Finding My 5 Hours

Finding My 5 Hours post image

I was reading an article about John Mayer recently. Despite all the tabloid drama, John is truly a world class guitar player. I find him fascinating because he’s about my age, and I’ve been playing the guitar for over 10 years now.

In the article, John suggested that he might not be a famous guitarist and songwriter if Facebook and Twitter had existed when he was growing up. His point– he endured the pain of repetitive guitar practice for years with relatively low levels of distraction. He did this in part because he saw it as his ticket out of obscurity.

I used to think like John– that a career out on the road creating rock songs would be my ticket to an exciting life. I didn’t understand something John seemed to get early on– that finding work you love is a better success strategy than finding benefits you love.

I glorified the benefits of being a songwriter, but I didn’t like the work.

If you can’t do something 5 hours a day, every day, you don’t like it enough to be highly successful at it.

I use 5 hours as my rule of thumb because it’s ambitious but plausible for most people.

If you find something you can do for 5 hours a day, it’s probably worth going at it with all your energy. It’s rare. The upsides for people who can manage it are huge.

If you are enamored with the benefits of a pursuit, but cannot work 5 hours a day on it, you are better off exploring other options. When I freed myself from my vague dreams of songwriting success, I became a happier person.


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Published on 08.23.11
  • ABinLA

    Gotta admit, that’s brilliant self-assessment. I can easily spend 5 hours a day letting the fingers fly on a script or the feet spin in circles on the mountain bike, but pretty much anything else serious, and I am cooked after an hour. As well, distractions are f’n impossible to avoid. Way too easy to “just check” this of that internet nonsense and next thing you know a year has passed. – AB in Berawa

  • ABinLA

    My rule of thumb: If there was no such thing as money, what would you do? The answer is the gig that is right for you. 

  • Ken Standard

    Very good post. Unless you are driven to put in a passionate 5 hours into pursuit X one needs to question their choices.

  • Dan

    Word ! :D

  • Dan

    I know that feeling. I’ve got Reddit on my quick launch bar :D I think the good fight is worth fighting, but also trying to find opportunities to focus on the stuff that comes easy to you. It’s a tough call always. RE: your rule of thumb is a good one for sure.

  • Jenbung

    I am a firm believer in this method of thought.  More recently, with inspiration from you Dan, I’ve been applying this towards my work in photography, and somewhat in my writing.  I applaud you in sharing your inspiration.

  • Dan

    Hey thanks for that! :D Boss socks on your project! Hope you’ll share it when you can! 

  • Rellgins

    What up Dan!

    I ran across your blog while searching for a place to do business after my contract here in Iraq is up. I’m a UAV operator and I make around $135K a year but I plan on quitting in the next few months. Getting shot at on a weekly basis just isn’t worth it! Anyways, I’ve got a couple of sites that I’ve created in the past month that are making a tiny bit of money and will hopefully be netting me at least $1000 per month by December. My question to you is, where do I start looking for a pad in Bali? I did a quick search as soon as I read your post but it seems to be all of the touristy, inflated vacation rentals littering the search results. Do you have a local source that you can share? I’ve always wanted to visit Bali and since I need to stay out of the country for a few months after my contract here is up for expat qualification, it seems like the perfect fit. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!


  • Dan

    Yo Religins…. well done on the huge danger pay, and great work on the niche sites. Here’s the thing about Bali– with the exception of using for some high end villa rentals, there is pretty much no way to identify good value housing unless you are on the ground. If you are looking for a studio/1BR with WIFI and AC you can find stuff on the ground 200-500 USD easily. 

    One thing about the earned income thingie if you haven’t already double check with your tax guy that your foreign tax home stuff in Iraq qualifies for the exclusion. Sometimes that stuff can be wonkie if you don’t set it up right with the IRS from the get go.

  • Rellgins

    Cool man, I appreciate it! After your latest post about Bali I’m definitely coming to take a look around.

