Why the eight-hour workday is outdated and ineffective

The traditional eight-hour workday is an outdated, ineffective approach to work that actually diminishes productivity.

It is noted the eight-hour workday was a relic of the industrial revolution created in an effort to cut down on the number of hours of tough manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor.

But like our ancestors, we’re expected to put in eight-hour days, working in long, continuous blocks of time, with few or no breaks. Most people even work right through their lunch hour.

If people want to be as productive as possible, they need to let go of this Dickensian approach.

Here’s a better way:

Structure your day

A study recently conducted by the Draugiem Group, a social networking website, tracked employees’ work habits by measuring how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels.

They stumbled upon a fascinating finding: the length of the workday didn’t matter much. What mattered was how people structured their day. In particular, people who were strict about taking short breaks were far more productive than those who worked longer hours.

The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. They didn’t check Facebook or get distracted by emails. When they felt fatigue after about an hour, they took short breaks, during which they completely separated themselves from their work.

The brain wants an hour on, 15 minutes off

People who have discovered this ‘magic’ productivity ratio tapped into a fundamental need of the human mind: the brain naturally functions in spurts of high energy (roughly an hour) followed by spurts of low energy (15–20 minutes).

For most of us, this natural ebb and flow of energy leaves us wavering between focused periods of high energy followed by far less productive periods, when we tire and succumb to distractions.

Instead of working for an hour or more and then trying to battle through distractions and fatigue, when your productivity begins to dip, take this as a sign that it’s time for a break.

Boss your workday

The eight-hour workday can only work well for you if you break your time into strategic intervals that aligns with your natural energy.

Here are the best ways to do it:

Break your day into hourly intervals

We naturally plan what we need to accomplish by the end of the day, the week, or the month, but we’re far more effective when we focus on what we can accomplish right now. Planning your day around hour-long intervals simplifies daunting tasks by breaking them into manageable chunks.

Respect your hour

The interval strategy only works because we use our peak energy levels to reach an extremely high level of focus for a relatively short amount of time. When you disrespect your hour by texting or checking e-mails you defeat the entire purpose of the approach.

Take real rest

Getting away from your computer, your phone, and your to-do list is essential to boosting your productivity. Breaks such as walking, reading, and chatting are the most effective forms of recharging because they take you away from your work. On a busy day, it might be tempting to think of dealing with emails or making phone calls as breaks, but they aren’t, so don’t give in to this line of thought.

The wrap

Breaking your day down into chunks of work and rest that match your natural energy levels feels good, makes your workday go faster, and boosts your productivity.

Linda Trim is the Director at workplace specialists Giant Leap.

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