Why You Should Stop Working at Noon Everyday

When it comes to wasting time in front of a computer, I’m a triple black belt.

Over the last 4 years of working for myself, I’ve wasted not just hours or even days in front of a computer, but weeks, if not months.

I’ve got entrepreneurs ADD in the worst way possible. Focus has always been a challenge for me, so I’m actually pretty amazed I’ve been able to get as much done with my business as I have.

I’ve thought many times about getting medication for this, and many people I know, and even good friends of mine have had major positive changes going this route.

But I’ve always felt there should be a better way.

I’ve tried accountability groups, productivity apps, and all sorts of other gimmicks for getting more stuff done, but on their own, nothing seemed to work.

Recently I spent some time reviewing and considering what’s important to me in life.  I’m a lifestyle entrepreneur, my whole goal with my businesses is to give me more time to do the things I want to do – yet I often find that all I’m doing is spending more time at my computer in a desperate attempt at being productive.

You see our whole lives we’ve had the idea of a 9 to 5 workday ingrained in us.  4 years of entrepreneurship later, and that still hasn’t completely gone away. In fact, it’s gotten worse in someways.  Now instead of 9 to 5, it’s more like 6 am to midnight.

There’s always something you could be doing, so there are times I feel that work never really shuts off for me.  A big part of this problem is that when I’m actively working, I’m not getting as much done as I should.

It’s kind of like how in a day job where you’re underworked, you drag things out to fill out the day.  I do a similar thing, except because I have so much to do, I often get paralyzed into inaction and do nothing instead.

It was this recent re-evaluation that led me to try an experiment.

I told myself, what if I were to only allowed to work until noon everyday?

The hypothesis was I could get twice as much done as an average work day, in half the time.

The results have surprised even me.

I’m one of those people who’s most productive in the morning.

Simply put, the earlier I get up, the more I’ll get done.

So I made the goal to be up and working by 6:30 each morning.

That gave me 5 and a half hours to get stuff done before calling it quits for the day.

I’ve recently stumbled upon an app called Focus at Will, which has been unbelievable for my productivity.  It’s essentially a tool that plays specially composed instrumental music that has a goal of getting you in the zone for 100 minutes at a time.

I shoot for 3 100 minute sessions with 30 minutes worth of breaks each day.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m actually able to get stuff done without struggling through it.

What’s the secret?

Here’s exactly how I setup my days in order to get more done and have more fun in the process.

Step 1: Wake up Early

How much I get done in a day is often directly correlated to when I get up.  If I’m up before 7? Good day. Later than 9? I’m in trouble. Anything in between is up to how prepared I am to get to work.

Not everyone is a morning person, but by figuring out when you’re most productive and always being “on” at those times, you’ll be setting yourself up for a much greater chance of success.

Step 2: Turn on Focus at Will

I’m not sure if this program actually works, or if it’s simply placebo from taking the time to consciously turn it on and make the decision to get down to business.

Either way? Focus@Will is magic.

I’ve introduced a number of friends and bloggers to it, and almost always about a week later I get a thank you message from them. It works that well.

Step 3: Have a Very Clear To Do List Prepared the Night Before

If I have to think about what I need to get done when I sit down to work, nothing will. Each night before I go to bed I have my “top 5″ or my most important things I want to get done for the day.

These should be business building activities.  Email doesn’t count, unless I’ve been particularly far behind.

One of my biggest weaknesses is always doing the easy activities that allow me to maintain my business, but not grow it.  By plotting out my to do items the day before, I’m able to get a clear sense of what will really grow the business the following day.

Step 4: Do the Hardest Thing First

I know that by the time mid-day hits, my energy is going to start to wane.  At that time, it’ll be much more difficult to do anything I don’t want to do, so I always try and do the hardest or most valuable items first.

I’m always tempted to answer emails, but unless there’s something urgent it can wait.

Step 5: Focus Only on Things that Build the Business

Last week I had one of my biggest sales of the year.  I’d been wanting to merge all of my courses and do a sale around it for months, but it just kept always getting pushed back.

