Who’s the schmuck that thought the 8-hour work day was fair or needed as an effective amount of work time? Ask anyone you know how many hours they work per day on average. Chances are the most common response is going to be 8 hours. Do a little research and voila! Statistics all across America show that the most common amount time spent doing work related activities is 8.8 hours.
But if you really stop and think about everyone you work with and what they spend their time actually doing at work; you find that most of them are doing about 2 full hours of lollygagging during that 8 hour period. It’s not efficient or productive for the employer and can get quite wasteful. So what is the best amount of time for both the employer and the employee to be at work and optimize productivity?
Let’s not mess around with my opinions and ideals about what amount of time people should be working per day. Instead let’s look at some well documented data and let you form your own opinion. Because, as you’ll find, it kind of differs for everyone. (But only kind-of) So, I guess the first question we want to ask here is; Where did the 8-hour work day come from? Well…. Where else? Just think. It came from an era in our history where people started working for organizations by choice and necessity combined. Modern, slavery. Our very own American Industrial Revolution.
When companies started to focus on the efficacy of their workforce and the productivity of their factories, it became clear to them that they needed a shift system that people were rotated on in order to keep the company running at all hours of the day. It was the norm to request that workers stay at the company for a period of 10 to 16 hours a day.
These work hours were unsustainable because the workers lacked morale and were depleted in energy and mental strength. A man named Robert Owen worked hard to make sure the work day was cut down to 8-hours a day. He even created a slogan that said, “Eight Hours Labour, Eight hours Recreation, and Eight Hours Rest!”
Time passed with little change until Ford came along and started to give workers the ability to go home after 8 hours of work and changed the whole workday paradigm.
“One of the first businesses to implement this was the Ford Motor Company, in 1914, which not only cut the standard work day to eight hours, but also doubled their worker’s pay in the process. To the shock of many industries, this resulted in Ford’s productivity off of these same workers, but with fewer hours, actually increasing significantly and Ford’s profit margins doubled within two years. This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.”
There wasn’t any real science behind this whole change in workday hours. It was based on Owen’s campaign to reform the work day and Ford’s willingness to implement it. The crazy part about this now is that it’s 100 years later and pretty much that workday time hasn’t really changed. We need to start asking new questions so that we can search for new answers.
Manage your Energy not so much your time: It’s not the length of time you work that matters. It’s a little thing called the Ultradian Rhythm.
As the world progresses into this age of creativity and information systems, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the correct focus is human energy duration and motivation levels. A guy named Tony Schwartz once said, “Manage your Energy, not your time.” He went on to explain that as humans we have four different types of energy to direct every day.
- Physical Energy – Has a lot to do with how healthy you are.
- Emotional Energy – Directly connected to happiness levels.
- Mental Energy – Usually evidenced by how long someone can focus on something.
- Spiritual Energy – It is connected to each individuals sense of purpose.
We are not mechanisms and robots. We are biological lifeforms. We can’t run like a program on a computer. There are bio-factors to pay attention to. We live inside the cyclical patterns of our biology. So if we really want to be efficient we need to be in tune with our humanity. We can move forward by looking at our ultradian rhythm:
Looks like the correct way to look at your day is to forget asking “What can I do in 8 hours work?” and start asking, “What can I get done in a 90min work burst?” Now just break the whole day up into 90-20 chunks. But what is actually going on in our biology that makes this effective? Okay, let’s check it.
There’s a 2 step process in our ability to focus that was discovered by a guy named Justin Gardner while doing research on the subject.
- Sensitivity Enhancement : Essentially, you are given a scene or platform and your brain takes in all the information it can from what is presented to you as a task or “Work.” Subsequently, you focus on the factors that need your attention. Little by little your task becomes clear to you and you can move faster as you become accustomed to it.
- Efficient Selection : The actual focusing on the task happens here! This is described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as the “Flow” state. Look at the following picture:
So why does this matter? Well, the suggestion here is that we have to Stop attempting to multi-task to avoid being distracted. At the same time we have to get rid of distractions even if there is only 1 thing to do. Well, as easy and as obvious as it now seems, it is actually quite hard to do. But always know this. We have the power to change the shape and structure of our brain by simply learning to focus. Want some suggestions? Okay. Try this!
- If you have no deadline for a specific task, create your own and then reward yourself for completing it!
- Chop your day up into 90min sections. Look at it like this. Don’t say, “I have 8 hours to work.” Say, “I have five 90min blocks for today! This way you see the day in “1 task to complete within each 90min block where the day has four or five blocks in it.”
- Plan out the small 20min blocks of rest. This way, you’re more likely to rest and then come back to each 90min block refreshed and ready to go. You’ll finish your work faster if you optimize your rest time.
- Cut out all digital distractions like your cell phone constantly giving you a chime when a text comes in, or a facebook post hits your wall. These types of digital distractions will only slow you down. Trust me, I know because it happens to me a lot.
Make these changes in your work life but make sure your co-workers know you’re doing this or they may think you’re dicking around for 20 minutes every 90 minutes. Trust me they won’t be timing your work cycle. They’ll be put off by your strange way of working and they need to be informed so that they don’t go telling people that you keep taking 20 minute brakes. You have to also be able to backup your behavior by being able to excel in productivity. This way, if anybody asks if you’re getting work done, you can show you’ve got everyone beat or you’re on par with the best producers in your department. Feel free to email us or comment on this if you’ve tried it.