By Neal T. - 7/19/2021
Many Americans take pride in a “work hard, play hard” mentality. Or at least we say we do. The question is, from Monday morning to Friday evening, how much actual work is getting done?
At Solitaired, we support a healthy work-life balance and plenty of mid-day activities to help sustain healthy minds and bodies. A workday should include a variety of activities, with people feeling welcome to go for a walk, take time for proper lunches and play games to relax.
That said, at the end of the day, there needs to be a healthy balance between work, play, and distractions. One of the fundamental challenges of this era in business is getting workers to rise above the fray of distractions and be appropriately productive. This challenge has only become more complex with the acceleration of remote work. This got us wondering, do workers have an accurate sense of how productive or unproductive they are?
To answer that questions, we recently surveyed 1,241 Americans who work classic “desk jobs,” mostly sitting at a computer, for approximately 40 hours per week.
We started by asking how much time people think they spend on break during a typical day. The average estimate was 42 minutes.
Next we took people through an exhaustive list of all the ways workers can be distracted, or find themselves “on break,” intentionally or unintentionally. This list covered examples across eight categories, asking respondents to estimate how much time they spend on each during a typical day:
Not surprisingly, the average worker spends way more time on break than they think. What is surprising is the actual amount: 2.7 hours on average. That means people underestimate their break time by 74 percent and their initial estimates were off by more than two hours per day.
Naturally, some portion of all this break time is essential and healthy. Employers should have no dispute with workers attending to basic needs like eating snacks, using the bathroom and stretching. But after that, the categories contain some problematic behaviors from the perspective of those trying to run businesses.
According to our study, the average worker spends 25 minutes per day consuming entertainment of some sort, ranging from social media scrolling to podcasts to TV.
The next most time-consuming category is one our respondents lacked awareness of when estimating their break time: the act of being lost in thought. When assessing productivity in a rigorous way, employers and employees can’t only consider break activities that are observable, but also those that are silent and subtle. It’s natural of course to experience a wandering mind, but the interruptions add up: the average worker spends 22 minutes per day lost in thought.
One category of break time that’s relatively complex is communication between coworkers that’s unrelated to work. With more and more work communication being pushed to messaging apps, there’s inevitable creep of social communication along with it. A little chit-chat at work has always been a good and natural thing, but the question we’re grappling with is, how much is too much? Eighty-four percent of workers we surveyed say a certain amount of chatting with coworkers should just be excused as part of work, even if it’s work related. How much exactly? On average, workers said 25 minutes should be excused beyond otherwise sanctioned break time, which amounts to just over two hours a week.
As part of our analysis, we also asked workers about their habits related to multitasking, that murky state that exists between full focus and, well, break time. Eighty-eight percent of those we surveyed admit to multitasking on a daily basis. Eating and listening to content of some sort are the most common activities to pair with work. And multitaskers report that they spend almost half of the work day (3.4 hours) multitasking, so it’s certainly not limited to just reading through some emails during lunch.
Our data also revealed that remote workers are in a more precarious state of distraction than their office-bound cohorts. Seventy-eight percent of remote workers we surveyed say they do more multitasking at home than they did at the office, and 59 percent say it takes them longer to get their work done than it does at the office.
Whether you’re multitasking, or fully off-task and on break, the most important factor is self-awareness, and specifically, an accurate sense of how much time has passed and how much time is lost to task switching. Think of how long it takes to write an average email, start to finish, without stopping. Now compare that same task when it’s punctured by an exchange of 8-10 texts with a friend and a few minutes spent watching a YouTube video. It all adds up, big time.
Between July 1-2, 2021, we surveyed 1,241 Americans to learn about their daily work routines. We limited our scope to people who work 35 - 50 hours a week, primarily at a desk, on a computer. Our respondents were 56 percent male and 44 percent female, between the ages of 18 to 68, with an average age of 37 years old.
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