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Science Confirms That 9 to 5 Is Hell for Creative Workers


If you’re like most knowledge workers, you produce your flights of creative problem-solving on a fairly rigid schedule — 10 to 6, say, if not 9 to 5. Too bad that research suggests that you’re only good for about six of those eight-plus hours, and not necessarily the six your employer demands.

working late 

(Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

“…knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight,” writes Sara Robinson at Salon. “It sounds strange, but if you’re a knowledge worker, the truth of this may become clear if you think about your own typical work day. Odds are good that you probably turn out five or six good, productive hours of hard mental work; and then spend the other two or three hours on the job in meetings, answering e-mail, making phone calls and so on. You can stay longer if your boss asks; but after six hours, all he’s really got left is a butt in a chair. Your brain has already clocked out and gone home.”

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Furthermore, a recent article at the New Yorker points out that neuroscientists have found that our brains are most foggy shortly after we wake up, and clearest a few hours before we go to bed — in other words, creative types are likely to do their best work when they should be packing up to go home, not when it’s time for the 10 a.m. meeting.

Of course, many companies have “solved” this problem by expecting workers to be on all the time — in the evenings, on the weekends, whenever their smartphones have enough bars to receive and send an email. But in order for that to improve productivity, employers would also have to let workers have a truly flexible schedule, and not just an extended work day that squanders their most productive hours and makes it impossible to achieve anything approaching real work-life balance.

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What time of day do you do your best work? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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