A Guide to the Three-Hour Workday

By Rhen Wilson

How many hours do we really need in a day to be most productive? Research suggests an eight-hour day is over doing it—by a long shot.

A few days ago, I came across a productivity assessment from the Harvard Business Review. The short quiz, called the Pozen Productivity Rating after its creator Robert C. Pozen, provides an assessment of how you prioritize and manage your time by breaking your productivity into seven categories, including your daily planning habits, procrastination, delegation, and relationships. (Link at the bottom.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity lately—especially after yesterday’s all-day road trip for a client meeting in Oklahoma. The meeting lasted a mere two hours, but we spent 10 hours on the road to attend it. Don’t get me wrong, the meeting was productive and essential, but it’s hard to ignore the time spent out of the office and the opportunity costs we paid by having so many employees stuck in a car.

Looking through some research on productivity, I came across a number of articles all discussing research into the three-hour workday.

Back in 2016 a UK company surveyed nearly 2,000 employees and found that they averaged about three hours of actual work. (Interestingly enough, on Monday Vanity Fair decried President Donald Trump for only working three hours a day.)

The rest of the day, said the research, people spent goofing off online (color me shocked), socializing with coworkers, sitting in non-productive meetings, etc.

So if we only need three hours, why do we “work” eight? During the Industrial Revolution, more hours in a day were required to get work done. In fact, before Henry Ford came along, the eight-hour day was unheard of—most workers were putting in 12+ hours a day.

But in our current age of the Knowledge Revolution, people don’t need as many hours to produce quality, creative work.

Okay, so we should all demand three-hour work days? Or three five-hour work days? Or maybe two 7.5-hour work days?

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath for that just yet. Keep in mind, these studies are talking about creative, brain-powered productivity. Not the mindless administrative tasks like filing paperwork and checking your inbox, both of which are requirements if one wishes to get around to productive work.

Nevertheless, there may be something you can do within your eight-hour structure to use your productivity skills wisely.

The Three-hour Workday Guide

I propose the following work schedule to maximize your three hours within an eight-hour day. This should help out while you wait for your boss to suddenly announce a three-day work week.

Time Block Tasks
8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Check your inbox, set your calendar for tasks, log today’s required tasks, attend check-in meetings, etc.
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Productivity time. Avoid administrative tasks and socializing between these two hours.
12 p.m. – 1 p.m. Lunch. Enjoy.
1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Check inbox, more administrative work.
2 p.m. – 3 p.m. Final hour of productivity. Best to do this now so that you can send any required work to those waiting on it.
3 p.m. – 4 p.m. Time for self-education. You need five hours of self-education a week to stay sharp, according to Michael Simmons of The Mission Podcasts. Read some relevant articles, watch educational videos/webinars, take a training course, etc.
4 p.m. – 5 p.m. Check your inbox one last time, review your task lists for the day and make sure you accomplished all of today’s requirements. Plan tomorrow’s tasks ahead of time.

Use this workday template, and let me know if you see any improvements to your productivity or at least a little more structure to it.

And as promised, here’s a link to that HBR assessment: Assessment: How Productive Are You?

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