This process I’m outlining here is the reason I got it done. I mapped out what I needed to do, and spent a couple hours each morning making sure I was pushing myself closer to that goal.

Big projects never get done if you don’t have a framework for completing them. It’s easy to do nothing but write blog posts and answer emails, but is that really growing your business? Not generally.

Step 6: Schedule Something at 12:30

So here’s where things get interesting. For a couple weeks in July, I used this framework and then gave myself permission to stop working at noon.  For the first week, this was nearly impossible, but as I started scheduling things early in the afternoon, the need to be more productive in the morning became greater.

It’s summer and what good is a lifestyle business if you can’t enjoy it? I booked tee times at 1pm. Headed out for beer festivals, or simply setup coffee or lunch dates with people I wanted to connect with.

What I found is that when I stopped working around noon, I got more done and had more fun in the process.

Step 7: If Necessary Schedule Another 90 Minute Work Session Later in Afternoon

As much as I’d like to completely quit work at noon every day and go golf, I realize this isn’t always feasible.  So I’ll often book an additional 90 minute work session for a couple days a week to do later in the afternoon or the evening.  I use this time mostly for emails, preparing for the next day, scheduling interviews or anything else that isn’t primarily devoted to business growth.

Is This Actually Sustainable Long Term?

The more I challenge the 9 to 5 workday, the more I embrace the fact that I can work however I want – and the more I find myself enjoying work.

While it’s obviously not feasible to do this every day, throughout the rest of the summer I’m really focusing on making my work time more productive, and my play time more abundant and enjoyable.

How do you like to work? Have you ever tried something similar with your work day?

Heather Thorkelson August 5, 2013 at 9:48 am

Sean I LOVE this!! I have mega entrepreneurial ADD too but funnily enough, I get more done than most people I know by leaps and bounds. I’ve never taken as much of a structured approach as you’ve outlined above, but there are lots of similarities. I really focus on my energy at any given time and choose my tasks accordingly. If I’m deep into writing but I find myself thinking about bunnies! chocolate! music! then I immediately drop what I’m doing and allow my brain to do what it wants for a while. As soon as I feel a modicum of focus again, I jump back into work. Getting up early and trying to complete everything by noon has definitely helped, as has starting with the thing I’m dreading the most. It’s gold! I really love this post – definitely going to try to refine even more by testing some of your suggestions.

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Sean August 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one! I think your point about giving your brain what it wants when it needs it is really important. Often no matter what I do, I cant focus and will take a 15 minute break and then everything is good again.

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Brooks Conkle August 6, 2013 at 7:57 am

I feel you. The 15 minute break is paramount. Can’t wait to try Focus@Will. It’s great to see someone else try to avoid meds to try to fix the issue (I’ve avoided medicating my ADD for years now, even though friends ask me to ha!)

Mark Conrad August 5, 2013 at 9:48 am

Hi Sean,

I actually want to thank you for sharing in your newsletter about Focus@Will. I started using it last week and just like what you’ve said, it is MAGIC! Somehow the music actually helps me to get a lot of things done and keeps my mind from wandering all day.

Thank you also for outlining these steps. I’m gonna try this as I am working on a lot of projects this August.

Thanks again,

Mark Conrad

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Sean August 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

Right?! I had my doubts, but it really has been awesome for getting stuff done.

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Liz | Two Weeks to Travel August 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

I love this too, and have kinda started doing the same thing last few weeks with good results. I’m not a morning person per se, but whenever I am up early I always end up getting way more done. Spending so many hours in front of the computer and not getting all that much productive done was draining and felt myself getting burnt out.

Now, I do 5 things each day that have to get done, hardest first, on a whiteboard to check off. I have been giving myself 5-5.5 hours to get it all done. Leaving the rest of the day to put extra time into more fun projects, read, or schedule time for golf every Wednesday the rest of the summer ;)

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DJ Yabis | Dream Euro Trip August 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

I feel the same way! I’m so gonna try this and see if it works with me as well. The thing with me though is that I work better at night until wee hours of the morning and sleep through til noon haha. Guess I’ll see how I can apply it with my situation.

