Not A Subscriber?

Join 80,000+ getting mindf*cked every Saturday morning while reading The Koe Letter (you’ll learn a bit about life & business too.)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on telegram

The 4-Hour Workday (Focused Work Changed My Life)

Quick update:

Digital Economics is now open to the public. You can enroll at any time (rather than waiting until February).

You can also download Digital Economics 101 for free. It is a mini-course to get you up to speed on the new economy.

If you’re interested in productizing yourself with the systems I’ve refined with 3 years of creator experience, consider enrolling.

Check out Digital Economics.


When I was in college trying to become a fitness YouTuber (of all things), I remember seeing the title of a popular book by Tim Ferris.

The 4-Hour Work Week.

I’ve never read the book, but for some odd reason I interpreted it as “4-Hour Work Day.”

The idea of a 4 hour work day stuck in my mind throughout college and my plethora of business failures.

Subconsciously, I was making decisions to limit how much I work to 4 hours each day.

This alone changed the direction of my life.

Why?

First, I perceived anything more than 4 hours of work as a problem.

Few people do this. Most people label this lifestyle as “impossible” and then it becomes so.

This has forced my mind to work on a creative solution for that problem to eliminate, systemize, or automate low-leverage work.

In business, that means outsourcing, productizing, or building more leverage – so that’s what I did.

I grew on social media, pivoted out of time-sucking client work, and productized my offers so they could sell in my sleep (with the leverage I built).

As of right now, I’m working overtime.

For the past 3 years, I’ve worked less than 4 hours a day for 90% of my days.

Recently, I’ve hit new monthly highs in revenue that are unsustainable with 4 hours of work.

And, I’ve started building a new software that requires more of my attention.

But, you can bet your a** that I am constantly thinking of creative ways to reduce my time spent (while maintaining the value of what I’ve built).

Second, as we do with these letters, it goes a lot deeper than just “4 hours of focused work.”

So, let’s dive into some philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and why they matter for the future of work – specifically in the new digital economy.

Then, toward the end of the letter, we’ll get into my 10 commandments of focused work.

Preface: If you don’t have 4 hours to dedicate to your business, you can apply these principles to your current job… or on the 1-2 hours that you have to work on your business.

Taking Advantage Of What Makes Us Different

There are many things that make humans stand out from other beings.

Like how we survive on a conceptual level, while animals survive on a physical level. (You wouldn’t see a snake feel threatened because it disagrees with your opinions.)

But, one difference that has always fascinated me is a human’s depth of focus.

In psychology, there is the Task Positive Network and the Default Mode Network.

The Task Positive Network “kicks on” when our focus narrows in on a string of external goals or tasks.

This is helpful with productivity.

The Default Mode Network kicks on when our focus shifts inward and expands to allow more thoughts & ideas to register in our awareness.

This is helpful with creativity.

(Remember these for later).

But, there are negative aspects of this mysterious spectrum of focus.

Like when you narrow in on a problem and it expands to fill your attention. This closes your mind off to potential creative solutions. A small problem soon becomes your entire world.

Or, when you open your focus and hold multiple ideas in your awareness.

If those ideas are not connected, ordered, or just don’t make sense – chaos ensues. You can get sucked into a downward spiral of overwhelm, anxiety, and difficulty seeing beyond the bubble of problems you’ve created.

This phenomenon doesn’t only happen in the mind.

Our body follows.

You can narrow, contract, or deepen the focus of your physical being by touching something with the tip of your finger.

You can open, expand, or widen the focus of your physical being by opening your body in a confident manner.

Like how we can throw a dart and hit a bullseye, we can take action toward a vision for our future.

That is if the skill, clarity, and awareness are there to make that vision a reality. Because it can quickly overwhelm you and lead to procrastination.

And one last example:

We can narrow or widen our perspective or worldview.

We can be “open-minded” or “closed-minded” depending on how we approach a situation.

