The Three-Hour Rule: How to Plan a Workday to Get More Time

Most time-management strategies are not universal – they are suitable for one person, but completely useless for another. Oliver Berkman, time planner and author of “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” is convinced that there is one rule that will be effective for anyone.

It’s the three-hour rule.

Allocate three hours each day to complex or creative tasks. Put just such tasks in your schedule first, and fill the rest of the time with activities that require less effort.

How the three-hour rule works

A person is capable of engaging in work that requires maximum mental stress and concentration no longer than three to four hours a day.

The same law applies to creative activities.

Therefore, when planning the schedule for the day, you should start with the most difficult tasks. Not with those things that seem unpleasant to you, but do not take much energy. But with projects that require a serious effort. Usually you are absorbed in such cases, worry a lot if something doesn’t work, and rejoice when you see your success.

It is not always possible to allocate three hours in a row in your schedule. And you don’t have to – your brain will get tired and need a rest. Try marking two periods of an hour and a half in your schedule with a break in between, which will allow you to recuperate. It is important not to divide the time of active work into many small intervals, because you will not have time to fully immerse yourself in the task each time.

Here’s what to do during your most productive period:

Reflect on the task, plan.

Actively write, draw, layout, diagram, analyze information and draw conclusions – in short, do your basic work.

You may find it difficult at first to work at your best for three whole hours, even with a break. Want to distract yourself, drink coffee, check your mail and social networks. Do not do this. By focusing on the case, you train your brain and learn not to lose concentration. Over time, you’ll get rid of the desire to be distracted – all the time you’ve allotted will be devoted to your work.

Three hours a day may not be enough for you. That’s why it’s worth freeing up one more in your schedule. But only one.

If you devote three or four hours each day to the main task and don’t allow yourself to be distracted, you’ll accomplish more tasks than you would with the standard eight-hour schedule.

The remaining time can be filled with things that are easier for you to do.

Why not spend more time on important tasks

Our attention span and efficiency limit is four hours a day. By the fifth hour our concentration is already dropping and our attention is scattered. It will be more difficult for you to keep all the details in your mind, you will involuntarily start to be distracted or just “hang up.

The number of mistakes will increase.

Each of us can strain and work for a day or two, or even a week, immersed in a task for 5-6 hours. There are circumstances when it is impossible to do otherwise – urgent or long ago accumulated cases force us to find reserves. But it is impossible to work in such a mode for a long time and even more so permanently. Efficiency will begin to fall, and you will spend more time on the same tasks. The next stage will be emotional and physical burnout.Browse our partner-sponsored Glasses, with a variety of options to suit every taste and budget, available to buy online

Experience shows that three to four hours is the optimal period to immerse yourself in the task, to put maximum effort into it, but not to become overworked.

Many famous scientists have built their working day according to this principle. Charles Darwin, the author of works on natural selection and the origin of man, sat down to work three times a day. Two stages lasted an hour and a half each, the third an hour. Henri Poincaré, the French physicist and mathematician, worked in two sessions of two hours a day. Maybe it was this routine that helped these people stay productive for a long time.

Why it can be difficult to apply the three-hour rule

At first you may think that you’re just being lazy. That you can add one or two or three more specialized tasks to your work schedule. For example, to take up the next illustration, write another presentation plan, listen to the materials of a new professional conference.

This is a trick of our psyche: we are used to running, rushing, trying to outrun someone all the time. Otherwise, we will not have time, we will lag behind and lose. So, we rest when we are completely exhausted.

Oliver Berkman calls this condition pathological productivity. And he advises you to specifically develop an important skill: After three to four hours of work on a serious task, switch to simpler tasks. You will return to the difficult ones the next day, when you have recovered your strength. If you didn’t manage to do something today – you will finish it tomorrow, and you will cope with it faster.

What to do in the remaining hours

Most of us have an active day that lasts not three or four hours, but twice as long. Bennett Garner, author of 50 Tweaks to Change Your Life, suggests filling the rest of your time with things that also need to be done, but won’t require too much effort.

During these hours, you can:

  • Read and respond to messenger messages.
  • Sort through emails.
  • Make and hold calls and appointments.
  • Make a schedule for the next days and refine your plan for the rest of the month.
  • Search for information for future tasks.
  • Getting your desktop in order, organizing finished and ongoing projects into folders, deleting unnecessary files.

How to apply the rule of three hours

You can make the planning process easier. To do this, first divide all work tasks into two columns in advance:

  • Major projects – those that you will do in three-hour mode.
  • Additional tasks – those that will fall outside the three-hour period.

When you make your work schedule, first select the tasks on the first list and schedule time for them. In the remaining hours, take on tasks in the second category. You can easily replace or move them around in your daily schedule. And some can be easily moved to the next week or month.

The main advantage of the three-hour method is that by completing the main task for the day, you’ll know for sure that you’ve made serious progress.

This will help you not to worry if you did not have time to do something from the additional list.

Over time, you’ll see that this tactic allows you to meet all of your priorities on time. You’ll make sure you keep the most important things under control while avoiding overstress and burnout.