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Kevin August 5, 2013 at 10:06 am

Nice one Sean! I’ve been thinking about something like this for years but never had the discipline to try it. Another version of this I’m thinking of for those of us who aren’t super morning people is, get up at 7 or 7:30. Start work at 8:30 after shower, breakfast, morning rituals. Work til 12:30. Then take a 2 or 3 HOUR break. Eat lunch, nap, surf the web, workout, everything, anything but work. Then at 3 or 3:30, work for 90 minutes. DONE by 4:30 or 5, and not frazzled! What do you think?

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Jessica August 5, 2013 at 10:07 am

Definitely going to give this technique a try. Typically I sit in front of my computer “working” from 8am to 8pm. It will be interesting to see if setting a definitive end to my workday will affect my productivity. I am self employed and work from home, so I feel like I can never really leave the office. The idea of calling it quits at noon sounds SO incredibly appealing to me…I’m going to download Focus at Will now…thanks for the suggestion!

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Maria August 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your article. I would like to try this. The biggest problem for me would be…food. I drink coffee and eat nuts in the morning. The result is I am never quite satisfied until lunch time comes (which is usually at 11 or 11..30 am). This interferes with my morning productivity. If I really want to be at my most productive I need to:

1. Either wake up really early, e.g., at 6, before hunger strikes.
2. Or, eat a better breakfast.

So I have to fix breakfast first, and then try your method. We’ll see how it goes…

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Rob August 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

I’m with you on this.

I find if I wake up really early say 4;55-5:30am and do a work out followed by some serious work, I get lots done. In fact, I often get more done before 9am than I would in a 9-5 scenario.

Also, at 5am, not many distractions.

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Manyu August 5, 2013 at 10:53 am

Great post Sean. Just what I needed to hear. I will definitely try out the Focus @ Will app.

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Loralee Hutton August 5, 2013 at 11:25 am

Last summer I re-arranged my schedule to work from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 pm and spent the afternoon by the ocean or the pool. Most days I worked for a few hours in the evening (I’m a night owl & really my most productive work is done after the buzz of the day winds down). I’ve slipped back into “working” morning to night & have been craving my summer schedule.

I’m setting my alarm for 2:00 today (I started late) and see if I can start again – today!

Thanks for the great reminder (& the Focus@ will tip!)

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Tom Meitner August 5, 2013 at 11:55 am

Sean,

This is slick stuff! I’m going to be implementing a few of these hints! Over the past month and a half or so, I’ve settled into the “Focus on only 3 things a day” routine, and scheduled them all in the morning (I get up at 5am). I’ve been 10x more productive than I used to be with the dangling carrot of having the afternoon off if I do the heavy lifting in the morning. Definitely works!

Thanks for sharing this!
Tom

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

Now thats what I like to hear! Congrats man :)

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Jonathan White August 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I really liked this article, Sean. The part about having the 9 – 5 work day ingrained in us resonates closely with me as I’ve only just recently left full time work. I feel like I haven’t done enough work if I don’t sit at the computer for 8 hours each day. I believe structuring my work in a similar way to how you’ve described it in this article will help me work smarter not longer. Thanks!

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 10:28 am

Jonathan, if you’ve just recently left, now is the perfect time to start building good habits. Test things out and figure out what works for you, but the longer you go without nailing these down, the more difficult it gets to change your routines in the future.

Good luck!

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Jeffrey Trull August 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I think this is an excellent idea. This is actually similar to something I just started, too, although my plan is to work more like 9-4 (with ~1 hour lunch). I’m like you: I’d spend the entire day in front of my computer if I don’t force myself to stop. A lot of that is just wasted time, too.

At first I thought I’d be freaking out by trying to quit at an earlier time, but it’s actually brought stress down.

