How Many Hours Should You Aim to Work / Write / Produce Something?

#Freelancing is a simple life, isn’t it? You get up, you watch daytime TV until 11:30am at which time you have a three-hour lunch, have coffee, waste some time on Facebook and work at your own pace until around 3pm 5pm. You have the luxury of setting your own hours, but one question niggles at the mind from day one: how many hours is “normal” for a freelancer?

Friends are often surprised and perhaps a little envious when I say that my average hours of paid work per day is 5. Sometime’s it’s 3, sometimes it’s 4, sometimes it’s 6.

It’s often hard to quantify because I set aside an amount of time to do a piece of work but sometimes get it wrong, especially when doing work for a new client. But my rule keeps coming back to 5 hours of paid writing work per day. What freelancers need to budget in is time for the non-paid work that we do. I’m not talking about scammers wanting something for nothing, I’m talking about raising invoices, approaching clients, marketing, social media and on Upwork – pitching. Arguably, we’ll all make the mistake of underestimating the need to do this and not factoring in enough time.

How Long are we Productive in a Typical Day?

The average working day is 8 hours – 9-5 with an hour for lunch. But according to a recent report in, the average person is productive for just 4 hours per day. That’s right, no matter how many hours you are contracted to do, you will only be productive for 4 of them. So, a freelancer who produces 5 hours of work per day (or more) even when distracted by Jeremy Kyle, Facebook and the couple next door having an argument, give yourselves a pat on the back!

The article is intriguing by citing evidence from well-known scientists who worked no more than 4 hours per day, repeated studies that show how we struggle to function after 4 hours. Even ethnographic studies of technologically primitive people showed that they don’t engage in daily toil just to keep the minimum calories in their belly. They spend 3-5 hours per day working.

In a Proper Job…

In a “proper job” as some people call it, you don’t spend all 8 hours working. You’ll have a lunch break and tea breaks, spend time over the water cooler gossiping, taking breaks to take paperwork to another office and so on. During this time you will have social interaction, mini breaks just doing random stuff, and engage in other time wasting activities (some of which may actually be useful). We freelance writers don’t do that which is why we need other distractions. It’s perfectly easy for a 4-hour working day to spread out over the same number of hours you are at work. I run and go indoor climbing (just finished a rope climbing course, go me!) – to break up my day and often feel more productive for the break.

Stop Prattling On, How Many Hours Should I Aim to Work?

The short answer is: whatever feels comfortable for you. The long answer is that your brain will generally make that decision for you. After 4, 5, or 6 hours, it will generally decide it’s going to bed and you should probably pick up that XBox Controller that’s been tempting you since about ten minutes after you got up, or give in the Netflix wailing your name from the television 😀



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