Back when most people worked in factories, productivity was constant. The assembly rolled by at its set pace and no matter what time of day or year it was, and you screwed a certain number of widgets together every hour. But research shows that in today's knowledge economy, productivity is much more variable.
Far from working steadily eight hours a day, seven days a week, most knowledge workers have peaks and troughs of productivity, alternating intense periods of work with long stretches of cat videos and inbox shoveling. This is true not only within the work week but within seasons too. We're more productive some times of day than others, but we're also more productivity some times of year than others.
All of which begs the question, when are we generally at our best? When, on average, are people churning out the most work and when are they slacking? Data analysis company Priceonomics recently sifted through 1.8 million projects and 28 million tasks provided by project management company Redbooth to find out.
The most productive hour of the year
They shared a deep dive into the numbers on their blog, but here's a spoiler for you: the high-water mark of our collective productivity each year is 11a.m. on a Monday in October.
Some parts of that sentence probably require more explanation than others. Pretty much no one, for instance, is baffled as to why we're all most productive on Monday. Everyone has experienced for themselves gung-ho start of the week energy and the sensation of it slowly ebbing so that, by Friday, you have to drag yourself into the office.
Here's the data to back up that intuition: "The highest percentage of tasks (20.4 percent) are completed on everyone's favorite day of the week: Monday. Tuesday (20.2 percent) is just behind -- and after that task completion perfectly tapers off as the days progress toward the weekend."
Nor are many people likely shocked to hear that we're more productive before lunch. "The percentage of tasks completed (9.7 percent) peaks at 11AM - just before the typical person takes lunch. Between 11AM and 1PM, there's a big dip in productivity (most likely, due to lunch), and after 1PM, productivity never quite returns to its peak, confirming that 'post-lunch dip' is real!" Priceonomics reveals.
But while everything so far is completely intuitive, why October? Is it the brisk weather, post-summer vacation energy, or some other factor that makes fall the most productive time of the year?
"We complete far more tasks in the latter months -- September (8.8 percent), October (9.5 percent), and November (9 percent) -- than in the earlier months. We only complete 7.2 percent of our yearly tasks in January," notes the post. "This may be because the early year is typically for setting goals, not completing them -- and as we near year's end, we're struggling to get everything done."
In short, "fall leads the pack -- most likely because we're cramming in work before the holidays in November and December."
What's the lesson here beyond the simple fascination factor of having so much data confirm most of our productivity intuitions? Perhaps that it's not just you. Ebbs and flows of productivity are a universal part of knowledge work and, rather than try to fight your natural rhythms, you'll probably benefit from working with them.
So cancel that mind-numbing conference call you have scheduled for Tuesday morning and move it to Thursday afternoon instead, and embrace your summer lull as preparation for the fall burst of energy you know will follow.
Do your own productivity patterns match up with Priceonomics findings?