I’m definitely going to stick to something similar. I think scheduling the extra 90 minute sesh later in the day is a great add, too. It gives a chance to wrap things up without too much time so that you can procrastinate earlier in the day.

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 10:03 am

The days this works best is always when I have a hard and fast engagement that will take me away from my computer. For instance today I’m golfing, so I know that I HAVE to get stuff done before that, otherwise I either can’t go, or will stress through the whole round.

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Tracey - Life Changing Year August 5, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I fantasize that I’m a morning person. But I’m not! So I’ve been working 9am – 1pm, then 8pm to whenever I’ve had enough. I’ve used the pomodoro technique with a timer on my iphone. You work 25 minutes then have a 5 minute break away from the computer. I thought it was a bit silly but have been stunned to discover that I’m getting a heap done. And in my 5 minute breaks my household chores are getting completed too. Dinner ready, dishwasher unpacked and packed, laundry done, vacuuming completed. (who knew that stuff only took a few minutes!) I can’t quite believe it! I’ll definitely be continuing along this road!

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

That’s awesome Tracey! I use the Pomodoro technique as well from time to time, and usually find it to be really beneficial.

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Ingrid Holm August 6, 2013 at 1:02 am

Great idea! Definitely giving this a try. Thanks for the great ideas and link! Tried out the Focus@will site today and I think its gonna be great!

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Ben Cameron August 6, 2013 at 6:26 am

I’m in the Gili Islands now and started doing intermittent fasting where you just eat between 12pm and 6pm and my productivity has gone through the roof!
Set myself up around 7-8am (crappy guest house wifi only), head down to the warung with the fastest wifi hotspot and work until 12, sipping my way through a pot of tea (slow burn) then a nice strong coffee (nitro boost) around 10am. Then at 12 it’s time for a brekky with 5 hours work already under your belt.
Off for a workout after that, go for a dive around 2, have some lunch, even do Yoga at 5pm before dinner if the inclination is there…
I like the idea of planning your outcomes the night before, it’s good to pretend that you’re delegating the workload for ‘the morning guy’ to do so you stretch it a bit :)

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

Now it sounds like you’ve made some good life decisions! Enjoy Bali :)

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Jason August 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

Great advise. I’m in the exact same boat and have debated taking ADD drugs. If you want a tool to do exactly what is in this post and to free your mind to concentrate on what’s important, check out Simpleology at simpleology.com. I’ve been using it for years and it has skyrocketed my productivity. It’s not a jazzed up todo list or any cheerleading bs…it’s a tool that you use each morning (or night) to get organized, focused and get (the important!) stuff done while putting distractions to the side. The simple but amazing part is that it gives you a way (text msg / email/ website ) to immediately put all the distractions that come to mind to the side in a way that you aren’t worried anymore about forgetting them. This keeps you able to continue working without getting distracted. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s free too which is nice.

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Gaelle Linard August 15, 2013 at 1:09 am

Thanks Jason :) Just started using it, and I wrote on the Dream Catcher earlier when working “Go back & thank the guy” :p Works so far this morning and it seems well thought too, hope I’ll create the morning habit without too much hassle, but I’m quite determined to stop spending time in front of this computer, so all the small steps I’m taking should lead to that hopefully :)

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John Gibb August 7, 2013 at 6:20 am

hey Sean,

I feel you my friend … we share a similar experience when it comes to finding what works for getting the right productive hours at the computer…

Focus at Will sounds interesting, I’m using it now while I’m commenting – I think I’ll make it as the home page in my browser, thank you! 

I used to listen to YouTube classical music and chill-out, but this player is even better, it simply rocks! Do they have a premium version?

Anyway…

I understand you get up in the morning, but when do you go to sleep and how soon do you actually sleep?

I’m a midnight marketer, and work 12 hours a day, sometimes more… others call me workaholic but nothing can be gained without extra effort and hard/smart work, is it?

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Mariusz August 8, 2013 at 9:55 am

Breaking work into sprints sounds like something I’ve been doing for a while, except I’ve been using Pomodoro technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/). It has been proven, even by neuroscientists, that doing this really improves quality of work.

