The age of the eight-hour workday is long gone.
It emerged as a direct result of industrial-era workers' coalitions lobbying to limit the amount of manual labor they were required to perform each day.
But as our economy pivots away from factory jobs and technology proliferates, a rigid 40-hour workweek no longer makes sense.
Because most people don't work productively for eight hours at a time, this antiquated productivity standard causes employee exhaustion--especially for those who work desk jobs.
Such lengthy periods of extended focus render employees incapable of generating creative solutions or coordinating details with nuance.
Employee focus should be of more concern to employers than the length of the workday--an emphasis that is at odds with a traditional eight-hour schedule.
Quality over quantity
A new study from the Draugiem Group shows that the amount of time people devote to work is less significant than the depth of focus they can sustain while completing a particular task.
The study also shows that the employees who typically accomplish the greatest number of tasks are also the employees who consistently take breaks from their work--in this case, 52 minutes of productivity culminating in a 15-minute break.
Employees who structure their day around periods of intense concentration followed by mental breaks are able to complete projects without checking email, social media, or responding to texts.
As a result, they accomplish a higher number of tasks more easily than those who do not take breaks.
Just as these employees are able to maintain deep focus when working, they clear their minds completely between periods of productivity.
Rather than clicking away from a project and over to Facebook, they walk away from their computer, drink water, chat casually with colleagues, avoid tech, and let their brain wander as far away from their work as possible.
A balanced professional schedule that incorporates breaks not only promotes increased focus when working but creates space for healthy cognitive rest.
How to structure your workday to maximize focus
There's a reason that Jeff Bezos,Richard Branson, Jack Dorsey, and many of the world's most powerful business leaders start their days between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Studies show that the most productive part of a person's day is the three- or four-hour period immediately following sleep.
A restructured morning routine could lead to fewer hours of work and a higher rate of task completion.
Start the day by eating a high protein breakfast. Protein fills you up faster than other foods and takes longer to digest, allowing you to focus on work without stopping to snack.
Not to mention protein helps fuel cognitive focus and productivity.
And for those of you shirking your a.m. workout, good news: Early morning exercise can be a waste of crucial productive energy that might be better expended on creative or professional tasks.
Not only does exercise drain your body of physical energy--it pulls your brain into a very different type of focus than what's needed to chip away at your to-do list.
So hold off on the exercise until the afternoon, or at least until you've taken care of your most important, complex tasks of the day.
Remember: Your morning focus is precious, so get to work as quickly as possible. Shower before you go to bed so you can wake up ready to go.
Prioritize tasks that require deep focus and complete them first. Presentations, proposals, and other projects that require both creativity and technical analysis should be at the top of your to-do list.
Sign off and unplug
The idea that more hours spent working correlates with increased productivity keeps companies and individuals from unlocking their full potential.
Employers would do well to emphasize a culture of focus, efficiency, and, yes, break taking.
Be mindful of your morning routine and structure your workday around a series of concentrated productivity blocks. Not only will you accomplish more--you'll enjoy the process.