Why you should never work for longer than 52 minutes

20 January 2016 -


New research reveals the benefits of a 52-17 work-to-rest ratio

Jermaine Haughton

For more than a century, the eight hour working day has been viewed by bosses and staff as the optimum amount of time needed each day to satisfactorily complete work duties.

However, the evolution of technology, globalisation and changing employee motivations have since provided the context for some business leaders and researchers to argue that the traditional “9-5” working day is no longer ideal for getting the best out of modern day workers.

During the height of the industrial revolution, when low wages forced the working classes to fill the assembly lines across the UK, it was not unheard of for workers to work up to 18 hours a day for six days a week in poor conditions.

The introduction of the eight hour workday in the early 20th century was a revolutionary move.

After nearly a century of pressure from trade unions, and leading political figures such as Robert Owen and Tom Mann, employees were finally given the choice of how long they could spend working.

Fast-forward to today, and the demands, responsibilities and relationships between workers and employers has changed dramatically – to say the least. Therefore, a growing body of research suggests that a change in attitude by employers and staff towards how work days are structured needs to also be altered.

Based on a study by social networking firm the Draugiem Group, researchers found that employees should dedicate 52 minutes of focused work, followed by 17 minutes of rest before repeating the pattern.

Using a computer application to track how much time people spent on various tasks and their comparative productivity levels, the study’s most interesting finding was that the length of the workday didn’t matter much; what mattered was how people structured their day.

For example, workers who worked intensely for small periods and took frequent short breaks were found to be significantly more productive than those who worked longer hours and took a few longer breaks. By using the 52:17 minutes work-to-break ratio, workers were found to be 100% dedicated to the task they needed to accomplish – failing to be distracted by Facebook or e-mails.

But as they reached an hour of work, participants separated themselves from their work for a short period, refreshing their mind and alleviating work fatigue.

By applying the tactic to their teams, managers can reap several main benefits.

Firstly, the frequent breaks keep us from getting bored, helping to maintain motivation, productivity and engagement. University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras said: “Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused. From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself.

“Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”

Secondly, breaks help us retain information and make connections. Some studies have shown that the mind solves its trickiest problems while daydreaming – something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower.

Furthermore, Dr Travis Bradberry, the cofounder of emotional intelligence tests and training provider TalentSmart, says the 52:17 work-to-rest ratio can be adjusted to fit the typical eight hour working day, explaining that “once you align your natural energy with your effort, things begin to run much more smoothly”.

Dr Bradberry provided four top tips for managers looking to apply the 52:17 minutes work-to-rest ratio to their workforce:

Break your day into (almost) hourly intervals: At the start of the day, or at the end of the preceding, plan your work duties into 52 minute intervals allowing for daunting tasks to be simplified into manageable pieces.

Respect your work time: Avoid texting, checking e-mails, or doing a quick Facebook check during the 52 minutes. Focus on the task at hand.

Use your break-time wisely: Separate yourself from your work, computer, and emails. Using the 17 minutes to go for a walk, read a few pages of a book or interact with colleagues are useful ways of refreshing the mind before restarting work.

Bringing It All Together: Are you a better morning or post-lunch worker? Only you will know, and therefore it is advisable to break your day down into chunks of work and rest that match the times your natural energy levels feel good, making your workday go faster.

Powered by Professional Manager