Work for only 3 hours a day, but everyday

I am an indie iPhone developer, and I’ve been working for 3 hours everyday for almost 2 years now. It may not work for everybody, but I started this habit in early 2014, and I have continued to do it since have I found that this is the most productive way to work for me.

Taleb and DHH advices

I first got this idea when I watched the talk by DHH (Rails creator) in the startup school.

He was saying this:

“Working long hours isn’t productive at all, if you work for 8 hours, try for 5 hours, or only for 4 hours. If you only have that time to work, you don’t have time to see Twitter while working.”

Also, when I read the book Antifragile by Taleb, he mentioned that the trick to working in a productive way over a long period of time is to only work for a short amount of time every day.

Making money on the App Store is really tough, and people don’t care how many hours I spend on my apps. They only care if it is useful or not. This is a completely result oriented world, but personally, I like it.

I have always thought about how I can optimize my time to work effectively, and after I tried a lot of different ways, I found it best to limit my work time each session for the best result in the long run.

Spaces are a very important factor in UI design, and that theory holds true for working.

Why 40 hours a week didn’t work

I can choose how I spend my time since I am making my own apps, so first I’d been searching for the most effective way to divide my work time weekly and monthly.

There is no one who orders me to work, and I can rest anytime, so I made a quota first. For example, my first quota was 40 hours a week.

I calculated my work time using a stopwatch, and I checked like “Ah, I worked for hours today”, and “I went out yesterday, so I couldn’t work, so let’s work more today”.

However, even if I work for the same amount of hours, the productivity depends on the conditions for each day. When I am tired or in a bad environment, I can’t focus. The work quality was not consistent at all.

Often, even if I could focus for the first few hours, the more time would go on, the less I could focus.

Work short hours every day

Then, I made a rule to work only 3 hours every day without holidays. This is a bit extreme, but in this short hour limit, you are more motivated to work harder to make your working time meaningful.

First, the most productive time for me is after I wake up, so I need to sleep well, and start working right after I wake up. I don’t read any news or SNS because even if I only read them a little bit, it could affect my productivity because it distracts my mind.

I even disable all notifications on my iPhone before I go to bed, so I don’t see them before I start working next day.

I prepare for each day seriously like an athlete who prepares for their games in the morning. There was a huge difference of productivity between a 9 hour work day and a 3 hour day.

You really think about what to do

This was a good discovery. When you have only a short amount of time, you care about what you do more than ever.

When I develop features on my apps, I think more seriously if I should do it. Is it really worth my time for today? Is this project worth doing?

I cared about it before, but the seriousness increases when you have only a few hours to work a day.

Less stuck for coding

When you are coding, you get stuck quite often, and it can take a lot of hours to solve it sometimes. However, with my 3 hour work day, I find that this happens less since you can’t keep digging into the issue when you don’t have enough time anyway.

This way, you will be able to find the solution or come up with something the next day with a different viewpoint.

My challenge is that it is sometimes hard to go bed without solving some unknown issues, and you don’t want to stop coding in the middle of it.

Nevertheless, when you take a break from the issues, you can think like “Well, it was not worth taking so much my time anyway…” in a calm mind the next day.

What if when you are in the zone?

Another pain for this method is that you should stop working anyway even when you are in the zone.

I often feel like I want to continue working when I am in the zone for some work. But, if you extend your work time rule once, you will do it again, then the more you extend, the more your productivity will drop.

It’s a hard trade-off.

If I work for only a week, working more should produce more results, but when I work for a full month, the results from shorter work days will be more productive than if I was working longer days.

If I work for a year, I can complete my jobs more efficiently with this routine. I am sure I won’t retire after several years anyway.

Keep working until I die

Previously, I thought I would rather retire early and spend my life by having a fun without working at all.

With this method, I don’t get stressed so much even if I keep working years, so I thought I could keep working with fun until I die. This is the another surprising discovery I didn’t imagine before.

To stop working when I want to work more every day was the best way to keep working over a long period of time. It might fit me to keep running like a marathon runner with a same pace instead of working hard and retire early.


I got a lot of mails after I posted this post, so I answer some popular questions here.

Q: I was wondering how work other than coding fits that profile. e.g. work with designer to prepare logo or any kind of promoting – that must be a part of your work as well, right?

Yes, I have to do everything, including UI&UX design, marketing, supporting and so on, since I’m a solo person. The coding might be around 50% of the work time.

Q: How do you monetize?

Free to use and In-App-Purchase for upgrading for Voicepaper, ListTimer and Zeny.

Q: Do you freelance, or are you available for hiring?

Not at the moment.

Q: What do you do with the remaining time?

I like reading and walking.

Q: Does it work for a freelancer?

Honestly, I don’t know, since I don’t have enough experience for that. I believe the best way to work depends on the situations and preferences of each person.

I might change my habit completely in the future, if I come up with a brilliant startup idea, and want to work very hard on that every day.

I believe everyone has the right to choose how they use their time for the rest of their life. I consistently think about it too.

You can check interesting debates on HackerNews too!

*I've made Text-to-Speech, Money Tracker, and Timer apps. About Me.