Last week I introduced a new series about the 40 hour work week, kicking off with a brief history on the subject. This week I attempt to discuss the factors which affect productivity.
A total week consists of 168 hours. Sometime back in 1938, it was signed into law that 23.8% of that time should be set aside for working. After nearly 3 years of professional working experience under my belt, I feel this number is absurd. I know I might receive some flack for that comment but I am not alone. Like I stated last week, Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google, feels the same way about our work culture these days:
If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy—housing, security, opportunities for your kids—anthropologists have been identifying these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1% at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true.
Crunching the Numbers
Okay, so I don’t think I can mathematically prove Page’s remark of only needing 1% of our current work to give us everything for a happier life. But I do think I can persuade you to rethink how you work. The common conception that we need to work longer hours to remain productive in the workplace is hogwash. Tony Schwartz says it best in a Huffington Post article from 2010, “We’ve convinced ourselves — and we’ve been convinced by the cultures we work in — that this is how we need to work to get it all done.” According to his study, out of the 1,000 people they polled:
- More than 60 percent take 20 minutes or less for lunch
- 25 percent never leave their desk at all (not even to use the restroom?)
- 33 percent spend less than half an hour a day during the workweek completely disconnected from email
After nearly 3 years of professional work experience, I believe it. And I’ve seen the detrimental effects of this style of working: co-workers coming in completely drained, unmotivated, stressed, and saying “that’s it” and quitting right there on the spot (true story bro). I can tell you, it doesn’t make for a pleasant environment. So what does?
You might not know it, but humans are not the same as computers. Computers can keeping churning and churning to achieve a set task. But since we are humans, we work in rhythmic motions. You may also not know, that our bodies follow a similar pattern when we are awake to when we are asleep. It’s called the Ultradian Rhythm and the most basic definition is 90 minutes of work followed by 20 minutes of rest:
Instead of working continuously for 8, 10, or even 12 hours with little to no break, it’s actually more efficient to work uninterrupted for 90 minutes with a 20 minute break after. Follow this cycle 4 times and you’ve put in 7.33 hours of the most productive work of your life. What’s the secret? Focus management.
I’ve written before about the perils of working in a modern office. A lot of offices nowadays are adopting a more open layout that supposedly stimulates collaboration and team work. Nevertheless, there will always be outside factors that affect our own personal productivity, even if their intentions are good.
No matter how your employer tries to organize your work space for maximum performance, the fact remains, it’s not your own work space. We don’t need science to tell us that we are most productive where we get to choose where to work. For example, I am most productive in a coffee shop. I don’t know if it’s the abundant supply for my addictive habit or the cozy ambiance, but I do my best writing and problem solving in a coffee shop.
We took to Twitter to see what our followers preferred:
Working on a blog post, need your help. Are you more productive in an office or other environment? Tweet back with hashtag #GenYworkforce
— The Millennial Type (@MillennialType) August 2, 2014
— Megan (@tipsy_writer) August 2, 2014
Case in point, our generation prefers options. Being told to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week just doesn’t sit well with us (no pun intended).
What should we do?
Well you are just going to have to stay tuned next week for my third and final installment of this mini-series; I explore non-traditional working arrangements (flex hours, working from home, etc.) and climax with my very own proposal for the “New Work Week.” Stay tuned!