How many hours do you actually work?

The typical working day in most of the west is 8 hours or 40 hours per week. Working 8 hours per day can be traced back to sixteenth century Spain where the day was split into two four hour blocks with a break in the middle for when the day was at its hottest. The UK currently has a 48-hour working week limit, with a voluntary opt-out, set out in the Working Time Regulations of 1998 and later the EC Working Time Directive of 2003. But is the factory model of hours the most effective for knowledge workers?

“Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”

Robert Owen

In academia in the UK, contracted hours are more like 7.4 or 37 hours per week. Studies suggest that 7.6 hours per day or 38 hours per week is the optimum working hours for a knowledge worker and that productivity falls sharply over 50 hours per week. Taking a full day off each week and six weeks of holiday per year also positively impacts your productivity. 

A study of UK office workers found that people were only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day on average. Workers spend the rest of the day on distractions, including checking social media (44 minutes), reading news websites (65 minutes), and discussing out of work activities with colleagues (40 minutes). Over half of those surveyed said that these distractions made the working day more bearable and aided in their productivity.  

Track your work for a week or two and find out how many hours your ‘at work’ and how many of those are on the things you think are essential. Once you have that information, decide how you want to spend your time; if you are only doing three hours per day of productive work, can you increase that to four and spend the rest of the day being more deliberate with your time? What could you do with those 44 minutes if you delete Instagram from your phone?

How to maximise your productivity at work

  • Average around 38 hours of work per week
  • Do not work over 50 hours a week regularly
  • Take at least one day per week entirely off
  • Take six weeks of holiday per year
  • Spend a week or two logging your work to identify the wasted time and eliminate that to free up your time for whatever you want to do with it. 

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