The word “productivity” is originated in the industrial age. It simply talks about the ratio of work time to result or output. If you produce 10 items by working 2 hours, your productivity is five items per hour.
There are two different approaches when it comes to measuring productivity:
- The scientific approach goes for answering the question of how long I have to work until I would be considered productive. If an average worker works 8 hours a day and produces 4 units during that time, they should theoretically finish his task in one hour since they produced 4 units during 5 hours of work (or 15 units/day which corresponds with 60 units/week). However, there are too many other factors influencing this metric than only actual work time.
- The practical approach would include everything that makes you feel productive, but it might be hard to quantify this in numbers. If you finish your task in the afternoon rather than the morning because there are fewer disturbances or if you work faster when listening to music, these factors are not taken into account by scientific productivity measurements. However, they might have a big impact on how productive you feel at the end of the day.
This leads us to the question: What is my perception of productivity? Do I need 8 hours straight of working time in order to be considered productive? Or does it make sense for me to work in short intervals throughout my day in order to achieve 4 units in 5 hours (in total)?
Laboratory studies showed that concentration levels vary during the day. The highest concentration level happens after 1–2 hours of work followed by a decrease until lunchtime (which brings us back to the expected productivity value mentioned above). However, scientists found out that individuals who work straight through without breaks ended up making more mistakes compared to those who take shorter breaks throughout their working period. It seems like our brains just need some time to adapt to new tasks and challenges (e.g. typing a study instead of writing it down by hand). This effect is called “periodicity” and might have an impact on how you feel at the end of your day or week.
So what does this mean for my daily schedule?
Work in intervals throughout the day if possible (my personal favorite). Otherwise, divide your tasks into smaller chunks, and do not hesitate to use breaks in between.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how long your actual working time was. You might have been at your desk from 9 am to 5 pm or from 10 am to 1 pm when taking a few longer breaks throughout your day. Either way, you should take into account the time when your concentration reached its highest value in order to estimate how much work you actually got done.
Everyone is different. You might be (like me) someone who works best in short intervals throughout the day. Other people might need 4 uninterrupted hours to get anything done. It all depends on the amount of work you have to do and the way your brain works. The only thing you should not forget is to take regular breaks in order to stay productive throughout your day regardless of how much time you work.
There are a lot of tips to optimize your performance and do more in less time. The only rule is to minimize distractions. Do not hesitate to turn off your phone and close all unnecessary browser tabs and applications. This will help you avoid distractions and maximize your productivity during actual work time.
What works in terms of productivity might be different for everybody, but there are universal guidelines that can be applied to all types of work.
If you want to know more about the way your brain works during work time, I would recommend following these tips:
- Opt for short work intervals throughout the day to increase concentration levels. If you need uninterrupted time to get anything done, go for longer working sessions with longer breaks in between.
- Turn off distractions if possible (e.g. notifications on your phone, instant messaging apps, social media).
- Work straight through without breaks if you can concentrate well throughout a long working session. However, do not forget that concentration levels tend to decrease after 1–2 hours of work until lunchtime.
- If you’re the opposite and you can’t concentrate for longer periods of time, take regular breaks in order to reduce the risk of mistakes made by your brain.
- Do not compare yourself with other people’s performance or productivity unless your job is tied with fixed targets. There are a lot of different ways to be productive, and it does not depend on your working time, but on how much work you actually get done within that period.
Make sure you finish all your work-related tasks in time and give your brain some rest at the end of a long day in order to be more productive in general.