You can open your mind to the idea of working 4 hours or less – or you can give up, make excuses, and blame everyone but yourself until you do.

Survival Systems

Evolution is forced on us by the fact that systems fall apart with time unless they become more efficient. We can’t stop and remain in the same place; even to remain still we must advance. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

As humans, we have a natural desire for more.

We need to survive at all costs.

Evolution reflects this.

With our unique minds, we build systems to aid in survival.

It takes a lot of energy to carry water and plow fields, so we built systems to use that energy with efficiency.

(Irrigation systems, tractors, and every other system that had to be built in order for those things to even be possible).

Systems layer on top of each other to make our mind more efficient. We get better at ‘investing’ our mental energy.

Let me introduce you to the supreme law of the universe:

Entropy.

Some call it “nature’s tax.”

In brief, entropy is the measure of disorder in a system.

With time, the energy that would maintain a system disperses, and the system dissolves into chaos (unless quality energy is added).

Like a library compared to your home book collection.

The library is systemized.

It uses energy efficiently to alphabetize, organize, and make the books on the shelf easy for readers to find.

Libraries have workers that maintain this system, and one day, we may create a robot that can do the job better (while saving energy like time, money, and the mental bandwidth of library managers).

Your home book collection may be organized, but what happens when you take one book out? Do you put it back after you read it? What happens when you take out 2 more?

Do you have a system that eases the mental cost of keeping your personal library maintained?

Have you used that system enough to spot problems, solve them, and engraine the system into the neural networks of your brain – to the point of it becoming habit?

Books may end up in separate rooms of your house and your bookshelf becomes unorganized.

Without a good system that orders consciousness, an ever-growing energy requirement to order the bookshelf will lead to anxiety, overwhelm and stress.

What does this have to do with focused work and productivity?

If you don’t systemize your path to success, you won’t achieve it.

Your productivity system is one out of many that you will make more efficient with time.

Productivity is about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible.

Like your home bookshelf, if you don’t have a system for your work, you will get overwhelmed with the tasks in front of you.

When you are overwhelmed, if you don’t have a system for your mind, the intensity of that overwhelm will increase.

Now that entropy has its grasp on your productivity, it may lead to a week-long downward spiral of emotions and laziness… nobody wants that.

The 4-Hour Philosophy – My 10 Commandments For Focused Work

Humans survive on a conceptual level.

We have the desire to build systems to survive the mental constructions that we create – the “self” being one of them.

We attach to a concept, make it a part of our identity, and open up room for suffering.

This is not always a bad thing.

You have a self.

You have an ego.

And unless you plan to become a monk (who still go through similar worldly struggles, from what I’ve read… we’ll never have access to their state of mind so who knows. Better to just experiment for ourselves) then we must use this knowledge to our advantage.

If you were to loosely identify with a positive version of success and the projects that will take you there:

You will have the desire to build systems to aid in the survival of those concepts.

If you create a vision for your future, you will subconsciously work to survive that vision.

If you create a project that will help you actualize that vision, you will work to survive that project.

If you create an identity that makes the automatic decision to build that project for 4 hours every day, you will work to survive that identity.

Why? Because if you don’t survive the things that make you, you… then you cease to exist.

The concept of “death,” which we can’t experience, fills us with fear.

We can either transmute that fear or be a slave to it.

So, let’s take a meta approach to productivity.

With the steps below, you can begin to craft a productivity system that allows you to actualize your vision for success.

1) Why 4 Hours?

Conceptual systems need mental energy to thrive.

From personal experience, scientific studies, and anecdotes from my time spent in the productivity space… 3-4 hours is the sweet spot for mental energy expenditure.

Some studies show that 5-6 hours is the top end.

But, 3-4 hours of hyper-focus creates a deadline for your work, which narrows attention further and helps curb distraction.

Start with 4 hours as your goal.

2) Vision & Identity

This is for another letter, and we’ve discussed it previously, but you need an MVV.

A Minimum Viable Vision.

You won’t have absolute clarity on it the first time around.

