It has been found that, on average, most knowledge workers are only productive for two-three hours during a typical workday.
The rest of the day is spent task-switching between shallow work tasks, being in meetings, interacting with coworkers, and so forth.
In other words, things that can distract from doing productive, focused work.
What often happens is that we become so disrupted during the week by all those distractions, that we end up working in the evening and on the weekend to catch up, or stay on track.
When we do this, we can end up working 12-day weeks, as one week blends into the next, without a break in between for rest and recovery.
Yet working fewer results in a higher level of creativity, productivity, and output.
Studies have found that the quality of our work and output drops dramatically from the 40-50 hour mark onwards per week.
So putting in extra overtime at night or on weekends isn't always productive. And it can have a terrible impact on your health and on your relationships too.
To better support our wellbeing and productivity, it is essential to incorporate recovery periods into our work cycle.
So if you do need to work overtime, ensure that you are also scheduling regular time out, so that your brain can rest.
And so that you have some quality time to interact with things that don't involve work.
How can we leverage our time more intentionally? So that whatever time we do have available for deep work is used in a more focused and productive way?
This is where cycles of productivity come in.
The science suggests that our attention span is typically limited to focused blocks of 20-90 minutes at a time.
This is connected to our Ultradian rhythms, a natural physiological cycle within our bodies, which affects our levels of focus and alertness throughout the day.
These rhythms differ slightly for everyone, so your current work schedule might be in conflict with your natural rhythms.
Ultradian rhythms are different from Circadian rhythms, another physiological phenomenon that relates specifically to our sleep and waking cycles.
So, Circadian rhythms are also linked to our physical and mental wellbeing. Because if you're not getting good sleep, that affects your focus, concentration, and decision making during the day.
There are other energy and hormonal cycles which influence our behaviors, actions, and emotions too.
For example, we can be affected by the gravitational forces connected to phases of the moon. The moon can influence our sleep and our emotions, particularly at full and new moon time.
Then there's the menstrual cycle, which is governed by hormones. It can also affect energy, mood, and capability at different times of the week or month.
Other cycles that may affect you have to do with personal responsibilities such as childcare or schooling.
If you have to work around these needs and constraints, how can you do so in a considered way that helps you be as effective as you can be, whilst looking after your wellbeing too?
As a task, reflect on your work requirements and the energy cycles which impact your ability to work effectively.
What are your general energy levels like at different times of the day, week, and month? Which times of the day do you generally feel more energized or more lethargic.
Can you track your cycles to get an idea of your natural rhythms?
When are you typically most productive and least?
Is it early morning, late at night, or just after lunch?
How can you adjust your work schedule and workflow to accommodate the times when you are most likely to be more focused and productive?
Can you work in 90-minute blocks to leverage your energy more effectively?
Are you doing your deep and important work during your most productive times?
If you track these variables, you can develop a framework for better work.
If you can plan your tasks based on your personal energy cycles, capabilities, and preferences, at different times of the day or week, then you're likely to get more quality work done in the time that you have.
Up next, we'll be delving into mindsets and the impact they have on our productivity.