Everyone has that person in the office. You know, the one who always seems to get way more done than everybody else, but who never seems stressed or frantically trying to finish an assignment. How does he or she get it done? And can you steal those secrets to improve your own productivity?
Yes. Yes you can.
Using time-tracking and productivity app DeskTime, we’ve been able to study the habits of the most productive employees—and pinpoint the working flow that leads to that incredible ability to get things done.
And the trick might surprise you. Turns out, what the most productive 10% of our users have in common is their ability to take effective breaks. Specifically, the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it (similar to the Pomodoro Method—more on that here).
The employees with the highest productivity ratings, in fact, don't even work eight-hour days. Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer—but working smarter with frequent breaks.
The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.
Working with purpose can also be called the 100% dedication theory—the notion that whatever you do, you do it full-on. Therefore, during the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, and making progress. Whereas, during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing—you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every five minutes or just “quickly checking Facebook.”
There are a lot of surprising benefits to this rest time. First and foremost to your levels of productivity, working for long periods of time can be detrimental to your level of engagement with a certain task. Repeating tasks leads to cognitive boredom, which in turn halts your ability to thrive at whatever you’re doing. The human brain just wasn’t built to focus for eight hours at a time—the best way to refresh attention span is to take a break.
In addition, the human body has never been made to sit for eight hours straight, and research has shown that breaking up the all-day sit-a-thon can improve productivity. (Oh, it also makes you way healthier.)
This amount of off time may seem high, but if you take a look at world-class musicians, they become great by practicing in similar increments of time. Really—we’re reaching the level of the greats. We’re talking completely dedicating yourself to not working.
So, how can you make the most of your breaks in order to get the most out of your working sprints? First, step away from the computer (and the smartphone). Do some little exercises in your office, or step outside and take a walk around to clear your mind and get your body moving. Chat with some of your co-workers (not about work)—research shows that employees who socialize are both happier at work and are able to do as much as their non-socializing co-workers, who as a result spend more time working. Grab something healthy to eat to replenish your energy levels. Or, if you must stay on the computer for some reason, watch some funny animal videos—it's shown that looking at cute pictures of cats and dogs can actually lead to increased productivity.
A person can't be 100% productive all day. As much as you want to make the most of every minute, to get stuff done, to hustle, it's just not humanly possible. Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn't be overworked. Otherwise it'll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.
So, make a commitment to take some serious breaks this week. If 17 minutes every hour feels like too much (to you—or your boss) consider just taking five or 10 every hour and seeing what effect it has. The results could surprise you.
Photo of person working courtesy of shapecharge/Getty Images.