  • With at least an hour of that time on Twitter going back and forth with me. Which obviously is a most entertaining use of productive time.  ;)

  • hi Dan~
    my 5 hours,,,well,,I can get lost for days in nature, art, meditation, swimming~, yoga, living, traveling,,and a few other loving activities.
    currently, I am enjoying the challenge of creating an online biz. that promotes all of the above, so I can do more of all of the above.
    I can definitely understand how the internet can become a time warp, Bermuda triangle style.

  • Considering the typical work day is 8 hours, 5 is not bad!! And I can EASILY lose myself in design work for 4+ hours (4 is how long all of my college art classes were too, because the ‘lab’ time that we got to do hands-on training needed to be that long to get a good creative flow going. 1hr class on creative work is simply not enough time!). Anyway, I guess I pass the requirement. Gladly :)

  • Dan

    Yes, yes it is. I wouldn’t have it any other way! :D

  • Dan

    It’s funny, as a creative person myself I often thought that combining my passion with business would taint it, but now as I’ve done something similar with writing/podcasting/traveling/design, I’ve realized funneling them in to a business made me more creative.

  • Dan

    Dudette your designs are very good indeed, pile on 5 more hours a day every day and you’ll be an absolute savant in a few years time… it’s obvious you care about your work just a few clicks through your sites.

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  • IMHO Twitter etc are just the most recent flavors of distraction. TV used to be one of mine before the web, and before that there was radio, books, fire…

    What you’re saying here rings true indeed, regardless of the latest pretty shiny thing that grabs our attention.

    But, wow, how scary is that leap when you rely on the greater, or more obvious benefits…!

  • Dan

    I remember fondly hours in front of the TV. Tough to hold those heels to the fire….. for sure :) Thanks for stopping by !

  • Elijah Murray

    I really dig this post. However I think that I’m missing something. Base your business around something you love, but also outsource it (or at least hire someone to do it) as quickly as possible. Entrepreneurs focus on management people and connections rather than “doing” something repetitively for 5 hours a day. Do you enjoy writing about cat furniture 5 hours a day?


  • Dan

    I’m not clear on your question. My 5 hours is building businesses and teams. I think I could also be a writer for 5 hours a day, but probably not for the next few years. 

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  • I could happily spend 5+ hours a day either playing guitar or writing computer code. I just wish I could do both.

  • Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t the whole point of an UNMANNED Aerial Vehicle that you DON’T get shot at?

    No disrespect instead, it’s still a job I wouldn’t have the balls to do.

  • This is spot on Dan. And think about it this way: now you get to do work you’re obviously insane about, you still get to live the life you want, and you’re clearly a rockstar to the other business dudes and dudettes out there.

  • Dan

    try? :D

  • Dan

    haha. cheers Tim

  • Hector Sanchez

    Dan, I friend just refered me to your site today and I have been reading a lot of your posts. Great Content. Thank You. I see your point on the 5 hrs, and I think if you can do it for 5 hrs, you can probably do it for 12. I quit my job 15 months ago to dedicate full time to my passion (Trading) and I get up at 3:30 am and only stop when my family gets home from work/school around 5 PM, and most days am sad that I have to stop !!

  • Dan

    Rock on Hector thanks for reading. you might also be interested in Michael Covel’s site, he talks a lot about trading.

  • The research in Mason Currey’s new book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work backs up this 5 hours theory. Cal Newport did the math and the avarage number of deep work hours of the people profiled in the book is 5.25.

  • Dan

    Cheers thanks for the link caught that post earlier today and picked up the book!

  • Kyle

    Hi Dan — In an old post you mentioned how you started out in trading and/or poker, and would write about it at a later time. I can’t seem to find the article–is it here?

  • Great conception!

    It made me smile because I know for sure that I’ve found my passion, but is always a pleasure to see proofs of that.

    I can spend much more than 5 hours doing what I know I should be – writing, blogging, reading about blogging and self-improvement, writing ebooks, publishing, promoting, guest posting, connecting with others, social media, SEO, design stuff, etc.
    I don’t get bored as I switch from one thing to another when it’s been 90 minutes or so, and it’s actually the only area of my life I can safely say I get stuff done. And I love it.


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