While many people still might believe that the 8-hour workday is the most productive way to work, it has been found that this is not at all true, for many reasons. In this new day in age, the 8-hour workday is actually an outdated and ineffective approach to work.
To provide some context, the 8-hour workday was created since the birth of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, it was normal for manual laborers to work about 10-16 hours a day. Since these hours were clearly not sustainable, the 8-hour workday was created in an effort to reduce the amount of hours worked.
Despite the historical tradition of the 8-hour workday, it is completely irrelevant today in our increasingly creative and flexible society. Here are some of the flaws we face by operating in the structure of an 8-hour workday:
Flaws of the 8-hour workday
Working for 8 straight hours in one day leads to vast inefficiencies. If we look at the root of these inefficiencies, we would find that this is because no one can be productive for 8 hours a day. According to a study, most employees spend only about 3 hours of productive work a day. In fact, they found that most people spend the day procrastinating. On average, people spend about 44 minutes checking social media, 65 minutes reading news websites, and 40 minutes discussing non-work related topics with their colleagues. The study also found that 54% of participants found the workday more bearable with short breaks to smoke, eat snacks, or make personal calls.
The reason why most people cannot be productive for 8 hours straight is because the human mind is not designed to work that way. Instead of focusing only on the hours we put in, we should be focusing on how we spend our energy. When our energy levels are high, that is when we are able to be the most productive.
Managing your energy and being able to work and rest in consistent cycles in the same rhythm as your energy levels is essential to productive activity. By listening to your body and understanding its needs, you will find that you can be a lot more productive without working longer hours.
Needs of the human mind
To better understand how and when we do our most productive work, we need to first understand how our minds work. The Draugiem group recently did a study on the amount of time people spent on various tasks versus their productivity levels, and discovered a very surprising fact. According to the study, they found that the length of the workday doesn’t actually matter; in other words, the amount of time people spent doing various tasks did not affect their productivity levels. What mattered instead was how they structured their day.
The study found that people who regularly took multiple breaks were significantly more productive than those who worked continuously for hours. This is because, by human nature, our minds function using ultradian cycles. This means that the human body usually has spurts of high energy lasting about 90-120 minutes, followed by spurts of low energy lasting around 20-30 minutes. So, if we respect this fundamental need of the human mind, we are most productive during our spurts of high energy, and need to take breaks to recharge during the spurts of low energy.
Best way to structure your work schedule
Now that we know that our mind functions in these cycles, we should use this information to our advantage to help us become our most productive selves. Instead of asking yourself what you can get done in an 8-hour workday, you should start asking yourself what can you get done in a 90 minute session. This way, your work is broken down into many smaller chunks and by simplifying each task, you are much more likely to complete each of them.
Exhaustion and frustration are always going to be tough to beat, but when you notice a big dip in your productivity, take that as a sign that you need to take a break. When you are intentional about taking a real break, then your break will be truly restful, allowing you to be much more alert and productive when you return back to work. Remember, checking your email, or Facebook, or watching YouTube videos is not the most efficient way to recharge. To make your have the most effective break, you should separate yourself from your work as much as possible because when you return to work, you will feel a lot more refreshed.
During your 90 minute working sessions, it is very important to stay focused, and focus on only one task at a time. Multi-tasking can cause people to become much more easily distracted by texting, checking email or Facebook during their 90 minutes of focus. Doing this breaks concentration and defeats the entire purpose of working in chunks, so avoid this as much as possible and turn off all your notifications.
All in all, the most important idea to understand here is that everybody is different, has different needs, and has different approaches to being productive. While we recommend that you follow the general idea of really focused work for 90 minutes followed by 20 minutes of rest, the amount of time needed for working and resting can differ from person to person. No matter how you decide to break up you day, working and resting in a rhythm that matches your personal energy levels throughout the day will help you work faster, be more productive, and in general feel good.