Write out the following (be as specific and detailed as you can):

  • Who you want to be
  • What you want to do for work
  • Where you want to live
  • What your ideal day looks like
  • How you will contribute to humanity
  • What people you will surround yourself with (network and social circle)

Feel free to keep the stream of consciousness going by answering more questions that come to mind.

When your actions begin to habitually align with your vision, your character development will follow.

3) Outline 3 Lever Moving Tasks

This is situation-dependent.

You will have to gain a big-picture understanding of the tasks necessary to reach the next stage of your business development.

As a creator, read this One Person Business Roadmap to know what to execute on as a beginner, intermediate, or advanced

Here are my lever movers for my current stage in business:

  1. Writing content – I write my newsletter every single morning. This writing gets broken down and repurposed for all platforms (this is in 2 Hour Writer, an efficient system for content creation).
  2. Generating traffic – Growth isn’t automatic when you start on a certain platform. Since I have my smallest audience on LinkedIn, I network with people to get eyes on my content.
  3. Promoting my products – With consistent traffic on all platforms, I promote my offers, directly or indirectly, once a day (all 3 of these are systemized in Digital Economics).

This ensures that my business continues to grow and sustainable sales are coming in.

It also helps to attach a specific number to these, like “writing 1000 words.”

I write 1 section of my newsletter every morning. I know exactly who to message and DM. I promote my products once a day.

Those are quantifiable to my brain.

Dependent on your vision, business model, and experience level which quantifiable tasks will yield the most progress?

4) Gain Clarity On Those Tasks

A few times a week, you will have to exchange lever-moving tasks for clarity-generating tasks.

Every Sunday and Monday, I exchange my newsletter writing for outlining and research.

In the afternoons I will consume content revolving around my interests. This is for idea generation.

In the evenings (sometimes mornings) I outline exactly what I’m going to get done. When I wake up, my mind is set on that plan.

I talk about this balance in my Fill Empty Use framework.

With a systemized supply of good ideas, there is no friction when I outline and write my newsletters.

How can you use 1-2 hours of your week to set yourself up for seamless work sessions?

5) Timeblocks & Breaks

At the start, before it becomes habit, put these time blocks on your calendar and set reminders.

This is something you can test.

I’ve found that 90 minutes of focus with 15-30 minute breaks are the sweet spot for me.

I’ll work on my priority tasks for that time, go on a short walk, and get straight back into work for another 90 minutes.

You can schedule these 90-minute blocks throughout the day if you want.

But, be mindful that distractions are more abundant when the world is awake.

6) Manipulate Deadlines

Deadlines narrow your attention.

Narrow attention (on an outcome that you have clarity to achieve) increases the potential for flow.

The flow state is like nitrous for focused work.

4 hours of total work and 90-minute time blocks may do the job, but you can constrain your attention more.

Put something tangible on the line and let everyone know.

If I set a date for a product launch and accept presale payments, there is no way in hell that everything related to the product launch is not getting done.

Get creative. How can you add a real deadline to your work? This can be long or short-term.

7) Manipulate Environment

Your environment must be conducive to your work sessions.

Before work, I have exact steps for what I do after I wake up:

  • Brush my teeth and shower
  • Walk and feed the dog
  • Make coffee and write

This helps reduce decision fatigue and distraction potential before the work session.

While working, my environment is curated to narrow my focus on the task at hand:

  • A clear workspace
  • Nice headphones and lyric-less music (like dubstep, complexity also narrows focus by “tuning out” and not listening to the song)
  • No physical items – like my phone or reminders – that will break my attention.

How can you manipulate your environment to conserve mental energy for your priority tasks?

8) Wake Up Before The Distractions

Distractions are the start of entropy in your productivity system.

The more distractions you give the chance to penetrate your awareness, the more likely you will be to go into a downward spiral of procrastination.

This is my most effective productivity advice:

Wake up 1-2 hours earlier.

