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One hour is a lot of time

Have you ever felt like you don’t have enough time in the day?

Give me a few minutes, and I’m confident I can change your mind.

First, we’ll start with an exercise. You’ll need, not surprisingly, one hour to do this. I want you to put everything aside, set a clock nearby, sit on the ground, and watch one hour pass. Don’t do anything to keep yourself entertained. You can think about things as needed, but keep watching the clock.

You can do this later in the day, but if you have a spare hour, I encourage you to do it now. It will give you the perspective you need to appreciate the rest of this. If you don’t have an hour, try 10 minutes. It will give you a similar feeling. But if you try 10 minutes, please try one hour later.

When you do this, you’ll notice that one hour is a lot of time. It’s an insane amount of time. Watching all 3,600 seconds without using them might cause you to go insane.

Most people don’t use the full potential of one hour. I bet a lot of people get only 30 minutes out of each hour, at best. That’s not a bad thing—sometimes it’s wonderful to relax and not care about productivity, and in fact you should be doing that most of your day. But when you do work, or learn, or whatever it is you’re doing, you should get the full return on every hour.

What causes people to lose the other 30 minutes?

One source is interruptions. When you’re in a creative flow, a ringing phone, and even worse, taking the phone call, breaks your flow. Interruptions makes you work faster to compensate, leading to stress and additional time spent regaining focus. A stressful hour isn’t one that you’ll feel good about afterwards.

Another is context switching. When you’re doing one task for a few minutes, like writing an essay, and then you switch to something else, like cooking, it’s easy to get lost in one and consequently neglect the other. You’ll have two half-baked things.

Personally, I find that listening to music while trying to exert my full effort at something is distracting enough that it causes me to lose the full potential of an hour. A song might make me feel elated, or bring back a memory, which shifts my thoughts away from what I was doing.

I encourage you to try this complete focus. Make use of all 3,600 seconds. Turn off distractions, close your door, make a promise to yourself to not leave your flow—just for that one hour. If you can carve out space for that one hour, you can get surprisingly far.

If you get good at this, you’ll actually have more free time. You won’t feel like there’s too much to do, because you’ll be getting more done in that one hour than you thought possible, and to a higher degree of quality.

If you have kids, early morning hours could be your time.

If you’re a college student, late at night after things settle down might be your hour.

You don’t need 8 of these hours every day—that’s unsustainable. In Cal Newport’s Deep Work, he recommends at most 4 hours a day.

You might ask, why not spread it out? What’s the point of squeezing the most out of each hour? It’s because it unlocks not only more free time, but also your potential, which you may not even know about, and which you deserve to see. What if you could do everything you wanted in just 4 hours?

Do that exercise. Watch one hour pass by, doing nothing, and you’ll see that maybe you can do everything.