I'm not nearly as efficient after 6pm anyway. So I try to finish up around 6 every day, then I usually grab my mini-yorkie Giblet and we walk to check the mail if it isn't rainy. The rest of the evening is dedicated to cooking dinner, watching a couple of sitcoms, and spending time with my boyfriend once he gets home from work. There are plenty of times that I'll grab my phone and jot down notes for a blog post, do a little business pinning, or make plans for the next day; but overall my evenings are my unwinding time. I've found through years of experience that a rested Lena makes for a more creative Lena. 

So there you go, that's my four hour workday in a nutshell. Not all days are the same, but this is what I've found works best for me. I'd love to hear about your day in the comments!