The generally accepted norm for being productive is based on a broken concept. We wear 80-hour work weeks like badges of honor, when working more hours rarely translates to higher productivity. In fact, research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.

So it’s time to find the type of balance that encourages creativity, innovative thought, which often result in productivity improvements. As Alex Soojung-kim Pang writes in this Nautilus article, “creative and productive figures weren’t accomplished despite their leisure; they were accomplished because of it. And even in today’s 24/7, always-on world, we can learn how to blend work and rest together in ways that make us smarter, more creative, and happier.”

Pang cites a survey of scientists’ working lives that found that scientists who spent 25 hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. And, the 60-plus-hour-a-week researchers were the least productive of all.


Redefining Work

If there is anything we can learn from the various geniuses and top performers Pang studied (Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, Ingmar Bergman, G.H. Hardy, and others), it’s that if we hope to realize the same brilliant results, it’s time to start restructuring how we utilize our time. Simply put, the times we classify as “work” should consist of 90-minute periods with time in between to unplug, be physically active, and do things that expand our perspectives and allow for creative thought.

As Drake Baer writes in this Fast Company article “Since sprints get us to focus in and finish our tasks with crisp consciousness, we know they’re the most effective way of working.” It’s when we attempt to operate at a perpetual sprint that we diminish the impact of all of our “run” time. It’s during down times that we can relax or incorporate fun activities that help us effectively recharge our brains and remove ourselves from the productivity draining ruts that plague always-on approaches to work.


Good or Evil?

The advantage that Darwin, Dickens and other early innovators had on us was the ability to literally walk away from their work. If Dickens had a smartphone in his pocket during his strolls through the woods, would his day have looked any different? Likely, yes.

Collaboration tools can play a meaningful role in helping us redefine our work day. However, throughout the restructure process, it is important to remain cognizant that collaboration technology can also be a dopamine fix that unravels our best intentions for how we want to structure our day. After all, without strategic use, it has a way of interrupting us constantly and pressuring us to work without downtime.

However, with a little forethought the opportunity exists to use your collaboration technology as a tool to achieve your loftiest goals. For instance, collaboration technology empowers you to work from a location that inspires you during your most productive hours. However, realizing these benefits means leveraging the functionality of these tools provide. Specifically, setting your status to do not disturb (DND) while you are intently focused on work, as well as blocking time specifically for catching up on Slack, email, and collaboration (instead of letting it relentlessly interrupt you).


Getting Buy-in

Of course, for most of us, changing our work patterns starts with winning over the support of your manager. Getting buy-in starts with setting goals around outputs rather than hours worked or the time you arrive at your desk or leave at the end of the day. It is tempting for managers to focus on your status in collaboration technology – “away,” “idle,” “offline,” etc. – instead of the work you are actually getting done.

To combat that managerial tendency, set recurring (weekly, or monthly at most) face-to-face meetings to initially reassure leadership about your outputs and productivities. Over time, these opportunities to connect can ultimately turn into brainstorming sessions.

For managers that are data or numbers-driven (looking at you, finance and engineering), look for the data to support your work strategies. There is plenty out there (we’ve linked to a bit of it in this article). Initially, research data can help build the case for making the transition. Once you implement some of these strategies, being able to measure and document how the shift has impacted your results, specifically, will speak volumes.


Although this balanced time block approach is more in-tune with our body’s natural rhythm, making the transition understandably takes strategy and determination. However, if the end result could be a masterpiece like Great Expectations, it is well worth the effort.