The Science Behind Office Productivity: Part 1

office-desktop-computerThere’s no lack of scientific research floating in the ether that can back up or justify almost any claim imaginable. You’ll already know this if you’re a fan of either the fluffy pseudo-journalism pumped out on morning talk shows or even the more hard-hitting nightly newscasts featured on broadcast networks: Stats, no matter what the source or survey method, led credibility to even the most outlandish theories.

This is especially true when it comes to workplace productivity, since a great deal of the “rules” that experts suggest are largely subjective, and no two people have identical functionality. However, when you look at some of the more credible data – which, for the purposes of this blog, comes from recognizable sources with large sample groups and long-term observation – there are a few high-level truths that you can glean about habits that favor and oppose productivity in a standard office setting.

Research conducted by John Pencavel of Stanford University found that on average, a worker’s productivity often declines once someone exceeds 40 hours on the job a week. When looking at this finding while keeping in context a recent Gallup poll, which says that most full-time employees in the U.S. put in an average of 47 hours a week, Americans need to change up their day-to-day.

Here’s part one of a schedule that you can follow daily that’s based around the good science related to productivity to help you improve your workflow if you too work a 9-to-5.

6:00-7:00 am – Focus on waking. The worst thing you can do is wake up and hop right on your phone or laptop to check e-mails – it’s a waste of time that will get you off to a late start. Either hop in the shower to get your blood flowing or focus on a small chore that will get the gears in your brain moving. Even a morning meditation – as long as you don’t just fall back asleep – is a good way to mentally prepare for the day ahead. Just make sure you spend the whole hour focused on you.

Contrary to what you may have heard, most research on whether breakfast in the morning is actually good for you is inconclusive, and sponsored by cereal companies. Still, preparing a meal or a snack for later is also a great way to kick off the day.

8:00-8:30 – For most jobs, arriving at 8:30 is ideal. As long as you keep that time as your goal, you’ll still likely arrive before 9:00 am (which is the actual start time at many offices) if you’re running late. An early arrival also gives you more leeway to leave early if you wrap up work before 5:00 pm.

8:30 am-12:00 pm – Dive into the grind. You should kick off the morning by focusing your energy on one of the more important or time-consuming tasks you have for the day. This will set your pace for productivity throughout the day and help you to avoid burning out later. Don’t waste energy on planning for the rest of the day first thing, but focus that energy instead on whatever the biggest hurdle for you that day will be. A recent study conducted by DeskTime warns, however, that you shouldn’t be tied down to your desk for more than 90 minutes without taking a 15 or 20 minute break to avoid early-onset burnouts.


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