At work and doing work

Golden ratios abound in nature. Trees. Plants. Flowers. Human faces. Fingers. All have some links with a golden ration. But when it comes to work habits and productivity, is there a ratio we can use to determine our effectiveness? Yes. I suggest the following:

Doing work : At work

The ideal would be a ratio of 1:1. That is, for every unit of time we are at work, we are actually doing work. But unfortunately, we cannot be so effective with the distribution of our time and energy. We are humans, not machines. We have to contend with distraction, procrastination, curiosity, wonder and boredom. 

In fact, I suspect the average doing work : at work ratio is somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5 to 1. That is, for every hour at work, the average person spends between eighteen and thirty minutes actually doing work. Which means, in an eight hour work day, between 2.5 and 4 hours of work are accomplished.

Some clarification would be useful here. “At work” means being physically present in your workplace or space. “Doing work” means being singularly focused on high leverage activities. It means excluding everything from your mind except the high leverage task at hand.

The upper bound of this ratio, 0.8, 0.9 to 1, is the territory of the high performers. The elite. And for good reason. It is hard to consistently reach such a state. The days where we feel like we crush it? These are the days where our at work: doing work ratio approaches one. And for most, me included, these days are few and far between. But the best are different. These high performers, for every unit of time spent at work, lose a minimal amount of time to distractions, transitions, switching costs, procrastination, interruptions or unfocused, low leverage activities.

At the end of the day, as you reflect upon what you’ve achieved, think about this ratio. Ask yourself, “How long was I at work? And how much of that time did I spend doing work?” The answer might precipitate a change in your approach to what you do.