The Key to Meaningful Work: Your Honest Hour


If you want to find meaningful work, you need to know when your "Honest Hour" occurs. As we've mentioned in the past, work's only meaningful when it has genuine significance to ourselves.

In other words, it must be freely chosen. By you.

Which means that all those voices in your head - your mom making an off-hand comment about artists being unable to afford the clothes they sleep in? Your dad saying that the true value of a person lies in her ability to support herself? Your "friends" on Facebook trumpeting their latest status coup?

They have to go. Like, now.

The best way I've found to quiet the Voices is by taking advantage of your Honest Hour:  the brief moment each day when the Voices have duct tape across their mouths and you can finally - finally! - hear your inner melody.

How to Identify Your Honest Hour

The timing of the Honest Hour varies from person to person.

Mine starts at 6am. (It's a taskmaster, I tell you!) If I sleep in a bit, the Voices - including that faceless beast "everyone" - wake up and start screaming at me. Then I can't have a true thought to save my life.

On the contrary, many of my career coaching clients' honest hours occur right before falling asleep.

A few others enter it somewhere around our natural siesta time:  about 3pm or so.

Importantly, though, whenever the Honest Hour happens to fall, we must enter it naturally for it to be worth anything. Sure it's tempting to reach for alcohol or some other substance to make the Voices quiet down and our "truth" come out, but that kind of "truth" is just falsity layered upon falsity.

We want to hear the real you, not the buzzed you.

So how do you discover your Honest Hour? Here's the 3-step process I've developed over the years:

  1. Brainstorm your possible Honest Hours. Think of all the times when you might spill the contents of your deepest secrets to your best friend. Or, even better, to a relative stranger! In other words, when does your facade come off and your truth slip out? Write down all the possibilities you can think of. (Note:  you can "cheat" and use the three times I've found to be most common - immediately in the morning, right before falling asleep, and 3pm-ish - but be sure to wrack your brain to take your own idiosyncratic ways into account).
  2. Prioritize your brainstormed list. Which of the times that you've listed seems most likely to elicit honesty? Which comes next? And so on.
  3. Test one potential Honest Hour a day, using the following instructions:

    1. Sit down at the first Honest Hour you have listed. On top of a sheet of paper, write the Honest Hour you're attempting. Below it, write a response to the first prompt below. (Note:  the goal is to trick your rational mind into not engaging, so do NOT read all the prompts and then carefully choose one. Simply do them in order!)
    2. Let the words flow out as long as they will. Aim for at least a page long hand. And YES, long hand is key, as Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way fame would agree. The Voices lurk in electronic devices and get tempted by typing in any way, shape, or form. Once you've become practiced at shoving the Voices aside, you can return to the computer or tablet. For now, hand cramp it is!
    3. Here's the important test portion:  When a Voice appears - e.g., it says in response to something you've written "There's no way you could do that!" - make a little check mark above where it intruded. Then ignore the Voice and keep writing.
    4. Repeat this exercise every day at a different potential Honest Hour.
    5. After you've tried them all, compare both the length of  your responses AND how many checks appear on each page. The paper with the longest response and the least checks is the winner:  you've found your Honest Hour!

Rules for Entering the Honest Hour

Don't celebrate just yet, though. There's a bit more work to do.

In my experience, the Honest Hour tends to be a slippery little thing. If I don't enter it just right, I can't access it at all.

To top it off, many days it doesn't even last a full hour. Little stinker!

I take what I can get, though, and have found strategies to enter and preserve my Honest Hour.

The following are my personal rules. To develop your own, you'll need to summon up some good ol' trial and error (a lot of error, if you're anything like me!).

  1. Do not check email, social media or your phone before sitting down to honesty. Believe me, I've tested this theory about a hundred times. I wake up, think to myself, "I'll just quickly pop on email - I won't respond to anything, I'll just read them," and then find the Voices flooding my mind before I know what's happened. (I almost did it this morning, in fact!) Quieting the Voices takes a great deal of resolve. May the force be with you.
  2. Talk as little as possible before sitting down to honesty. My husband understands that I'm a mute in the morning. I can say "hi" and "how'd you sleep?" but I won't entertain questions about the day ahead, nor have any in-depth discussions. Anything that requires rational thought serves as a gong over the bed of the Voices. Don't ring it.
  3. Hide your to-do list well before entering your Honest Hour. I'm not being figurative here. Literally HIDE your to-do list. If you're anything like me, the mere sight of that monstrosity will set your rational mind ablaze. You'll soon be so hung up in "but I really need to [insert a task that seems important in the moment but actually isn't in relation to the meaning of your life]" that you won't have an ounce of honesty to spare.

How to Use Your Honest Hour

Given how recalcitrant the Honest Hour tends to be, is it really worth working so hard to find and preserve it?

In a word:  yes.

In two words:  totally yes.

In three words:  absolutely freaking yes.

I wouldn't have half the satisfying working life I do if not for my Honest Hour.

Because once we've found our Honest Hour, we can use it to sink our teeth into identifying and pursuing meaningful work.

It's the time to sit down and do introspective exercises (like the many that will be coming right here in the coming weeks!)

It's the time to dream up plans for next steps.

It's the time to trick ourselves into feeling courageous enough to take those steps.

The Honest Hour is where your truth lies. Get well acquainted with it. It's fabulous - even if it does fall at 6am!

Honest Hour Prompts

  • What would you be doing with your life if no one were watching?
  • Describe an ideal work day 10 years from now.
  • What work would you be doing if the emotion "fear" were alien to you?
  • When you die, what sorts of feelings and understandings do you want to have imparted to others through your work?
  • What's the most important work a person can do? Why?

I want to know if my 3-part strategy for finding an Honest Hour works for you...and what needs tweaking!

After you've tried the system out, please write a comment here, or email me at I'll send an exclusive Working Self self-reflective worksheet to everyone who shares their experience - plus I may feature a response as a case study right here on the interweb (with your permission, of course!)

Photo Credit: charliebarker