Bust the “Three Hour Work Day” Myth

Find yourself working overtime and wondering why you’re still not finished your project? After all, you’ve got a whole eight hours if you’re an average office worker in America.

You may not have accomplished everything you set out to in those eight hours because, according to a 2018 survey, almost nobody is working the full eight.

In fact, it’s much more likely that less than three hours of your day are dedicated to actual, nose-to-the-grindstone, productive work. Two hours and fifty-three minutes, to be exact, is the average amount of time spent on work during the day.

What’s everybody doing? Well…

  • Checking news websites
  • Checking social media
  • Chatting with coworkers
  • Smoke breaks
  • Making hot beverages
  • Eating snacks

And more. Sound familiar?

Now, there may be lots of factors at play here – interest in the job, management style, age range of office workers studied. But there is certainly one, single thread woven through this trend…

Time management. (If you’re interested in changing the way you manage time, you may be interested in this course.) 

But for our purposes here today, we’re going to try to master the time we have at work. 

The First Step

Figure out where your time is going. Maybe you’re scrolling through you social media, or maybe you’re just daydreaming.

Grab a stack of post-it notes and be diligent. One note for each hour. Write down everything you do in that hour, even picking up your phone to check your notifications. Even getting up to go get a drink of water. Even joking with your coworkers about weekend plans.

Try this for a whole week, but if you only get through a few days, you should still have a pretty decent idea of what’s taking up most of your time and energy.

Now you know what your main timesinks are.

The Second Step

Identify the tasks that are most important for your job to be done satisfactorily.

Imagine you were training your own replacement – what would you want to emphasize that they pay special attention to? Is it organizing a master spreadsheet? Responding to clients’ emails? Designing logos as they’re ordered? 

Then create a secondary list of all the other tasks that fall under your purview. 

This means that when you’ve completed the second step, you should have a list of your most important tasks and all other ancillary tasks.

The Third Step

Create a to-do list system for yourself with every microtask that is involved in each macrotask. (This is critical: this ensures that you’re not only giving yourself credit for everything you’re doing, you’re also making it very clear which microtasks haven’t been completed yet.)

Whether that makes the most sense for you to do on a physical planner, with a simple list in order from most to least pressing, or using an online template with timed reminders would help you more…

Just make sure that every day has a list. 

Start with tomorrow’s list.

And at the end of the day tomorrow, write the next day’s list.

Then stick to it.

The Fourth Step

As you’re moving through your list for the day, pay attention to what you’ve learned are your timesinks.

If playing games on your cellphone is your kryptonite, move your phone away from you. Have it charging across the room. 

If chatting with your coworkers is the biggest distraction you have, wear headphones and listen to classical music throughout the day. 

Take note of how much more work you’re getting done when you eliminate those external forces. Or, if your efficiency remained the same, go back to The First Step and figure out what you’re still doing to distract yourself.

The key here isn’t that we’re all productivity machines who can’t ever have fun or goof off. 

We’re human beings, which means daydreaming and lollygagging and chitchatting come with the territory.

The idea with maximizing your effective working time is to allow yourself the space the be a human being without sacrificing a fulfilling and focused career. 

You can do both, you know, with a little bit of organization.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.