Take a minute to think about a typical day in the office—or maybe just think about yesterday. Remember how you came in, powered up your computer, sipped your coffee, and settled into your day? Now keep walking through the next eight hours or so until you picked up your bag and headed home.
If you were to pick apart exactly how you spent the day, how much of it was devoted to real work? And how much of it actually went toward things like buying or making that coffee (or the next one a few hours later), chatting with co-workers, checking social media, reading news sites, or texting?
If you’re anything like the respondents of this 2016 survey, you might be surprised by the tally. On average, the 1,989 office workers polled for the study said they spend just three hours—well, actually two hours and 53 minutes—working productively during the day.
When asked to estimate where their unproductive time was going, they said, on average, they spent 44 minutes checking social media, 65 minutes reading news sites, 40 minutes chatting with colleagues about things unrelated to work, 17 minutes making hot drinks, 23 minutes on smoking breaks, 18 minutes making personal calls, and even 26 minutes searching for new jobs.
The numbers will obviously vary from person to person and from day to day, with some workers clocking in more productive hours than their colleagues and some days faring better than others.
And taking some breaks during a long workday is not only inevitable, but also important. It’s good for your body to get up and move every so often. And you do want to develop stronger relationships with your colleagues, because those will ultimately make you work better together.
But doing this exercise, where you track or even just estimate how you spend a regular day at work, might reveal that you’re not making the best use of your work time or your break time. So jot down your own numbers (you don’t have to show them to anyone), and use those as a starting point to think about changing the way you approach your workday.
Here’s where to start if you want to get more work done:
You Want to Take Better Breaks
- 3 Times You Have Our Permission to Take a Break From Work
- Take Five: 51 Things to Do When You Need a Break at Work
- Get Up From Your Desk: 5-Minute Walks Are Just as Good for You as Long Ones
You Want to Minimize Distractions When You’re Working
- The Super Simple Trick That Made My Mornings Way More Productive
- The Stupid Easy Way to Make Your Phone Less Distracting at Work
- It's Time to Say Goodbye to Those Productivity-Killing Distractions
You Want Better Motivation
- 7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Hard When You're Really Not in the Mood
- 3 Reasons You Can't Motivate Yourself at Work Anymore—and How to Overcome Each One
- 16 Quick and Simple Tricks to Motivate Yourself Right Now
You Want to Find Productivity Tricks That Work for You
- Take it From Someone Who Hates Productivity Hacks—the Pomodoro Technique Actually Works
- The To-Do List Strategy You Need if You're Always Busy, Yet Somehow Unproductive
- 45 Productivity Tips for Extremely Busy People
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author