Why the Average Team Is Productive for Only 3 Hours a Day

By Chelsea Williams
Senior Copywriter
Sep 27 2023 read

That’s right. Studies reveal that we only truly get three good hours out of an eight-hour day.

It’s a silent productivity paradox. When you think about all the time you spend working, not to mention commuting and preparing for work, it seems impossible that less than half of it is meaningful. But with honest reflection, you’ll probably find that a significant chunk of your day isn’t dedicated to genuine, undistracted work. 

If you run a business or lead a team, this raises a pressing question: Why is this such a rampant pattern?

We’ll explore the fallacies and causes of this low-productivity trend and, most importantly, consider solutions that align with the new ways of working.

The Mirage of Busyness

There’s a fundamental distinction between being busy and being productive. The daily hustle of meetings, emails and minor urgencies often leaves service professionals with the illusion of having accomplished a lot. More often than not, our work life is cluttered with reactionary tasks that divert attention from the high-value, focused work that drives business forward.

By the time we check off all the minor tasks and feel ready to focus, our mental energy is depleted and it feels harder to concentrate.

Productivity experts have put forth all kinds of hacks to help people prioritize work, including “eat the frog,” the Pomodoro Technique and the Eisenhower Matrix. Yet, data shows that most people still feel distracted — 79% of them.

Modern Causes of Low Productivity 

There are an unlimited number of things that could pull you away from work. Let’s look at three big ones.

The dopamine drive and waning stamina

Our brain’s reward system, underpinned by dopamine, plays a major role in shaping our work habits. Even if we wouldn’t necessarily say we’re “addicted” to our devices, none of us is immune to the chemical hit we get from checking our notifications. The incessant urge to refresh inboxes and social media feeds is tough to fight.

As human as it is to engage in these “small” interruptions, they whittle down our window for doing our best work.

Meeting overload

If utilized well, meetings can be an avenue for clarity, decision-making and teamwork. But an overabundance of them can quickly turn counterproductive. Atlassian data shows that the average worker spends 31 hours in unproductive meetings every month. 

For many of us, this results in meeting fatigue. We get overloaded and weary from not having the downtime to get creative and apply everything we’ve talked about with coworkers. MIT’s Sloan School of Management reported that reducing meetings by 40% leads to a 71% increase in productivity.

Ineffective collaboration

In the modern quest to be interconnected via tech at all times, teams often find themselves drowning in a sea of unused and underutilized tools: chat applications, document-sharing platforms and project management systems. Especially in service industries, this fragmented communication leads to mega-inefficiency and costs you billable hours.

The Way Forward

Addressing these root causes requires more than a fresh perspective. You need actionable strategies rooted in time-saving standardization, organization and workflows.

One way to achieve standardization is with the use of templates for as many parts of your client journey as possible. You can templatize quotes, request follow-up emails, contracts, invoices and more. Templates can relieve your team of the burden of getting started on tedious tasks. If they can complete mundane work more efficiently without questions or confusion, they can redirect their energy to more innovative work. 

How you organize and allocate tasks is also important. If each person is simply working from their own endless list of tasks, there’s zero visibility and a greater need to communicate excessively to keep everyone updated. There’s also a significant risk of oversight and very little way to hold people accountable. Task management software can be the answer — if it’s integrated with other key functions of your service business.

Next comes the crucial aspect of workflows. Setting up and documenting workflows eliminates ambiguity, makes it easier to onboard new team members and gives your team the clarity they need to get things done quickly and confidently.

Finally, you’ll increase productivity by making a concerted effort to use fewer, more purposeful tech tools and offer thorough training. The cognitive load that comes from navigating multiple systems can weigh heavily on your team, making it unlikely that they’ll manage to apply themselves for more than the average of three hours.


Proven Productivity Solutions

Looking to try even more forward-thinking ways of motivating your team? Here are three ideas that have emerged from the latest research.

  1. A study out of the UK showed that a four-day workweek resulted in no loss in productivity and an increase in revenue.
  2. New research from Slack shows that trusting employees is a key driver of increased productivity.
  3. Harvard Business Review reports that the best thing you can do is set an example for your team.


Before you try out some of these ideas to get your productivity moving in the right direction, get prepared to measure your results


About the Author


Chelsea Williams is Senior Copywriter at Accelo, where she shares unique insights with service professionals and tells user stories via blogs, eBooks, industry reports and more. She has over 15 years of B2B and B2C writing experience — primarily in tech, sales, education and healthcare. Chelsea is an AWAI-certified Master Copywriter trained in brand storytelling and microcopy.

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