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How many of your “work” hours are actually productive?

As an online service-based entrepreneur, your time is your own. That is a good thing and a bad thing. It means you have a strict boss and a very lax boss, and that you are a disgruntled or guilt-filled employee.

Have you ever wondered how many hours of every day you’re actually being productive? Of course, it depends on how you define productive.

I just ran into an interesting statistic in a recent article. 2000 British workers were polled to find out how much of their 8-hour workday was spent actually doing productive work.

Before I give you the answer, what is your guess? Cover up the paragraphs below, and write down your answer.

While you’re writing down your answer, (and to move the result further down the page so it’s harder to peek), I’ll tell you my definition of productive – it’s producing something.

Now that “something” may or not be beautifully done, but it’s the output itself that makes it productive.

So I wouldn’t count reading, researching, or listening to lectures as productive work. Those are important activities, but they are not productive, or active. They are passive activities, and in the long run, you cannot build your business with these activities.

Spoiler alert! 

I’m sure that when these British workers were asked about their work, most assumed that any research or reading activities connected to their work was part of their productive time at work.

This means that in all probability office workers spend more like an hour a day on actively productive work, as defined by me.

They also estimated how much time they wasted on which non-productive activities. The top 10 distractions, and the percentage of people who checked them (they could check more than one) was:

1. Checking social media – 47%
2. Reading news websites – 45%
3. Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 38%
4. Making hot drinks – 31%
5. Smoking breaks – 28%
6. Text/instant messaging – 27%
7. Eating snacks – 25%
8. Making food in office – 24%9. Making calls to partner/ friends- 24%
10. Searching for new jobs – 19%

How does this apply to you?

First, you’ll never know for sure how much time you spend on anything unless you track it. You might try using a timer to track how much time you spend on actively productive and passive work-related activities each day.

Second, you’re more distracted than you thought you were.

Third, this research hints that you could go about your work in a different manner, get more done, and feel better about yourself.

I find this kind of research incredibly important, because I help people take action on their most important but hard-to-get-to activity; what I like to call their VIPP: their Very Important Procrastinated-On Project.

One of the productivity myths that we all suffer from is thinking that everyone else is working more than we are. If we could only realize that most important work gets done in such a short period of time each day, it would free us up to spend short periods of intense focus on our productive tasks, and then have more guilt-free fun the rest of the day!

In fact, there is some excellent research that shows that people who spend a short period of time every day on their productive work tasks are most successful in the long run. Those who are always trying to spend long hours doing work tend to waste more time, procrastinate more, and become less creative.

I can’t speak for people who have full-time employees, but it sounds like an ideal day would have about 4 hours – enough for productive work and for meetings and important work interactions.

Having applied this principle to my life, the biggest thing I notice is the absence of guilt. The time I spend working may be very short, but I’m getting things done.

I find I’m able to jump into a task right away, even if I won’t be asked for any result for a long timer. I don’t wait for some long period of uninterrupted work. Sometimes 20 minutes is all I need to make a good headstart.

What would it be like for you if you made sure you put in a short work period each day, and then allowed yourself to lead a guilt-free day?

With the important tasks out of the way, you could still work. But it’s amazingly freeing to know that you got the most important work done early in the day.

And if you choose to “play” in your free time, the play will also be guilt-free!

This is the secret of productivity. Spend less time, get more done, and feel better about yourself!

Make sure you read my previous 4 posts, which are all about why people find it so difficult to make themselves work less.  Here they are in reverse chronological order (most recent first):

Could you be one of those people who insists on working the hard way, when research shows it could be so much easier?

3 thoughts on “How many of your “work” hours are actually productive?

  1. I definitely agree with you. I tried these two processes in which I work much time but I had less output while I was focused my work and complete the task early with less time. Thank you for sharing this productive meaning.

    • It’s great to hear from you, Mark. If you’re a physician, maybe you have patient appointments, one after the other? I used to have a private practice, and it seemed like I got a lot done because I was forced to! Now, I work for myself running my businesses, and it’s harder to force myself to maintain productivity. I’ve never worked in an office, but I imagine that without a boss breathing down your neck, it’s hard to stay productive.
      gjhiatt recently posted..Daily Action and the “I Must Research and Prepare More” ApproachMy Profile

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