Even if you’re a night owl (leverage your sleepy open focused brain for creative work, rather than technical work).

Even though you’re allowed to ignore messages and not touch your phone…

Nobody will be texting, calling, or trying to get a hold of you. That alone will hedge against getting sucked into social apps. Because your phone won’t require your attention.

9) Prioritize Rest

Quality work doesn’t exist without quality rest. Simple as that.

But as we’ve discussed in my balanced daily routine letter:

“Rest” does not mean Netflix, wine, and bubble baths.

Rest = regenerating mental energy through non-work related activities like:

  • Going to the gym
  • Going on a walk
  • Socializing with friends
  • Reading a good book
  • Trying a new hobby

Anything that doesn’t support mediocrity or a cheap dopamine habit.

Another important thing with this:

When your 4 hours of work are up, stop working.

Dead stop. No excuses.

Break the habit of needing to work past your assigned hours.

If you can’t because your business will explode, that’s a problem.

Fix it (with a system).

10) Make Your System More Efficient

If you have so much work that you can’t work 4 hours or less (given that you want to), again, that’s a problem.

Problems require creativity and systemization.

AKA, another reason to prioritize rest so the Default Mode Network in your brain can help solve the problem.

You will have to implement solutions to test and refine with time.

If I can’t work less than 4 hours because of client work, then I have to:

  • Build a larger audience
  • Create a product that doesn’t require my time
  • Promote and improve that product until sustainable
  • Take on less clients with my new free time

You would be correct in assuming that this isn’t instant. Be patient.

So, last question:

What is preventing you from working 4 hours a day and what can you do to change that?

You will have to work harder before you can work smarter.

You will have to work smarter before you don’t consider it work at all.

11) Bonus: Leverage Digital Tools

Once you have the money to invest in automation software, you should.

Bulk schedule content with software like TweetHunter.

Write out, organize, and refine your systems in Notion.

When problems come up, like emails taking too long to go through, seek specific knowledge on how to free that time up – don’t just accept your fate.

Instead of distracting yourself, learn in alignment with your top-of-mind problems.

My Challenge For You

Write down these commandments and execute.

Don’t just read this without applying the information.

4-hour workdays are more than possible for those that craft their lifestyle in that direction.

The internet is an incredible tool if you use it to its full potential (rather than it using you).

– Dan Koe

What Happened This Week

Digital Economics is now open to the public. You can enroll at any time. And, you can access Digital Economics 101 for free. If you’re interested in productizing yourself with the systems I’ve refined with 3 years of creator experience, consider enrolling.

Check out Digital Economics.

If you only want the content systems (like how I create my newsletters > threads > and repurposable tweets), enroll in 2 Hour Writer. This is a part of Digital Economics (and there is a discount code inside to subtract the price of the course if you want to upgrade).

Enroll in 2 Hour Writer.

In Modern Mastery, I posted a training on how to “niche down multiple interests” for those that feel like they have to stick to one thing. Joey also posted “how to take back control of your nervous system” for optimal performance.

Readers can join for $5.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on telegram
Dan Koe

Who Is Dan Koe?

I am a writer & brand advisor for 6-7 figure creators. I am obsessed with dissecting human potential, lifestyle design, and one-person businesses.

When You’re Ready, Here’s How I Can Help You:

Free Planner

Goals are important. If you want help reverse engineering your vision into bite-size goals and tasks — download The Power Planner for free.

Free Challenge

Learn faster, train your creative muscle, and craft genius level ideas for your content, business, and life direction.

The 2 Hour Writer

Implement Our 2 Hour Content Ecosystem To Learn High Impact Digital Writing, Boost Your Online Authority, & Systemize Content Creation For Rapid Growth

Digital Economics

Productize yourself with my brand, content, marketing, and promotion systems. Everything you need to start, manage, and run a profitable one-person business.

Modern Mastery

Koe Letter readers can join MMHQ for $5. Get instant access to the 6-figure strategy library, personalized help, and like-minded people to build with.