How many hours fit in a workday?

On Feb 18th I started tracking time spent on my startup project: both calendar time since starting the project, and the actual hours spent working on it. I estimate spending less than five late evening hours in Lapland following along the Rails tutorial and building my own app. I started on the 11th of February, so I had worked 5 hours on the project during a period of one week. And I had a working prototype!

I’d like to elaborate a bit on how I track time. I’ll admit I’m pretty rigorous about it.

When I’m working, I keep a timer running all the time. Toggl allows me to have a list of timers for various tasks, and I can quickly click to start tracking time for any of my tasks. When I have a break, even for as much as switching to an unrelated conversation for a couple of minutes, I switch to a different timer. I have a separate timer for checking my email (I subscribe to the inbox zero philosophy), and track time on projects only when I’m actually writing emails about that project. If I’m doing something that doesn’t count as work, I have a timer called BREAK and that gets started. (That gets started a lot.)

If you’ve ever done similar time tracking experiments, you will know that the 8-hour workday is a myth. Yes, you might sit at the office for eight hours, but how much of it is effective work that takes you towards your goals? And how much of it is BREAK?

I’ll tell you what I’ve found: A highly effective workday is 5 hours a day. That’s five hours of pure effective work, without standing up to get coffee, going to toilet, or -gasp- looking at Facebook. Getting 5 effective hours of work out of a day usually requires 8 hours at the office (minus lunch). This also matches closely the utilization targets we had at Razorfish in 2001 (that was my last job working for the man).