The regular approach to approaching a work day is simple: you work 8 hours.

This is dumb.

Using time as a metric is dumb.

We can do better.


Here is how I’m going to approach things differently.


I’m going to look at a couple of factors:

  1. fatigue
  2. effort
  3. sinks
  4. achievements

I’ll explain these factors below. However, I want to give away the mental model behind these factors. It’s the same concept behind budgeting.

Factors 1 and 2 tell us about the available funds, while factors 3 and 4 describe what we’re spending it on!

Fatigue and Energy

You don’t start every day with the same energy.

So why do we try to work the same amount on shitty days as we do on great days?

Working when we’re fatigued is often counterproductive. You’re much slower, less smart (sleep deprivation == lower effective iq), etc. You’re not just less effective, you’re likely to create more work for future you!

Even assuming that we can get a decent amount of work done, I have a feeling that working when fatigued is still going to be counterproductive. Various studies have showed the merits of shorter work days and even shorter workweeks. Showing not just that productivity didn’t decrease, but in fact increased in some cases!

To plan a days work and to put it in perspective requires that we look at our fatigue and energy levels.


Not every task is created equal.

Some tasks take a lot of time but hardly any energy, some take lots of energy and take hardly any time.


A potential extension to this model is looking at various areas of effort.

You might find that your “creative energy” is exhausted by a task like writing, but that you’re still left with lots of energy to do other tasks. Like cleaning up your inbox, or taking lots of meetings.

Time used to be a decent proxy metric for effort, back when people were still working in factories. Today, for knowledge workers for whom their job involves significant mental effort, this just isn’t the case anymore.

Here is a good hypothetical: A good deep work session of around 90 minutes can cost you all your “brain juice” for the day. Knowing this, you could avoid that session and instead work on menial tasks for 8 hours. However, your 90 minute session has a good chance of producing the same or more value than your 8 hours of menial tasks.

Sometimes I get into a flow state and finish my work in 30 minutes, other times I find myself looking at a clock that tells a time four hours later. However, comparing these cases I don’t always have a discernable difference in energy expenditure.

The previous example demonstrates a horrible scenario for someone following a time based schedule. They would have to do roughly 15 more sessions like this to fill their 8 hours. Even though they’ve likely expended much more than 6% of their efforts.

Effort is not the same as time, and a limited resource. If you’re doing work which (sometimes) involves deep work sessions or other tasks that cost a significant amount of effort, then your available budget for the day should decrease!

Effort is a better metric than time.


Lots of things are, or feel like, a waste of time.

Meetings are a good example. A necessary evil, but most meetings could have been an email.

I would also count your regular (digital) “chores” amongst sinks. These are tasks which support your work. It’s sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. So it’s important to acknowledge that time effort going into these chores is a “sink”.

It’s important to recognise that these types of tasks can help us be more effective at our core work. Meetings can be tremendously useful, and a clean workspace helps you focus.

Therefore you have the option of making a distinction between true and false sinks. True sinks are a real waste of time, while false sinks are worth the effort.

Keep track of the effort going into sinks!


You want to have spent your time on valuable tasks.

It’s very difficult to pin down what makes for valuable activities. It might even be impossible. Fortunately for us there is no need to be perfectly accurate.

We’ve already alluded to the key evaluation that you have to make when planning or evaluating your day.

Where do I put in my limited effort?

It’s often too easy to ignore that we only have limited time available and to just start working.

This is the fastest way to burn out. You’ll never actually finish your tasks, and there is nothing more disappointing than starting the day with a very long list of todo’s that have been on there for over a month.

☝ Backlog Refinement anyone?

How do I put in my limited effort? This topic is incredibly important to consider and outside of the scope of this page. I recommend reading about deep work, pomodoro method and flow.

Be careful!

It’s easy to overestimate what you can achieve in a single day, and because of that easy to believe you’ve achieved very little in hindsight.

Furthermore, we’re all vulnerable to hindsight bias. It might seem like you’ve achieved very little if your efforts have yielded no results. It’s

Top of Mind

You couldn’t stop working even if you tried.

It’s tremendously difficult to prevent your brain from passively working away at work problems while you’re going through your day to day tasks.

In Practice

I started writing a draft of this section with a couple of examples. However, it occurred to me that this was a fruitless effort. Some meetings might be more exhausting than others. Some people might loose more energy than others in the same meeting. Sometimes checking email is easy, sometimes it is not.

planning your day

  1. identify your energy level: none / low / normal / high
  2. identify your must do tasks for the day
  3. identify your want to do tasks for the day

(3) is where this post’s method comes into play. Set a managable goal.

Stopping on time You do not need to keep a meticulous record of everything you do as you do it.

Instead, you should keep track roughly of your energy expenditure.

The most important thing? Stop once you’ve expended your energy.


One of the reasons I’ve built this approach for myself is the observation that overwork and overtraining aren’t that dissimilar.

We’re very prone to overexertion because time estimations are so poor in estimating actual effort. Overexertion, in turn, leads to a decreased capacity.

Optimising the exertion per day leads to a minimal impact in productivity in the short term, while improving it in the mid- to long term.

In short, the goal is to do more!


I can hear people say “hur dur, you just don’t want to work 8 hours”.

My answer to you is this: This method is simply more efficient. you spend less time, and your employer gets more. People who prefer overexertion suffer from short-term thinking, and helping no-one.

Furthermore, following this approach decouples your scheduling from time entirely. Nobody smart actually cares about your time.

Overworking, like overexercising is a phenomenon following the simple fact that sometimes less = more.


Appendix A: Daily Template

You can use the following incredibly simple template in a tool like obsidian to automatically set up a daily note for yourself

🔋 Energy Level: abysmal / low / medium / high

🌻 Morning *

🌤 Afternoon *