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With all the interruptions and distractions at work that we face on a daily basis, how many hours per day do we actually spent in a focused state? Are there really eight full-on productive hours in a work day of an office worker or much, much less?
According to different sources, around 80% of people understand that they aren’t continuously productive 100% of their working time, others believe they are. Who is right and what are the most common time-consuming activities at work?
Let’s find out!
But first, try to analyze your own day and tell me in the comments: how many hours per day do you work on average and how many of them do you think are productive?
What are productive hours?
Productive hours aren’t necessarily full hours of focused time, although they can be. Measuring productive time usually means calculating the total amount of time you spend working on specific tasks without distractions. Naturally, the word ‘productive’ says that you produce something as a result of those hours.
Of course, not everything is measurable and not all kinds of work give an immediate outcome. You may be researching the market, building relationships with clients or potential business partners, setting up the foundation for your brand, or many other things like that.
However, it’s still important to set SMART goals (M is for Measurable) to make sure your work is intentional and leads to some kind of positive result. It’s very easy to get busy with minutiae and lose track of where you are going so setting daily, monthly, and quarterly goals that can be measured is a way to keep things under control.
How many hours do office workers actually work?
Although office walls give you a professional feeling and a kinda more serious atmosphere, I personally find myself much more productive when I’m working alone at home. Besides, if you strategically organize your home office in a fun and professional way, it creates an even better environment with individual triggers that motivate you on a daily basis!
But when it comes to office workers, there are several factors that affect their productivity levels and some of them are out of their control compared to a home worker.
A survey conducted by Vouchercloud that analyzed the procrastination habits of almost two thousand full-time workers showed that 2 hours and 53 minutes is the average time office workers spend effectively during the day.
This is crazy, right?!
I’ve heard people claim anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to be their productive time every day. Managers usually expect employees to be effective at least 7.5 hours per day. So this less-than-three-hour average is a really unexpected revelation!
Now, if we only have three average productive hours per day, where do the other five go?
It’s not that you are watching Youtube for five hours in a row or drinking coffee for hours outside of the workplace, right?
Let’s break down all the things that can potentially eat up your office time when you don’t expect it!
What are the biggest time-wasters at work?
When you work alone from home you have a slightly different set of tricky time-wasters than when you spend a day in the office with your colleagues.
In this list, I mention all the things I found that can influence your productive time. Some of them only apply to home workers, some others are only a problem for office goers. But in our current time of uncertainty, when offices get unexpectedly closed and more people have to learn to work effectively from home, it’s important to be aware of all these factors and be ready to recognize and conquer them!
So, here you go: 7 biggest time-wasting activities at the workplace.
1. Reading news
As physical newspapers become a thing of the past, more people start their workday by scrolling through the news feed of their favorite web portal. It may seem important to be aware of what happens in the world but do you really need to waste your work time on those? With the huge number of things that happen every day and all those catchy titles, you may easily get lost and overwhelmed. And suddenly it’s lunchtime already and you are yet to start working!
Also, for some reason news feeds tend to focus on the negative a lot which puts you on low frequency for the rest of the day. This alone can worsen your mood which may lead to even more time-wasting (see number 5).
2. Socializing with colleagues
Going on a short coffee break once in a while can be harmless and even good for your spine. But the minute someone joins you at the coffee machine, run! Just kidding… Having social connections is good and you may even turn some of your colleagues into good friends eventually thanks to those coffee breaks (happened to me!).
However, you need to stay in control of your time: a quick question about weekend plans could result in a full hour-long discussion, especially if there are more than two friendly people involved.
Look at it this way: if your coffee is cold, it’s time to get back to work.
Try to use this coffee time strategically: instead of talking about personal stuff, discuss a difficult task or brainstorm together to solve some issue for an ongoing project. Not only will it count as productive time but it may also save you some meeting time later and lead to a faster or better solution for your current task!
3. Using digital self-distractions
Even if you are the most focused person in the world, technologies are tricky.
Every app on your phone uses alerts strategically to grab your attention for the longest they could. So each minute you spend on something other than programs you need for work, you actually generate money for those app owners instead of your company!
Use Do Not Disturb mode everywhere possible and incorporate other tricks to limit your cellphone time while working: social media can wait! Another good idea is to put your phone completely away from your eyes so you aren’t lured into a distraction mode by its blinking.
4. Entertaining pets and family (aka attention seekers)
If you work from home, depending on your life situation you can be open to too many unusual distractions. Whether it’s your spouse (the easiest to handle), children seeking attention (hard but possible to deal with), or a pet who is happy to see you home (can’t be convinced but can be distracted), it’s important to set some boundaries to minimize this kind of interruptions as much as possible.
Create some rules with your family to avoid them ruining your focus and make sure you get as many uninterrupted hours as you need to get work stuff done!
5. Being negative
This one is probably the most unnoticed but it may influence your whole day of work!
First of all, when you feel down and unmotivated, it’s hard to push yourself to even start working. To prevent this, pick up a growth mindset and incorporate some productivity affirmations to make sure you always begin your workday on a good note.
Second, when you are angry or upset, it’s sometimes really hard to shift your focus to something else, aka work. That’s why I said that reading the news in the morning is not a healthy activity for your mood. Also, if someone offended you before work, you may find yourself thinking about it the whole day and having trouble concentrating. There isn’t much you can do to keep this kind of thing from ever happening but you can choose how to react and how much power you are willing to give to the offender. Using daily positive affirmations for happiness and self-love will help you build self-confidence and care less about what other people think.
6. Checking email randomly
Managing emails can seem like a part of your work routine but if you aren’t careful it may be harmful to your productivity levels.
As I mentioned in my 7 strategies to manage distractions, the best way I found to handle emails is to batch this activity into two dedicated time blocks during a workday. This way you aren’t constantly interrupted by instant notifications, don’t shift your focus too often, and thus become more effective with your time management at work.
A colleague may email you a harmless one-minute fun video but Youtube will make sure to catch you for much longer with the suggestions that it knows you’ll enjoy. Don’t let it! Use Undistracted or some other extension for your browser to block Youtube feed so you only watch that one video and get back to work right away!
A good friend of mine, who is a fit person and a big believer in healthy habits, once calculated the time some of our colleagues were spending on smoking breaks. It led her to a conclusion that it would be only fair if we (as non-smokers) went on 1 to 2 hour-long walks outside in the middle of a workday. As that’s how much time smokers have for themselves in total!
Add to this 20+ minutes that you need to get back into the flow after every break, and some more conversation minutes when someone joins you for a cigarette. If you are a smoker, this may be a good chunk of your day, try to track it and see for yourself!
Final thoughts on the productive hours in a work day
Those were seven most time-consuming activities of a typical office worker.
Thanks to Robert Owen, who back in 1817 came up with the slogan “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest” and pushed its implementation, we are now used to an eight-hour workday instead of much longer hours that were normal before.
But what we do with those hours – it’s on us. Spend them smart!
What does your daily schedule look like? Are you similar to an average office worker or are you an overachiever and tend to overwhelm yourself into burnout? Which hours do you find the most productive for yourself? Share in the comments, I’d love to know!