Productivity in the Workplace – The 5 Hour Goal

In November of 2009 I used RescueTime’s productivity software to create a RescueTime goal that would alert me after I had spent five hours on productive activities at work. That five-hour goal was eventually adopted by the rest of the RescueTime team and has been a daily benchmark we’ve used ever since.

Recently, I was discussing this five-hour goal with a colleague and explaining how I came up with that specific number. And I thought others outside of RescueTime might find the reasons behind this goal interesting. Specifically, how it might be used to increase productivity in the workplace for you and your team.

Why the 5 Hour Goal?

After running RescueTime for five years, I have a good understanding of when I am being productive and when my productivity starts to drop. For me, I see a dramatic fall in my productivity in the workplace after spending five hours of my time on day-to-day activities. I also know that when I switch to working on more creative activities, I see my productivity begin to climb again. Using that information, I created a RescueTime productivity goal that was setup to alert me once I reached five hours of productive time for that a day. When I see my five-hour goal alert show up, I wrap up what I’m working on and move my focus towards more creative activities.

Productivity By Hour for Joe

Using this information I break my work day into two distinct categories, functional and creative.

Functional Activities

Functional activities are scheduled, expected, administrative, or janitorial. Sales meetings, database maintenance, responding to support issues, development of a scheduled feature, daily scrums, and paying bills – all fall under activities I consider “Functional”. Generally functional activities don’t give me a lot of opportunity to exercise the creative side of my brain.

Creative Activities

Creative activities are spontaneous and may have unpredictable outcomes. Comparing the strengths of various key-value stores, testing Amazon’s latest AWS offering, reading my favorite technical blogs, and prototyping an experimental feature – are activities I consider “Creative”. Giving myself time to work on creative activities invigorates me so I see my productivity climb, but also gives me a way to capture those unpredictable moments of inspiration that can sometimes lead to amazing things.

For example, one afternoon two weeks ago, I met my five-hour productivity goal and used my creative time to build out a database server using the new Amazon high performance storage offering. With only a few hours effort, I was able to test the database enough to see that, yes, the benefit to moving our primary database to the high performance storage option was a big win and certainly worth the costs.

By building in daily time for creative activities, I was able to measurably impact the RescueTime experience for our users, months before a database upgrade may have shown up as a scheduled activity.

As the CEO of RescueTime, I encourage all of my team to set aside time for creativity, not only to keep people motivated, but to capture those spontaneous creative ideas that can have a big impact on any business. Perhaps there is an opportunity for your team to improve their productivity in the workplace? You never know what unpredictable creative moments await you.