glasses, phone, coffee and laptop on a desk

What Googlers and Researchers Want You to Know About Productivity

Late in 2015, Fast Company published a Googler’s letter to the team that posed a simple challenge in time management. What started as a friendly reminder to fellow Googlers soon became a viral sensation, ending up in the Top 10 Leadership Stories of 2015.

What was it so special about the letter that people considered it to be a true revelation in managing energy levels and avoiding disruption? In its essence, it was the acknowledgement that we all scramble and hustle every single day, trying to work on long-term projects while being constantly obstructed by new demands and tasks.

The “Make Time”

In his affectionate letter (too bad they removed the inside jokes before publishing it on Fast Company), the Googler goes on to explain that we all need to schedule “Make Time”. As its name hints, Make Time is a fixed period for “making things happen”. Oppositely from managers, the makers-workers need time to work on their projects without a single disruption sidetracking them from prominent goals.

With all the time management fuzz, it has become inherent that in order to get things done and complete the most obstinate tasks; we need to focus and go undisturbed by the work and progress happening around us. But how is one to plan their time?

Those two magical hours every day

Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke explains: “Most people have just two really productive hours a day, and those two hours might be sufficient if they belonged entirely to you.” He goes on to illustrate a situation where nobody’s able to save the most productive time for themselves, as in modern offices teams have a shared calendar, facilitating (often unintentional) kidnapping of each other’s time.

A survey found that when it comes to workplace distractions, 43% of employees say that impromptu visits by coworkers are the biggest productivity killer. With open offices and communication tools, it is almost impossible to go undisturbed and focus on work that matters.

So how is one to claim their prolific Make Time to themselves and center attention around a single project?

productivity at work

Frequently, the problems lie not in our colleagues but deep in our brains. This is also what the Googler intended to remind their teammates about: We don’t acknowledge the need for organized work hours, being too overwhelmed with meetings and unforeseen tasks. To succeed, we need to break out of the cycle of reactive work and recognize the need for proactive, fastidiously planned Make Time.

The best solution to being overwhelmed by tasks and requests is to have specific hours scheduled for working on a project and nothing else. And here’s the most crucial element of effective time planning: Make Time shouldn’t happen at “some time on Friday” or “right after I’m done with other things”, but be a deliberate intention to concentrate on a task at a precise moment during the week, with a minute accuracy. Instead of giving ourselves some vague time frame, there needs to be a markdown in the calendar. It’s like planning a date with yourself, the project, and the ultimate conditions for undisturbed work.

Research found that human’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000, to around 8 seconds in 2015 (Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds). To work on elaborate projects, we certainly need to do better than 8 seconds, meaning that set work conditions have to encourage deep focus and make procrastination a thing of the past.

It’s all up to you

Here are three techniques for incorporating Make Time to your weekly schedule and maintaining an attention span longer than a goldfish.

Claim the ownership of your time

With everyone competing for their team members’ attention, asking for insights, and demanding time to talk; it’s easy to get carried away and forget that we’re the ones that possess our time.

What you need is a calendar app (best if it’s shared with the entire team) to schedule the most productive hours of the day for working on the most exciting and fastidious projects. Next, take the extra step of marking the event with the tag “busy”, to proclaim that nobody’s expected to be disturbing your workflow with irrelevant requests and offers.

Respect your daily energy levels

Psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie suggests that our energy functions according to “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles that take place during the day. In his study, he discovered that in the afternoon and evenings, we get sleepy at two times: at 4:30 pm and at 11:30 pm. In the morning, we get sleepy every 90 minutes – the ultradian rhythms. We perform our best in between those periods of drowsiness, not long after waking up.

To increase workplace productivity, it’s best to handle the most critical matters in the morning and leave more mechanical tasks for the afternoon when you’re hit by decision fatigue and low energy levels.

Weekdays matter more than you’d think

We rarely take the time to reflect on our productivity and work performance, resulting in our peak time wasted on mechanical tasks instead of creative and insightful projects.

Here’s what the Googler suggested to teammates: On Mondays, energy ramps out of the weekend, so the day should be set for setting goals and planning. On Thursday and Friday, our energy levels are already exploited, so the focus should be on setting objectives and meeting with the team. So we’re left with Tuesday and Wednesday –two days every week that are perfect for tackling the most challenging problems, and for scheduling the Make Time.

As different things work for different people, it’s up to every single one of us to find out when we’re at the peak of productivity and use this time efficiently.

Take action

It is terrifyingly easy to be lead off the track and be dragged into the cycle of reactive behavior, interruptive meetings, and misguided work. Maybe the thousands of articles and guides on time management aren’t so out of place after all, and we all need a frequent reminder to take our time into our own hands.

Perhaps it is time you also write your busy-bee colleagues a letter, suggesting they get their noses off the computer screens, and take 15 minutes to reflect on their daily time use.

What are your favorite productivity hacks at work? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Everything about your business, one click away