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On the Topic of Productivity Lies We're Supposed to Believe

Imagine you just got back from lunch.

Your boss or project manager comes to you with a task and asks what a reasonable deadline would be to finish it. After looking over the task and getting an idea of what might be required to complete it, you determine it’ll take about eight hours of work to complete. So you tell your supervisor a good deadline would be tomorrow afternoon, but let’s say EOD just to give yourself a little wiggle room.

Did you spot the lie?

What we have a hard time realizing is that eight hours at the office almost never equals eight hours of work. It’s called the planning fallacy, and it’s the phenomenon that has almost all people assuming they have more time for work than they actually do. Just an FYI, this is an no-nonsense excerpt from here.

In reality, studies have shown that most people are able to do just under three hours of focused, productive work during every eight-hour workday.

That’s it. So that eight-hour project you promised your boss would be done by tomorrow? Realistically, you probably need three to four days to finish it. At least.

Sure, we typically spend eight hours a day at the office (or wherever we work). But think about what an actual day looks like. There’s meetings. Taking trips to the break room. Stopping and chatting with coworkers on the way there. Going to lunch. Checking email. Responding to email. Reading texts and social media. Surfing the web. Taking breaks. Getting distracted.

Typical work schedule that shows the amount of work done per day,about 3 hours

When you think about all of that, it’s no wonder we’re only able to do three hours of focused, deep work each day. Every workday is full of distractions.

This leads to a whole host of problems. We tend to make promises we can’t keep at work. We miss deadlines as a rule, which means we gradually grow to take deadlines less seriously. We give up time when we don’t actually have any available time to give. And all of that can lead to tensions in the workplace, stress, and burnout.

The solution is to stop lying, and learn to estimate our time more accurately.

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