The pandemic has changed a lot about how we work, but it hasn’t changed when we are most productive, with most Canadians accomplishing more in the earlier part of the week and earlier in the day. Experts say these patterns are a strong argument for giving workers greater flexibility, and allowing them to schedule their focused time, creative time and breaks at optimal moments.
According to a survey conducted by the human resources consulting firm Robert Half in 2019, the majority of Canadians hit their productivity peak on Mondays and Tuesdays, and most professionals get more done in the earlier portion of the day.
“We thought it would be an interesting exercise to see whether productivity has shifted just based on the fact that the hybrid model and flexibility is now being offered to so many workers,” said Robert Half Canada’s regional director Mike Shekhtman. “The results were actually really consistent, and I think that’s because the traditional workweek – Monday to Friday – is still standard.”
According to the organization’s latest research, Canadians still feel like they are able to accomplish the most on Mondays sand Tuesdays, regardless of whether they are working from home, in an office or elsewhere.
“In the survey itself people said that on Monday and Tuesday there is a real clear road map to what they want to accomplish,” Mr. Shekhtman said. “As the week progresses there’s often additional conflicting priorities – not only from our professional lives but also our personal lives – and that becomes a challenge for people as they reach midweek.”
Not only is the average employee more productive in the earlier part of the week, but a majority are also able to accomplish more in the earlier part of the day. According to the study most Canadians reach their daily productivity peak at some point between 9 a.m. and noon, with a secondary boost kicking in during the early part of the afternoon, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“What the research shows pretty clearly is that, for the vast majority of the population, they tend to do their best analytic work – the heads-down focused typical white-collar work – earlier in the day,” said Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Research has found that individuals have a natural inclination to stop and start their day at a certain time. Those natural rhythms are known as a “chronotype,” and understanding your chronotype can be key to maximizing your productivity.
Mr. Pink explains that, based on their chronotype, roughly 15 per cent of the population can be classified as larks (or “early birds,”) another 20 per cent fall into the category of night owls, and the remainder land somewhere in between. Research has found that while night owls are often less consistent in their work habits and can hit their productive peak in the late afternoon, the remainder follow a more predictable daily pattern.
“What the evidence shows is that around 80 per cent of the population – the larks and those in the middle – go through the day in this order: a peak early in the day, a trough in the middle of the day, and a recovery later in the day,” said Mr. Pink. “So 80 per cent of us should be doing our analytic, heads-down work early in the day, we should be doing our administrative work in the middle of the day, and we should be doing our more creative, iterative work later in the day.”
Mr. Pink adds that these patterns provide a strong argument for greater autonomy and flexibility in the workplace. While research has proven that workers are equally or more productive when they get to choose their work location, he believes there’s even more productivity to be gained by providing employees with greater control over when they work.
“We want people to understand the science, understand that our brain power changes over the course of the day, be observant about ourselves and our teams in regards to when we’re at our best, and give people the freedom to do the right work at the right time,” he said. “Not as an act of generosity, but as an act of performance enhancement.”
Understanding these productivity patterns can also help Canadian workers anticipate and combat recurring slumps, regardless of whether they have full control over their work schedules, according to Toronto-based productivity coach Clare Kumar.
“It’s thinking about how we engage the human brain in the way we show up, our own personal energy, and the way we design experiences, whether it’s a meeting or a conversation,” she said.
For example, Ms. Kumar encourages Canadians who find they are slumping in the middle of the week to schedule a ritual they can look forward to – such as a walk or a lunch with a friend or another weekly indulgence – for Wednesday afternoons.
“It’s really important for people to tune in and understand when they feel most alert,” she said, explaining that productivity is often very personal. “If we understand where we’re slumping we can find what’s triggering that energy reduction, and look for ways to sustain energy throughout the week.”
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.