1.5 to 2 hours: The short sharp upward arc of focused time
I’m a writer, so my metrics are not only about creative practice time but also about production. An artist might be looking at work created. A musician at tracks laid down, or segments of a composition completed. A coder might be tracking lines of (elegant) code. Whatever your creative project, you have a sense of forward motion — or not.
When I’m creating something new, I average 250 words a day. That’s a decent result for the 45-minutes to an hour a day I was able to squeeze in.
Then I began a 30-Day Challenge of waking up 2 hours early each day for creative work. I’m three weeks into that. I’m doing The Work for an hour and a half each day with another half an hour at the end that’s optional.
It’s not optional whether I work those final 30 minutes — I must. It’s optional whether I continue with writing on a book project or if I slide on over to a post for this website or working on my email newsletter.
Want to hear something that will galvanize you?
Doubling from 45-minutes/1 hour a day creative time to 1.5 hours/2 hours quadruples your result.
I wrote over 1,100 words each day in the first few days. To have my work soar to this new level was nothing short of a transformational leap.
I was doubling my average daily creative time. Some days it was more than that. If I went the full 2 hours focusing solely on The Work, that was more than 2.5 times what I normally managed. (45 minutes a day was my average before, when I was fitting it in after my time at the art gallery.)
Still, do the math. Two times 250 words would be 500 words a day. Another half again is 625 words. Instead my output increased by over 4 times!
One and a half to two hours is a magical chunk of focus time.
It allows you to go deep. Even if you never attempt 2-hour early morning sessions, if you wish to create meaningfully and productively, aim for 1.5 to 2 hours wherever you can lock it into your day.
To paraphrase Mark Twain in another context, it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Here’s the thing. Going from 45 minutes or so a day to an hour and a half or two is going from not quite enough to perfect. From years of reading about peak creativity, it appears most creative individuals can sustain a high level of concentration somewhere between 2 to 4 hours.
Even creatives who make their sole income from creative work often find themselves maxing out after 4 or 5 hours.
California artist Nicholas Wilton noticed that his average creative day involved 3 to 4 hours of strong work. When he collapsed that to 2 hours a day he found the process invigorated him — and the work. He even installed a large digital countdown timer on his studio wall to serve notice: Time is evaporating! Keep at it!
Recently I read someone suggest that there’s no such thing as creative block — only too much time. When you constrain your focus to a duration allowing for real immersion, you get results.
It’s all about immersion — 1.5 to 2 hours draws forth your best work. It allows you to sink deeply into the process — and stay there long enough to be effective.