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Henri August 9, 2013 at 1:39 am

Hehee. Funny you should mention working until noon, because I’ve practically been forced to doing this after my son was born.

I get to work until around noon to 2PM and when he awakes from his nap, it’s go time. I used to work all day, but now I only have those hours in the morning (and sometimes a few in the afternoon) and it works.

It also helps to have the added pressure of becoming a father. I have to make the business work or everyone dies (okay, a bit of an exaggeration there).

Good stuff sir ;)

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Jonathan August 9, 2013 at 7:10 am

Love this Sean – fits with the idea that will power is a limited resource that gets depleted during the day – so best do the things that really matter earlier on..
http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/01/08/willpower-part-ii/
And appreciate the honesty in your writing, especially the bit about having been a triple black belt in faffing around..!

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Jennifer August 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Wow, I really needed to read this today! I’ve just started my business recently and I’ve been finding myself struggling with (what felt like) some serious entrepreneur ADD where I’d start tinkering with something and then get all distracted then ultimately frustrated over my lack of real productivity.

I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one with this! I think I’ll be starting tomorrow with a 6 or 7 AM and see how it goes now. :-) Thanks so much for the post!

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Gaelle Linard August 12, 2013 at 1:40 am

I’ve been thinking of sending you an email over the last few days because of your earlier recommendation for Focus@Will. Got it too, sent it to all my other freelancing friends, and we’re all hooked :)

Being a translator, it’s somehow very obvious when a task is done or not, but I’ve been taking ages to do some of it. What I started doing when I wanted to be productive, was going to a coffee shop. I feel bad & cheap staying for 4 hours on one cup of coffee, but I don’t want to buy another one (because in Malaysia it’s like twice the price of a meal), so I do my tasks as fast as I can. That has worked pretty well for me so far :)

I’m in holidays back in France at the moment, and so my 8pm deadlines are now shifted to 2pm deadlines, so I had no choice but to do the same thing as what you implemented recently :) I’m hoping to keep that going when I’m back in Malaysia, the “setting lunch with someone” is actually pretty neat :)

Question: what does your other half say about you waking up early? Mine says the bed is too cold…………..

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Miller August 12, 2013 at 4:43 am

man you summed up exactly how i am. just wrote a post on this today. mad.

I’m definitely a 7 to 12 guy.

definitely applying your ideas.

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Chas August 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I am definitely not a morning person. That being said, I start working each morning at 5:00 am. I would probably be more productive if I paid attention to my natural biological clock. (I was born in the p.m.) Does anyone besides bankers actually work 9:00 to 5:00? I’ve never been a banker and I’ve never had a job structured around those hours.

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Sean August 14, 2013 at 9:34 am

You’d be surprised, most people I know here in Portland have hours similar to that.

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Paul August 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Ya know, that actually sounds like a great work schedule. You get enough time to actually accomplish something and then you get to spend the rest of your day doing what’s good for you.

Such a great idea. Once I get rid of my 9-5 day job, I’ll have to try this.

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Gaelle Linard August 14, 2013 at 5:15 am

By the way, another thing that has helped me *tremendously* in becoming more productive. Really not kidding. It’s using a standing desk (actually, the counter of my kitchen :p).

I usually spend probably 20% of my working time browsing random stuff. If I’m working in a standing position, I just want it to be done as fast as possible to I cut all the extra unnecessary browsing. No-one wants to stay standing for too long ;)

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Sean August 14, 2013 at 9:33 am

I know a lot of entrepreneurs who LOVE the standing desk. When I was in Bali in 2011 we had a station setup. Half the day I’d stand and have great posture, and the other half I sat in bean bags by the pool – not exactly the most productive way to work ever ha

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Steve August 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I just published my tips on how to work productively while traveling and would agree to almost all of the tips mentioned here – especially the strategy with making a list and working in short time slots works perfect!

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Caroline August 18, 2013 at 8:59 am

An interesting read. I am definitely going to give this a go. Trouble is, when you really enjoy what you do, you have to be quite disciplined to stop doing it!

