When I read a book, I’ll read it three times.
First, to enjoy it. Second to take notes, and third— after a month off — one final time.
That third time may seem like overkill, but I found the time off helps me make connections I might have missed.
During that third reading I’ll also ask: What’s the takeaway?
There were more than a few from “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.
This surprised me. “The War of Art” is one of those books that looks like it’ll be helpful, but then succeeds in not saying anything you don’t already know for 180 pages. “If you want to be great, you have to turn pro! Turning pro means putting in the work every day with no guarantee of success!”
Well … Yeah. Between climate change, the Great Recession, and terrorism, living in the 21st Century has taught us all that there are no guarantees of anything, let alone success.
But. If you can get past the book’s superficial goofiness, there’s a lot to like.
Here’s one example:
“The War of Art” ties nicely with Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, in terms of asking you to set a schedule for your work, weed out all distractions, and then doing that work until your concentration is spent. Usually within four hours.
Those four hours Newport discusses is the same four hours Pressfield recommends you schedule each day.
Why four? Four hours is the upper limit of what Newport and cognitive psychologists found people can do in terms of good, high-quality work each day.
And four hours is something you have to work towards building, not all of us have it from the start.
Any work you produce after those four hours will likely be sloppier, filled with mistakes, and less clear. So, I know this won’t always possible, but if you can: After those four hours are gone, stop working for the day.
Remember: A lot of people today are trapped at their desk for periods longer than four hours, because the boss thinks that’s how things should be, but your boss is wrong. 20th Century management philosophy has not caught up to 21st century psychology.
The nine-to-five workday is an artifact left over from when manual labor and factories defined what work should looks like. Thanks to software, robotics, and outsourcing, we need to revisit this and make some changes.
Pressfield states that it’s the quality, and not the quantity, of the work that’s produced in those four hours that matters most, and I agree. He doesn’t count how many pages he writes. All that matters is that he sat down and produced quality work during the time he scheduled for that work to be done in.
The length of time you spend at work doesn’t matter. Your time spent actually working does.
That’s the thing both Pressfield and Newport hit on, and I’m recommending you try if you can.
Set a schedule for your four hours, they don’t have to be four hours consecutively, but work those same four hours each day distraction free. (If you like, you can even break those four hours into eight, half-hour sections. That’s how my day works. Anything considered a distraction is done between those half-hour intervals.)
If you can, I hope you’ll give this a try. Four hours may not seem like a lot, but if they allow you to do better work than your peers, who do work a full nine-hours filled with distractions, than that should be proof enough that these authors are right, and four hours is all we need.