Dev interview with Non: the 3 hour dev


Japan is awesome.

We all love Japan.

I love Japan.

Non is a Japanese indie developer. Sometime ago, he wrote this article that made some noise in the dev community. Here’s the discussion on Hacker News. The reason is that he wrote about his 3 hour work day. Yup! You read that right. He works 3 hours a day, everyday. No wonder devs all around the world reacted to it.

As I read it, I asked myself some questions.

Does this method affect productivity? Why? How?

Is it possible to work only 3 hours everyday and keep the same productivity?

Why we should take this into consideration?

What’s behind this?

And of course: who the heck is Non? :D

To discover this and more, I flew all the way down to Japan!


I wished that.

I interviewed him via email.

Oh by the way, this is Non.


And here’s the interview. Enjoy!

Let’s start! Tell me a bit about yourself

Hi, I am Non Umemoto, a Japanese indie app developer from Tokyo. I make a living by selling my apps on the AppStore and the Playstore.
I do everything related to app developments including programming, UI design, and supports. P.S. What does your name mean?

That’s interesting. Tell me more please. How did it all start?

About 7 years ago, I was a person who always wanted to make a web service, but don’t have programming skill to do that.

I failed to learn PHP twice at the time but finally succeeded by making what I want and tried to learn based on things just for that purpose. After making 3 web services, I wanted to make an app who listen to the web blogs on the go, so I started learning iOS programming, then made the first app called Lisgo.

Since then, I’ve been developing and maintaining several mobile apps.

PS: My name Non is quite unique for Japanese, it means warm in Japanese. :)

Stubbornness is an incredible quality to have Non. In all honesty, I think a person can’t do this profession if he is used to give up on the first fail. Could you describe the process you went through to publish and sell Lisgo? Also, could you provide a link for it?

Sure, but Lisgo is not on the AppStore anymore, I made a new app called Voicepaper recently which is a new TTS app for Lisgo users.

Having said that, I started learning iPhone dev using books and the net at first, and I released the first version after around 6 months or so.

This was an app which I wanted to use myself, so I knew what are most important functions, and something I can add later from the start. Actually, I always make apps I use by myself so far, and this is a good and natural advantage as an indie app developer.

After I released the app, I tried to listen to feedback from users as much as possible to find out what people need and what people don’t need so much as I predicted before.

I learned a lot from the first app about how I can design and develop apps and how I can monetize it.

6 months, I’m impressed. Usually, does it take so long to release an app?. And back then, were you already implementing the 3-hour-of-coding principle?

I try to release a first minimal version as fast as I can since you never know if people will like it or not till you release it on the AppStore. Especially, you cannot tell if people pay for your app until you release it.

So, I usually try to release a new app within 3-6 months after I started developing it from scratch. After I release the first version, if I see people pay for the app, I will start polishing it based on user feedback. It will take more time to upgrade after releasing it anyway if I keep updating it.

were you already implementing the 3-hour-of-coding principle?
I worked hard at the first 2 or 3 years, around 6-8 hours programming everyday for a full year, and I burned out after that.

Especially I had sore eyes every time back then, and I decided to make a 3-hour working principle later.

Sore eyes are a problem that affected me as well. I had to take some measures to fix that problem, like installing Redlight on Ubuntu, setting dark themes for everything, exercising and so on.

So this was what made you transition to a 3-hour coding day. Was it a direct transition or it was a gradual change?

I started working up to 6 hours per day at first, but I felt I still have some time when I am not focusing enough while working for 6 hours. I mean, if I have enough time for work, I tend to do something not important during my work time like searching for something or checking SNS.

After trying 6 hours rule per day for about 6 months, I decided to try 3 hours a day rule. I found I really think about what I need to do and I shouldn’t do with this rule more than before, and I keep doing this since then.

What’s your daily routine?

Usually, I start doing my work for 3 hours straight after I wake up since I have the most energy at the time. I do everything related to my work including programming, support, marketing stuff and so on for that time, and I will do the rest next day.

After I finished my working time, I start doing anything related to my life like doing chores, and other things.

I keep following this routine on holidays too, but sometimes I cannot work at all when I want to do something else with someone, I am traveling or sick.

Damn, that sounds too good Non! Are you really more productive with only 3 hours of daily work? If so, can you give us an example, please?

If I don’t have a lot of time for work, I really think about what I don’t need to do more than anything, since your time is limited and you really think about what I really need to do compared to other things. Also, you can always realize that you cannot do everything, that boosts your productivity always.

Having said that, if you work on startup or something, I believe you need to work for many hours every day, so it depends on how you want to work, and I don’t think this method works for everybody.

For me, I wanted to have some routine which I can keep doing for the rest of my life without burning out and I ended up having this routine for my small business.

Also, you can always realize that you cannot do everything, that boosts your productivity. Always.

What do you mean when you say this, applied to web dev?

Yes, it applies to everything, when you have a small amount of time, you should focus on something important to you and ditch other things.

How do people react when you tell them about your 3-hour work day? I’m curious about this, especially if you consider the Japanese job culture (long working hours).

Hmm, I am not sure, I’m self-employed so it is a different work style, and I don’t talk so much about my working routine until people ask me about the details anyway.

Oh I see. Aren’t they surprised, even a bit? Anyway, how’s the web dev job market in Japan?

Sorry, I am not sure about that, my friends know my work style already, so I don’t remember.

I don’t know about web dev so much about Japan, but if you are a programmer, you can find jobs easily nowadays, especially in Tokyo.

Don’t worry. What about foreign programmers who want to come working in Japan, say in Tokyo? What are the requirements? Is Japanese a must-have for this kind of profession? I mean, programming languages use English all over the world.

Sorry, I don’t know about that things so much, but I know several programmers who don’t speak Japanese but works in Tokyo.

That’s just amazing, even only the fact that indeed is possible!

New question: what learning schedule would you advise to a wanna-be dev?

For me, keep working for a little time everyday worked, but it might not work for others, my only advice is that you just try a little first step if you are interested in something. You can learn a lot from just doing a little thing when you do something new, and it’s ok even if you can’t keep doing that after that anyway.

I can see you have a pretty strong philosophy about coding. Do you have life a philosophy as well? If so, tell me about it please

I am deeply influenced by books of Taleb like Blackswan, Antifragile, and so on, also how you live by Haruki Murakami’s essay.

Especially, you try to find a way to survive first instead of trying to find a way to success.

you try to find a way to survive first instead of trying to find a way to success.

Interesting perspective. Thank you for mentioning those books :)

How’s living in Tokyo and what’s your lifestyle?

I like Tokyo since the foods and restaurants are not expensive compared to other developed countries, also, it is safe and clean. This is my expression after I traveled other developed and developing countries. I like walking around in Tokyo since you can enjoy seeing a lot of places.

Dear Non, thank you very much this opportunity! I learned a lot from you.

I hope you guys enjoyed this article. Please let me know what you think.