By Jillian Gordon, contributor of The Underground Group
The standard workday may be nine-to-five, but the typical body isn’t always at peak productivity during those hours.
Ensure your employees are operating at their best by working in 90-minute blocks, starting their day with tough tasks and limiting the frequency and length of meetings.
A body’s “native time” is the span of the day when it’s most productive. If that native time falls beyond company working hours for any of your employees, consider working in a schedule adjustment.
Maximizing employee productivity is a major focus at both established companies and startups. And with the rise of flex hours and remote work, the traditional nine-to-five workday is an anachronism.
Take the story of Tower Paddle Boards. In 2015, the “Shark Tank”-backed company shortened its workday from eight hours to five, doing away with lunch breaks and establishing working hours of 8 a.m.-1 p.m., founder and CEO Stephan Aarstol wrote on Business Insider. The reduction had an overwhelmingly positive effect on productivity at Tower, which the San Diego Business Journal named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego that year.
Reducing working hours may not be a realistic option for your company, but maximizing the natural productivity of your employees is. Here’s what you need to know in order to build a schedule that lets your team operate at their best.
We’re typically most productive before 10:30 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
At the start of the workday, willpower is at its highest, and at the end, we’re most motivated to complete projects and make important decisions before leaving the office, according to Dr. Susan Ridgell, an industrial psychologist who works with corporate clients in areas like leadership and team development.
"Look for peak productivity in the early morning, immediately after arriving at work, through about 10:30 a.m., and after 4 p.m.," she told Grow Wire.
Work in 90-minute blocks, with breaks.
Similar to our sleeping patterns, peak productivity usually manifests in 90-minute cycles, which Ridgell said “we should ideally divide into smaller chunks of time. A 90-minute timeframe becomes four 20-minute work sessions. After the first three sessions, take a 2- to 3-minute break. After the last 20-minute session, take a 10-minute break.”
BOOM. Your daily schedule just got automated.
Start your day with your largest to-do item.
Ridgell suggests employees tackle the most demanding task right when they begin working.
“Starting strong works wonders for momentum,” she said. “Keeping your momentum up is a huge productivity booster. Working on a challenging thing early will nudge us to keep doing that, to catch up on something we’ve been putting off.”
Consider the “20-minute meeting rule.”
Sometimes it seems like no matter how productive we intend to be, meetings quickly monopolize the day. Office workers spend an average 31 hours in unproductive meetings every month, according a recent report from enterprise software company Atlassian.
To ensure your team’s meeting time is well-used, Ridgell says to meet in the morning since that’s when productivity is high. If the meeting must be in the afternoon, she suggests using it as a time to gather, recharge and reset.
“If most people conclude lunch by 1:30 p.m., consider a 2 p.m. meeting,” she said.
For decision-making, schedule your meeting toward the end of the day.
“A very focused 4 p.m. meeting could be quite productive,” Ridgell added. “People respect that the day is coming to a close, and they’ll be ready to make decisions and take the actions needed.”
Also consider keeping meetings short. Richard Branson and Elon Musk reportedly stick to 20 minutes or less to ensure effective communication without sacrificing productivity. Ridgell said this technique can be very beneficial, even if it means scheduling a follow-up meeting later.
And maybe even ban meetings one day per week.
Some companies even adopt a no-meeting policy one day per week. Both Facebook and work management company Asana have at least semi-strict "No-Meetings Wednesdays" to allow for uninterrupted concentration, Bloomberg reports.
SimpleReach, an NY-based content marketing company, instated bi-monthly “10-percent Mondays” in 2017 to allow its 12-person development team more time for projects.
"Every other Monday, we don’t have any scheduled meetings,” said Senior Software Engineer Adam Tourkow. “Instead, we are allowed to work on, develop and code anything that may benefit the company, including new ideas or projects not on our roadmap.”
This has made developers feel empowered to try new things and improve their skill sets on company time, Tourkow said. It gives them “more time to get things done.” In turn, productivity has improved and the team seems happier and more engaged, he added.
Prepare for the midday lull: 2:45-4 p.m.
"Across the board, I'd say 2:45-4 p.m. is the least productive time of the day," Ridgell said. "It's a time similar to the dark hours before dawn. We've been at work long enough to feel overwhelmed, and the end is not yet in sight."
Encourage employees who feel productivity slowing around this time to avoid scheduling any tedious or stressful tasks during it.
Find your “native time.”
Many individuals’ peak productivity cycles fall within traditional working hours, but it’s important for your employees to determine when they are personally most energetic and motivated. Ridgell calls this timeframe one’s “native time.”
Urge each member of your team to determine which of these four general time frames is most productive for them:
● Early morning: 4 or 5-9 a.m.
● Mid-morning: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
● Afternoon: 3-7 p.m.
● Late evening: 9 p.m.-2 a.m.
If that native time falls outside of your company’s working hours, consider offering the option to discuss flex hours or working from home with those employees. If you need to be convinced, examine this study conducted at CTrip.com, a billion-dollar company based in Shanghai. The study found a 13 percent increase in productivity when employees were allowed to work from home over the course of the week.
Changing up your company’s schedule isn’t always easy nor natural, but bucking the nine-to-five tradition can help you win in the long run. Don’t be afraid to try it out.
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