Here at DeskTime, we did a study of the most productive employees to understand their habits and learn from them. Originally published on Daily Muse, the article took off and was republished by Mashable, Business Insider, Inc.com and Lifehacker. You have probably noticed it already, but here is the original and complete text of the study with even more useful tips to increase your productivity.
A person can’t be 100% productive all day. As much as you want to make the most of every minute, to get shit done, to hustle, it’s just not humanly possible. Concentration is like a muscle, it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked, otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things. For this reason even an employee working an 8 hour workday needs to take breaks to stay productive.
There’s been much controversy over the nature of workplace productivity. While many employers associate an employee’s physical attendance in the office with productivity, the more modern school of thought practiced by people like Jason Fried of Basecamp (as he describes in his book Remote: Office Not Required), has a focus on work done rather than hours put in.
Regardless of what employers view as productive, we’ve been able to pinpoint the workflow that produces the most productive work, and it turns out that the key to workplace productivity is all about effective breaking. From attention span, to physical well-being, breaks have meaning to our productivity. It’s what the 10% most productive people have in common. This is what we found from our research:
The most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes.
The employees with the highest productivity ratings in fact for the most part don’t even work 8 hour days. Turns out the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a work day is not working longer, but working smarter with frequent breaks.
In this article we’ll take a look at the statistics gathered from the top 10% most productive employees, as well as the theory of what makes it productive, and tips on how you can implement this in your own life.
How we got the stats
DeskTime is an employee productivity tracking software that collects substantial amounts of daily computer-using behaviour (5.5 million logged records per day). This gives us a ton of information that we can use to analyse computer-use behaviour through the spectrum of what the users themselves consider to be productive.
What we’ve done is isolated the top 10% most productive employees and analysed their computer-use behaviour during one workday. The way we decided who the most productive are was by taking the people who had the 10% highest ratio of use of “productive” applications for their line of work (each individual can have different apps they consider productive, ex. a marketer would indicate social platforms like Facebook as “productive”.)
The theory of productive working
The notion of productivity is the ability to be able to do more in a smaller amount of time.
The reason the 10% most productive employees are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that they’re treated as sprints for which they’re well-rested. They make the most of the 52 working minutes, in other words, they work with purpose.
Working with purpose can also be called the 100% dedication theory. The notion that whatever you do, you do it full-out. Therefore, during the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, making progress. Whereas during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing – you’re entirely resting.
Making the most of your 52 working minutes
Lately the meaning of breaks towards the mental and physical productivity of an individual has been valued as incredibly important. Since concentration is like a muscle – it shouldn’t be overworked – then it only makes sense that a fully productive employee should be able to take frequent breaks.
By following this set pattern, you’re physically working less time. During the period of working for 52 minutes, what you should be doing is entirely devoting yourself to working to your best capability. This is called the 100% method. Whatever you do, dedicate yourself 100%. If you’re working, then work 100%. If you’re relaxing, relax 100% – none of this checking email every few minutes while you’re on break, and none of this “I’ll just quickly check Facebook” while you’re working. Others call this “purposeful” working.
Purposeful working isn’t a new notion – a similar and popular technique is The Pomodoro technique, created by an Italian philosopher who used a strict working/resting time to achieve more. They use the same strategy of working hard for 25 minutes, then breaking for 5. It’s a rigorous schedule, which is geared towards driving attention to short, deliverable tasks within 25 minutes, without succumbing to distractions, either coming from the outside, or self-inflicted.
The science behind breaks
The break of 17 minutes lets your mind, your attention span and your body rest so that when the 52 minutes of work begin, you’re entirely ready to knock off the tasks to be done.
This amount may seem high, but if you take a look at world class violinists, they become great by practicing in similar increments of time, because of the notion of deliberate practice.
Mind – Working for long periods of time can be detrimental to your level of engagement with the certain task or company in general. Repeating tasks lead to cognitive boredom, which in turn halts your ability to thrive at the task at hand.
Attention span – The human brain isn’t able to focus for 8 hours at a time. The best way to refresh attention span is to take a break, let your mind wander wherever it wants to, when then allows you to return to a task and be able to be fully dedicated to it.
Body – The human body isn’t built to sit for 8 hours straight, as many knowledge workers do these days. Research has shown that breaking up the all-day sit-a-thon can improve productivity – even if it’ simply by working while standing.
There are numerous benefits to breaks with physical activity throughout the day. It impacts your eyesight, back pain, arthritis, stress levels, and even heart disease. Not to mention, getting up helps circulate blood, which gets more oxygen all around. Your brain in particular will thank you by waking up and being able to perform more competently.
What to do while you’re on break
You’ve got 17 minutes to take yourself out of the working zone. Coincidentally (or not..), if you look at the world’s professional musicians, they also take 15-20 minute breaks. Really, we’re reaching the level of the greats. We’re talking completely dedicating yourself to not working.
- Some exercises – there are plenty of exercises you can do in the confines of an office. There are plenty apps available for this, one I’ve successfully used is called Fitster, it senses when you’ve been at the computer for a while and launches a desktop workout.
- Take a walk – better yet, go outside. Not only will it clear your mind, you’ll get fresh air which means yay, oxygen to make your brain work better, plus you might catch some rays. Vitamin D makes for a better mood, which will only further stimulate your ability to concentrate.
- Grab something to eat – replenish those energy levels. The best foods to eat to replenish glucose (good energy) are nuts, apples, pears, blueberries, cheese, fish meat, etc.
- Talk to colleagues – research shows that employees who socialize are both happier at work, and are able to do as much as their non-socializing coworkers who, as a result, spend more time working.
- Surf social networks – because this is your time to do what you want. Make sure to take a moment to look away from the computer and gaze in the distance, to relieve your near-focused eyes.
- Watch funny cat videos – it’s proven that by looking at cute pictures of cats and dogs, you become more productive.
Conclusion – Making time for breaks will help you get more done
By taking the time to rest your brain and concentration muscle, stretching your legs, relieving your eyes, you’ll be doing not only your body and overall well-being a favour, but you’ll be in a position to create the best possible work. If your boss doesn’t agree, send them this link 🙂