Structuring work around personal peak productivity can enhance performance.
As a consequence of the pandemic, we’ve discovered that traditional workplace practices are no longer effective.
The last year has dispelled the myth that people should work at an office every day. We have also learned that a 40-hour workweek is unnecessary to reach peak productivity, and the four-day workweek is on the way.
Maybe it’s time to confront other ancient work practices, too.
There is ample argument that the future of work should include flexible hours and schedules that allow people to come and go according to their needs.
Does a traditional workday provide the most productivity? When is the best time to work, and is it the same for everybody?
Let’s begin by looking at the traditional workday.
The history of the traditional workday
A brief glance at the history of work shows the gradual yet steady growth of what has become the U.S. standard workday.
The first government records of worker hours came during the industrial revolution, when full-time employees worked grueling 14-16 hour days, with only Sundays off. In 1817, a European activist advocated reducing working hours by lobbying for eight-hour workdays. The campaign didn’t catch on there, but it was taking hold in the U.S a few decades later.
A change to the workday at Henry Ford’s plant in 1926 led to political pressure around the country to make the eight-hour change universal. As a result, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 to regulate employee hours and wages. Since then, U.S. employees have traditionally worked for eight hours, usually from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Benefits of the traditional workday
Modern-day may call for change, but there is a reason why the traditional nine-to-five lasted so long. Some advantages have enabled this work model to survive the test of time. Let’s examine some of the benefits.
When you have a job within regular working hours, it’s easier to control how much time you spend working. Having established hours means you can start working when you arrive and stop working when you leave.
Those who work from home or work flexible hours may find this more challenging. It can be harder to achieve stability when you depart from convention, especially if you telecommute. It isn’t uncommon for remote workers to work up to seven additional hours per week, even while sick or on vacation.
Access to community
When you work at an office, you have access to a community of colleagues. It’s easy to reach out to them for guidance, help, and collaboration when you need it. Working together in a group combats boredom and increases efficiency.
Those working in a less traditional environment may not have the same networking opportunities. Additionally, working alone every day can result in isolation and loneliness.
Everyone is familiar with the 9-to-5 workday. This routine gives you a general idea of what your schedule will be each day. The consistency makes it easy to know when places are open and when people can be reached.
When you work less traditional hours, making plans and coordinating with those on a different schedule may be difficult. Since your availability changes frequently, it may be difficult to predict when you will be accessible.
Drawbacks of the traditional workday
Although the conventional workday has its benefits, times are changing. We have seen that traditional work models no longer apply to our society as effectively as they once did in the past year. Let’s examine some of the disadvantages of the standard work model.
When everyone is traveling to and from work at the same time, traffic becomes a problem. This is especially relevant in large cities. U.S. commuters spend 42 hours stuck in rush-hour traffic every year, according to research. In the Los Angeles area, it is more than twice that, equating to over three days.
Commutes are a significant cause of work-related stress.
Having less leisure time reduces our ability to spend time with our families and friends. Our psychological well-being is negatively affected by the unpredictability and helplessness we feel while stuck in traffic.
Not to mention that wasted fuel and lost time in traffic contribute to over $100 billion in annual costs. All that exhaust produces respiratory problems and environmental harm.
During an eight-hour workday, the average employee only works for about three hours (two hours and 53 minutes, to be exact). The remaining time is spent doing things entirely unrelated to work, from eating to taking smoke breaks to browsing social media.
Researchers have long known that extended workdays undermine productivity.
Although the ‘shorter than a goldfish’ attention span myth has been debunked, evidence suggests our attention spans are slipping. This isn’t due to our inability to focus. The problem is our digital environment which makes it difficult to apply adequate attention.
K. Anders Ericsson, a productivity researcher, found that top performers max out at three to four hours of deep work a day. Deep work expert Cal Newport agrees that three to four hours of uninterrupted work is the sweet spot.
In the wake of the pandemic, one in four workers is considering leaving their jobs. Most people who are looking for a new job say they want more flexibility. Even people who aren’t considering changing jobs say they’ll look for a job at another employer if their current one doesn’t offer long-term remote work.
As more companies offer shorter workweeks and flexible options, businesses that lack flexibility for their employees will likely suffer. Having more employment options means workers are more likely to pursue well-paying jobs that allow them to effectively balance work and family life.
