How I Cut My Hours in Half

And somehow managed
to get more done

by Jason Lengstorf
@jlengstorf  ·


Look at this beardGlorious!

I nearly robbed
the world of its majesty

This was not a choice

I was a workaholic

In 2012 I averaged 70 hours per week on the computer

And it wasn’t unusual to pass 90.

My long hours were a point of pride for me

But then...

Black Friday

I landed a huge contract:

A high-profile, Black Friday marketing site for a Fortune 500 company — charging agency rates and rush fees.

We planned it all out...

project plan

...then reality happened

project plan

But I’m no

I worked over 100 hours that week

The Business Result:

  • The client loved it
  • The project made the client a bunch of money
  • I got paid a bunch of money
  • The project won an Addy Award

The Personal Cost:

  • I missed Thanksgiving with my family
  • I slept less than 4 hours a night
  • I ate fast food delivery for every. single. meal.

I was already burning out.

Losing my beard
was the final straw.

Poor & healthy
is better than successful & sick

I cut back on everything:

  • I only accepted calls during business hours
  • I turned off ALL notifications
  • I turned on Do Not Disturb mode from 6pm to 8am
  • I only checked email twice a day
  • I set up activities with my friends...
  • ...and left my phone in the car while I was there

I was ready to lose business if I could have my life back

…but that’s not what happened

What I expected:

my clients would leave

I’d miss big opportunities

I’d accomplish less

What happened:

no one noticed

my business grew

I got more done

“How is it possible that you got more done by working fewer hours?”

First: the science

Working 60+ hours per week makes us less productive than working 40 hours1

Long hours destroy passion and engagement2

Overworking increases employee turnover3

Creativity suffers if we don’t take time to go outside and be people4

Lack of downtime
hurts productivity
and creativity5

We lose 20% of our time per task while multitasking6

Sleeping less than 7 hours
a night is worse than being too drunk to drive7


“You haven’t answered the question, nerd.”

5 Strategies to
TurbochargeYour Productivity

  1. Track your time
  2. Time-box tasks
  3. Front-load important work
  4. Prioritize aggressively
  5. DO NOT multitask

Strategy #1:

Track Your Time

The simple act of acknowledging how we spend our time encourages us to use it more wisely.

If I have a long day...

a long day in RescueTime

...I know to take a day off

a day off in RescueTime

Strategy #2:

Time-Box Tasks

You’re never more productive than when you’re up against a deadline with 13% battery left.

Find your rhythm.

  • Decide how long you want to focus for
  • Close and turn off everything unrelated
  • Start a timer
  • Unleash your brilliance upon the world
  • When the timer goes off, take a break
  • Repeat

Why This Works

1. We’re not distracted

2. We get into a flow state

3. We’re taking breaks

4. We’re still available

Also: science*

We all have something called an “ultradian rhythm”, which regulates our energy in 90-minute-ish intervals.8

* May not be actual science.

Strategy #3:

Front-Load Important Work

Motivation and self-control are resources that deplete as the day goes on. Don’t waste them.

We’re the best versions of ourselves early in our day

  • energy is higher
  • focus is improved
  • self-control is at its peak

Morning Me

fist pumping

Evening Me

so lazy

Strategy #4:

Prioritize Aggressively

If everything is The Most Important Thing™, nothing is.

Use the Highlander Technique


Put tasks into a tournament bracket...


...and then start choosing.

Strategy #5:

DO NOT Multitask

Ever. Just stop it.

Context Switching is
fatal to productivity

context switching penalty

Source: Coding Horror

Multitasking makes
us feel productive.

Single-tasking makes us actually productive.


“How do I know that any of this junk really works?”

My 2016 RescueTime report

1922.8 hours worked in 2016

Average: 37 hours per week

My 2017 RescueTime report

2038 hours worked in 2017

Average: 39 hours per week

I’ve been able to manage:

  • My day job workload
  • My blogs and side projects
  • Multiple conference sessions and workshops
  • A reasonably full social calendar
  • 3× weekly workouts
  • 8 hours average sleep

Let’s Recap

If we work too much, we’re:

  • worse at our jobs
  • more likely to burn out
  • less likely to feel satisfied at our job
  • less able to enjoy our lives

If we work a reasonable schedule, we’re:

  • more creative
  • more productive
  • happier (both in and out of work)
  • healthier

We can be more productive in less time by:

  1. paying attention to how we spend our time
  2. time-boxing tasks to create urgency & limit distractions
  3. front-loading demanding tasks while our energy is high
  4. aggressively prioritizing work to enable better focus
  5. never, ever, ever multitasking again

We all have a choice

We can live this life…

…or this one.


Jason Lengstorf

Jason Lengstorf
Follow me on Twitter: @jlengstorf


  1. Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work: 6 Lessons
  2. Working Long Hours: a Review of the Evidence
  3. Why You Hate Work
  4. Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight, and problem solving
  5. The Upside of Downtime
  6. The Multitasking Myth
  7. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication
  8. The Science Behind Why Better Energy Management is the Key to Peak Productivity