Working Smart > Working Hard : The 52/17 Rule

Posted by Scott Helfrich on Apr 6, 2017 2:00:00 PM


Throughout our lives, we are told to work hard. “Anything is possible if you work hard” is a common theme in nearly every family, school, and work environment. From an early age we saw our parents go into work before breakfast, and often return home after dinner. We listened to professors stress the value of spending countless hours studying and preparing for exams and projects. In our professional life we see our bosses showing up first and leaving last.

Well, most of the time… These lessons were meant to instill a work ethic in us, so that we would be prepared for life after our education concluded.

Working hard is necessary for success, but do we really need to put in 10-12 hour days to meet our goals?


Continue Working Hard, Just Work Smarter

Sorry college students, this isn’t a shortcut that eliminates the need to work hard. You still need to put in consistent hours at work. Working smart doesn’t decrease the number of work hours, it optimizes your time. Full time employees work on average 47 hours/week, which translates to roughly six full days. Approximately 40% of our workforce works over 50 hours/week, with 18% working 60+ hours/week. The current business model believes in the premise that increased hours worked leads to optimal output. This is false.


Work In Sprints, Not One Long Marathon

Many of us work all day, often through lunch to accomplish our goals. Why wouldn’t we, we have been tailored our entire life to believe that long hours equal maximized results. But is that true?

In a recent study by Muse using the time tracking app DeskTime, 10% of employees all have one thing in common: taking breaks throughout the day.

The most productive employees worked for approximately 52 minutes, and then took a break for 17 minutes. Again, college students, relax. This isn’t your opening to take 15 minute breaks every hour, how you work in those 52 minutes is crucial. During the approximately 50 minutes of work, you need to be completely dedicated to your projects. This means no quick peeks at Facebook, checking your email, or reading “relevant” blog posts on your Twitter feed. We believe in you.


The Benefits Of Taking Consistent Breaks

You may feel hesitant taking a long break at the end of every hour, feeling that you will be wasting precious time. This makes sense, but there are many surprising benefits to taking breaks during the work day.

First and foremost, in order to be productive, you need to be healthy. Studies have shown that our bodies are not meant to be sitting for 8+ hour days. Innovations such as the adjustable desk have helped this issue, but our bodies aren’t meant to be standing for 8+ hours either. Repetitive tasks lead to decreased performance, which reduce our output, and ultimately lead to a drastic drop in quality of work. Many low-to-mid-level employees perform repetitive tasks during their day, and often lose focus. These timely recharging periods revitalize employees before they lose the ability to focus.


What Should I Be Doing On My Breaks?

How you recharge in those 17 minutes is just as important as your output in the 52 minutes. First of all, step away from your phone and computer. We constantly spend time in front of these devices, and they can often cause stress themselves. Take a walk outside, socialize with your coworkers, or grab a healthy snack to replenish yourself. Let your mind move away from work, and come back fully refreshed, ready to produce optimal work.


What If My Boss Kills Me?

If 17 minutes seems too long to you (or to your boss) experiment with 5 or 10 minute breaks every hour. They may start to see the quality of your work improving.


We All Have Our Limitations

As much as we all want to optimize every minute of our time, it’s nearly impossible. Our body and mind aren’t meant to be focused on similar tasks and projects for 8+ hours a day. At some point, we lose concentration or become distracted, and the quality of our work decreases.

Try taking consistent breaks throughout the day for a few weeks and compare the quality of your work from a few months prior. You’ll see the difference.

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