As Prudential Financial vice chair Rob Falzon told CNBC, “If you’re an employer and you’re not being accommodating, you’ll lose talent.”
Alternative options for modern working hours
Following the pandemic, we are collectively defining our new normal. The future of work is being decided right now.
There has been a great deal of success for companies that have implemented alternative work hours. This supports the enticing conclusion suggested by The Atlantic:
“The conventional approach to work and productivity is fundamentally misguided.”
The traditional workday model has many alternatives. Let’s check out a few of the most common.
Four-day work week
The four-day workweek model shortens the week by one day, giving employees three consecutive days off. Total hours are reduced from 40 to 32 while pay rates remain the same.
This approach has been successful for many companies. Microsoft’s four-day week trial in Japan increased employee satisfaction and productivity by 40%. In addition, 4 Day Week Global reports that 78% of employees with four-day weeks feel happier and less stressed.
Flexible, staggered schedules
In the flexible scheduling model, employees can choose when they come into the office and for how long and work remotely.
Flexible hours offer many advantages for employees. It provides convenient ways to meet family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities. Additionally, it eases the burden of commuting and offers greater control over schedules and working environments.
Employers also benefit from lower turnover and improved morale. The flexibility of the scheduling process minimizes tardiness and absenteeism and enhances the company image.
Working from home is still a highly desirable option. As the pandemic subsides, 54% of those who work remotely are hoping to continue working remotely.
Many companies have decided to continue offering telecommuting as a full-time option. Several major employers, including Twitter, Dropbox, and Spotify, allow their qualified employees to work from home full-time.
Establishing your new schedule
If you haven’t been notified of alternative workdays at your workplace, don’t assume that they don’t exist.
To accommodate employees’ needs, employers increasingly allow telecommuting, scheduling flexibility, and other forms of freedom at work. Check with your manager or H.R. department to see if flextime or staggered hours are offered. Perhaps you’ll find out that your employer is willing to work with you or that changes are on the way.
Take this opportunity to begin a conversation. At worst, nothing will change. Conversely, you might be the catalyst for a change that paves the way for others.
The best time to work
Ask anyone when the best time to work is, and you’ll get a different response every time. The arbitrary 9-to-5 workday is inadequate for this reason.
Each person has their own preference regarding working hours. Understanding your preferred working times will help you perform at your best.
Finding your peak time
Finding your own peak productive hours is a matter of personal choice.
We all have different work styles. Some prefer working late at night when others are asleep. Other people wake up in the morning eager to get going but are burned out by mid-afternoon. Some like to be alone in the afternoon. Others thrive in crowded coffee shops mid-morning.
Paying attention to your daily routine, energy levels, and focus can help you pinpoint when and where you are most productive.
Keeping a daily journal of your accomplishments can also prove helpful, suggests Virginia Fraser, the senior communications editor at Insights Learning & Development. This can help you discover what times are most productive for you.
“It can also help to ask colleagues when they observe you to be at your top form and when you appear lackluster,” Fraser said.
Enhancing your work hours
Once you determine your best hours to work, experiment with different work styles and techniques to enhance your productivity.
Although flexible working times and environments come with many advantages, potential challenges lurk around every corner. If your days aren’t structured, your work hours aren’t well-defined, or you don’t have a designated workspace, you may find yourself getting off track quickly.
- The Pomodoro Technique. This involves dividing the day into pomodoros, half-hour intervals that contain 25 work minutes followed by five rest minutes. After four pomodoros, take a longer break.
- 90-Minute Windows. Organize your day by dividing it into 90-minute chunks and assigning only one task to each. Do nothing else during those 90 minutes. Take a break for 20 minutes between fragments.
- Block Distractions. Use the Freedom app to block out unnecessary apps and unwanted notifications to focus on your tasks. Reducing interruptions and controlling digital distractions will help you stay in a flow state and get more done.
Freedom to work your way
As times change, so do conventions. It’s time to let go of the traditional workweek and embrace a flexible schedule that prioritizes our success and maximizes our individual productivity.
After you’ve discovered your best time to work, let Freedom help you block out any distractions so you can focus on what’s important. Gaining more productivity at work frees us up to focus on what truly matters.
After all, it isn’t working that matters most, but living.