You Have 40 Days to be Productive this Year

Now that the holiday season is largely behind us, it’s time to think about getting back to work – just for now at least. We have eight long weeks to suffer through before we can turn to our kids’ reading-week schedules for some mid-spring time-off. Then we must all hold on until the summer vacation season, which will carry us through to that annual four-month shopping bonanza, jump-started by back-to-school sales and spurred on by Halloween and Thanksgiving that thrusts us most expeditiously once again into full-on Christmas. This grand-slam of distraction and indulgence careens uncontrolled through the entire Fall, cloaked first in adorable “goodwill-to-men” attire, but soon skidding into January, stripped down to its seedy “Boxing Week Blowout” skivvies, in order to squeeze those last few remaining dollars – be they in cash or on the bulging-end of a credit card balance – back into retailers’ tills before the taxman sucks them away in the sour-grey surge that is tax season. This is not to say we are not deserving of breaks; those of us who are lucky enough to still have full-time jobs, those of us who freelance, and those of us who are looking for work – we all have stuff to get done.

The problem is, as we look across the virgin expanse of a newly christened, post holiday calendar, it seems that we now actually have a year to get done all that needs to get done, when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s surprising just how little time is actually available for productive work. There may be fifty-two weeks in the year, but precious little of that is available to help motivated people generate the type of productivity required to truly thrive.

In fact, when you total things up, as I am about to do, there exists, for many of us, only 40 days of productivity available per year. That’s it. Even for those of us who want to do more, or those of us who think we are doing more by multitasking or by doing extra catch-up work in the evenings – we may indeed be working more hours, but “work” is not the same as productivity. And when you look at the job title printed on your business card, remember it reflects your productivity potential,not the hours you spend working. There’s a big difference.

The forces that battle against true productivity are often invisible, but that doesn’t mean they are without substance, for they sit on your calendar and occupy time – a resource you can never get back. In general, they occupy most of your time, devouring it without reservation and leaving  you with just a small fraction of the original: 40 days. I would propose to you that most people, regardless of – or perhaps because of their desire to be busy, to feel busy and to be seen to be busy, only receive 40 days of productivity per year. Here’s what I mean:

Start with the 365 days generally available in each calendar year. Assuming most jobs hire you for just 5 days per week, subtract 104 days for your non-working “weekend” days. This leaves 261. According to many industry analysts most people take an average 10 days per year for personal or sick days. This amount varies between public and private sectors, so I have chosen an average of 10, and subtracted it from 261, resulting in 251 days.

There are numerous public holidays per year depending on where you live. I will again choose 10, and will subtract that from 251 to get 241 days, since most people generally do not work, even from home, on these days.

Next comes the “Friday effect.” For the 42 weeks that do not have a public holiday attached to them, there exists the Friday afternoon, in which at least 20% of productivity is lost due to the downward slide toward the weekend. The very human need for rest combines with the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation, stress and email backlog to reduce productivity substantially. The same thing, by the way happens on Monday mornings, during which we must ramp back up from the weekend. Humans generally have a hard time hitting the ground running, which is why more heart attacks happen on a Monday. Thus, 42 Fridays and 42 Mondays multiplied by 20% lost equals just about17 days, subtracted from our current total of 241 to yield 225.

The Friday effect also applies to the public holidays, of course, but with greater impact. Starting with drive-time morning radio show hosts breathlessly proclaiming the long weekend to come, we slide through an increasingly distracted week, culminating in both the day prior to, and the day following a holiday in which people cannot help but be forced into a 50% productivity mode, due to the slowing of normal business processes. If we were to again be conservative in this assessment, this 50% effect happens 10 times a year, which can easily amount another 5 days lost. This brings our total down from 225 to 220.

This applies with even greater ferocity during the actual Christmas/New Years period, whether you personally celebrate Christmas or not. Twenty days between December 20 and January 1, each losing on average 20% productivity, removes 4 more days (more, if you or your team take time off during this period). So let’s go with 4 days, to become 216.

All of this might be both acceptable and bearable if the remaining 216 days were used to their maximum efficiency, but sadly that is not the case. Many thousands of people have admitted to me over the years that only a quarter of any day can be truly given over to real productivity, with the remainder consumed by email, meetings, delays, travel, ToDo’s, drop-in visitors, and other non-important but time-consuming activities. One-quarter of 216 is 54.

Finally it is essential to factor in physiological contributors to time loss such as cumulative sleep deprivation, stress, overload, fear, multitasking, distraction, poor eating habits, illness, conflict and boredom, which means that any given time, peoples’ capacity for productivity is at only 75% at best. And 75% of 54 is 40.

Thus we come to the magic number of 40 days of productivity per year. This is pretty shocking, given how much we expect of ourselves and how much we are expected to do. It can also be argued that my numbers don’t apply to everybody, and that they could easily be rejected under the “lies, damned lies and statistics” maxim. And if I had made all of this up, then such a rejection might be plausible. But after teaching people Time Management and Project Management for two decades, it is not me but you who have provided these data to me. Our days, which seem so full of promise and potential are in fact littered with roadblocks and barriers, most of which go unnoticed by the sheer momentum of our desire to work.

The good news is that productivity can be vastly increased beyond this 40-day mark, but it requires a combination of planning and communication skills along with a decision to pro-act rather than react to all aspects of life around us. As with many life changing events, it has to start with a sober, realistic look at what is really going on and then both the desire and the techniques to implement change.

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