When Are Employees Most Productive?
It’s inherently difficult at the best of times to measure individual level productivity. This is due to the large number of variables usually needing to be tracked (industry, incentives, work environment etc.), so the opinion of HR managers is often used as a proxy metric.
In a much quoted survey, the University of Connecticut reported HR managers across the country had identified Tuesday as being the most productive day of the week amongst their colleagues and wider workforce.
Whilst this particular conclusion isn’t wrong per say, it represented only a tiny dataset made up of rather subjective opinions.
Granted this was an improved method of estimating productivity vs self-reported work levels.
Surveys used to be sent out to work forces and returned anonymously to gather an idea of how well people responded to their work environment. All fine and well until you base your results upon subjective questions such as ‘how well do you think you do in your job?’.
Ever since the inception of big data however it’s been possible to get a far deeper insight into our behaviours, and on the business front, worker performance.
Using a giant dataset comprising over 28 million data points and collected across 2 years, the project management software company Redbooth declared that Monday is the most productive day of the week. Not Tuesday as many smaller studies report!
Reality: our productivity varies between weekdays
The first step is to confirm there is a difference on how productive workers are across the working week (Monday to Friday).
If we were robots, you might expect that given the same block of time to work each day there would be no change in the volume of work completed.
In theory we’d produce the same consistent output. The same number of tasks completed….the same number of emails answered…..the same number of problems solved.
The London School of Economics however suggest that increasing fatigue brought on by working negatively impacts productivity from the end of the very first day of the new working week.
The reasons for work induced fatigue of course are wide ranging, being connected to the type of job you do, the working patterns you keep and the work environment that surrounds you.
Broadly speaking however the decrease in individual level productivity is attributed to a lack of routine and burnout. And this makes sense.
Early in the week and off the back of a period of rest we feel fresh, and have energy reserves to burn. We’ve had a lot of time to prepare for the first day back (looking out our uniform, preparing lunch) over the weekend.
Inevitably as long working hours and commuting takes effect, the free time we have to prepare for the upcoming day gets absorbed.
And let’s be honest, even if you did have the time available, preparing for the next day at work immediately after you’ve clocked out of the office just doesn’t feel like a good use of time.
But to circle back to the initial question, if we’re leaning towards the start of the week, then which day specifically is the most productive?
Is it Monday or Tuesday?
Myth: Tuesday is the most productive day of the week
The metric used to determine this outcome of Redbooth’s aforementioned survey was the number of tasks ticked off as being completed by users on their platform.
This measure is more useful than simply asking which day of the week we ‘think’ we do the most work because it uses an objective marker.
Critics however would say that we tend to funnel easier, shorter tasks to the top of our list to get that ‘reward’ feeling experienced when ticking something off the to-do list.
Of course, they say, Monday will look like the day when most work is being done.
And this fact may indeed be a contributor (exploring human nature is too meta for this post) but if it’s pure numbers we’re interested in then the outcome doesn’t change.
Showing tasks completed across a 7 day week, Monday (20.4%) is marginally more productive than its closest rival, Tuesday (20.2%).
- Monday – 20.4% of all tasks get completed
- Tuesday – 20.2% of all tasks get completed
Interestingly, drawn from the same study, the most productive time of the day was found to be 11:00.