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Heilene August 19, 2013 at 9:37 am

I figured out that i only work about 4.5 hours a day anyway so I might as well try this. For myself i have rules like 1)not checking email before 12 and 2) Finish my priority tasks before 11 am. Great post, thanks dude.

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Caelan Huntress August 19, 2013 at 9:58 am

This reminds me of Harry Hopkins, who was an adviser to FDR during WWII. He was debilitated by illness, and could work at most an hour or two every day.

He managed to get more done than anyone else in wartime Washington, and Churchill referred to him as “Lord Heart Of The Matter.”

When there is no time for anything else, only the most important gets done. That’s why I like your Step #4: Do the hardest thing first.

When I start my days with the hardest thing, instead of Facebook or email, I ALWAYS get more done.

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Alexis Grant August 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Interesting!

I do a version of this — I prioritize exercise, so I often go to the gym or yoga or cycling in the morning, which means I’m not showered and at my desk until 11:30am. Which is fine when you have your own business and set your own schedule! That helps me make sure I get the most important thing — boosting my health — done FIRST.

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Nathalie Lussier August 27, 2013 at 10:21 am

Thanks for the Focus@Will recommendation, I have a feeling there’s a training element to it too… where you start to associate it with being productive. Think Pavlov’s Bells and productivity, now that’s a winning strategy. :)

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roberto August 28, 2013 at 4:55 am

i’m always wakin up at 7,50am. but i’m working for somebody, so that’s normal.
the point i think is that if you are able to go to bed at 12p.m. maximum, you are going to have a perfect day than.
the problem is have 8 hours sleep or so…

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Ely Delaney September 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thanks for the great layout Sean! I’ve been using Focus@Will for a while now and I live by it.

Here’s how I’ve been using it. I learned this from Dean Jackson & Joe Polish.
It’s called a 50 Minute Focus Finder.
Set a 50 minute timer using Focus@Will.
Turn off all email, text, FB, etc and focus on one project only. At the end of 50 minutes, take a 20 minutes break. Then do another 50 minute focus.

The break is a complete walk away from my computer too. Go for a walk, have lunch, etc. Anything that keeps me away from the screen for 20 minutes.

I find that I get more done in that 2 hours than I had in complete days some times.

Thanks again for sharing. I love the idea of forcing yourself to stop at noon. I’m going to be trying that.

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Jo February 11, 2014 at 8:16 am

Wow….love this! I’ve just popped over hear from Joel Runyon’s site and love all the tips you give and am curious to take up the ‘noon challenge’. My life is ridiculously busy- BUT largely with self inflicted inefficiency and procrastination. If i don’t make some changes soon I will reach burnout. Thank you for throwing me a lifeline.

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Nur Costa March 18, 2014 at 6:42 am

I find this a great method on planning your working time.
As yourself, I am more productive on mornings. In fact, when I was doing my internship last year, I found myself doing the most important tasks from 8 am to 12 pm. Then, my crew and I went for lunch and when we came back we continued working.
But the work done by 1 pm was more like email answering and getting things ready for tomorrow’s work.
Isn’t it interesting? I found myself happier doing that. Unfortunately now I have class from 8-12pm and the study / working time is in the afternoon. I’m worried that once I graduate I will no longer have the freedom of scheduling my own work depending on when I go to work for… let’s see!

Thanks again for your article Sean!
take care,

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Sean August 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

Yeah it’s tough, I have no doubt it would work, and work really well at that. But just dont want to think about what it would do to my body if I became fully reliant on that..

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Gaelle Linard August 14, 2013 at 5:19 am

What about the effects on your body of sitting too long? ;) Quite a number of research have popped up lately, I guess you’ve seen them, but just in case:

http://lifehacker.com/5879536/how-sitting-all-day-is-damaging-your-body-and-how-you-can-counteract-it

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Sean August 14, 2013 at 9:32 am

All the more reason to stop work and go do something active :)

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