Are You Less Productive at Work Than You Want to Be? It’s More Common Than You Think

Working the usual “nine to five” is common in the United States. But do you actually work straight through from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.? You most likely don’t. You might take a long lunch break one day or get into a long conversation with a coworker — or maybe you can’t help but go online and look up a few hotels for that vacation you’ve been dying to book. The bottom line is, you’re probably less productive at work than you want to be. But there’s good news: You’re definitely not alone.

Man at kitchen desk

If you’re not productive for eight hours, you’re not alone. | Chris Ryan/iStock/Getty Images

Work days are about half as long as they used to be — but still too long

During the Industrial Revolution, people spent up to 16 hours per day in factories. But it wasn’t until 1914 when the Ford Motor Company introduced the eight-hour work day that it became the standard in American culture. That’s because an eight-hour work day made for more productive workers than forcing them to work a full 16 hours. Henry Ford didn’t invent the eight-hour day, but he was the first major company to adopt it in the U.S. Since then, it’s been the standard.

Although the eight-hour day definitely makes for more productivity than a 16-hour day, it actually isn’t as productive as you’d think.

The average American is productive for less than three hours each work day

It’s hard to believe — or is it? Actually, this is based off a study out of the United Kingdom that polled more than 2,000 full-time office employees and found many of them are distracted for much longer than you’d expect. Some of the biggest distractions were reading news websites (the average U.K. worker spent an hour and five minutes each day doing this) and checking social media (44 minutes each day). Other distractions included 40 minutes talking with colleagues, 17 minutes making coffee, and eight minutes eating snacks.

Since America and the U.K. are similar in work ethic and office life, it can be assumed that Americans aren’t all that productive, either.

Why are we so unproductive?

Even if we have a busy schedule planned, we likely still take some time out of the work day to have a little fun — talking to coworkers, browsing social media, etc. But why can’t our brains just sit down, focus for eight hours (with pit stop for lunch to break up the day a little bit), and get the work done?

Our brains don’t work that way. Brains get fatigued after working for too long the same way your body gets fatigued after exercising for too long. A productivity study done to monitor office workers’ computers found that on average, people who took short breaks during their work day were far more productive than those who didn’t. Office workers who spent about 52 minutes focusing on a task, then took a 17-minute break, got much more accomplished in a day than those who didn’t take scheduled breaks.

Your brain can work for about an hour before it needs a 15-minute break

In order to get the most out of your work day, you need to give your brain a break. Basically, the work day should be spent working for six hours and breaking for two hours. Take a 15-minute break every hour in order to keep your productivity up. But during that break, you should completely separate from your work. Don’t check email just browse social media, look up that resort in that place you’re dying to visit, then get back to work 15 minutes later with a fresh mind. Take a regular lunch break, too (and leave your desk).

Realistically, the eight-hour work day shouldn’t be a thing — it’s a bit archaic. But until one major company makes the first move (Amazon? Google? Apple?) to shorten the American work week, we’ll have to deal with it.

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