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PRODUCTIVITY PLAYBOOK

The Magic Numbers for Maximum Productivity: 52 and 17

One company used a time-tracking app to discover the habits that its most productive employees have in common. The result: these random-seeming numbers.
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What sets the office-productivity superhero apart from us mere mortals? Is it a blazingly fast brain, iron willpower, clever use of apps and tools? Nope, writes Julia Gifford on the Muse recently. More likely it's 52 and 17.

Wait, what?

The Magic Ratio of Work to Rest

Gifford's company, the Draugiem Group, recently conducted an experiment using the time tracking app DeskTime to see what habits or practices might set their most productive employees apart. The secret to their greater output, the company uncovered, wasn't what these superproductive team members did but rather what they didn't do. In short, they didn't work all the time.

Breaks, it was revealed, were the secret sauce for incredible productivity. But not just any random amount of occasional slacking off. It seems the best workers at the company share a very specific pattern of high-intensity productivity followed by a short recharge period. The ideal ratio, DeskTime showed, was a 52-minute work sprint followed by 17 minutes of recuperation. Which is "similar to the Pomodoro Method," Gifford notes.

"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," she explains. The most productive 10 percent of employees "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 percent dedication theory--the notion that whatever you do, you do it full-on."

The Importance of Recuperation

Gifford's company may have mapped out this approach with mathematical precision, but plenty of other folks have come to similar conclusions through other means. Several successful entrepreneurs, for instance, have likened this way of working to the optimum method of exercise--more intensity, less duration. Meanwhile, a wide array of scientists and experts have come to the same recommendation-- intense work liberally sprinkled with breaks to increase output--through research rather than athletic metaphors.

One founder has even radically revamped his days to make the most of this insight. He claims that he can now get the same amount done in half the time. If all this has you convinced of the importance of breaks, take note: Other research has shown that while the boss may value time for rest, employees are often failing to get the message and remain scared to appear like they're slacking off by kicking back occasionally. So be sure to make yourself heard loud and clear to your team--breaks are not only accepted but encouraged around here (every 52 minutes or so, ideally).

If you tracked your time, would a similar 52:17 pattern be revealed?

Last updated: Aug 18, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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