How Many Hours a Day Can a Human Actually Work? (What Science Recommends!) | Iris Reading
How Many Hours a Day Can a Human Actually Work?

How Many Hours a Day Can a Human Actually Work? (What Science Recommends!)

How Many Hours a Day Can a Human Actually Work?

We take it for granted that a typical workday is 8 hours. But have you ever wondered how many hours a day you can actually work and remain productive? 

The ideal work hours per day for a human to be productive are 3-4 hours. For most people, the actual work hours are 2-3 hours, with 6 hours being the maximum productive hours in a day. You’ll be most productive for 2-3 hours daily if you do mentally draining jobs. 

This post covers the ideal work hours per day for a human to be productive. We’ll explain what productive work is and how to track the hours you actually work.

Ideal work hours per day to be productive

Though people usually work for 8 hours a day, no one is productive for that long. Scientists say the ideal daily working time is around 6 hours, and these should be concentrated in the morning.

There are workers who boast about the long hours spent at the workplace as a mark of productivity. But many of those just waste time in front of the computer keyboard and monitors, wishing for shorter working days. 

The time spent at work does not equal the productive hours in that day. Typically, humans achieve the highest work productivity for 3-4 hours a day when engaged in work. 

Why knowing the ideal hours for human productivity matters

Knowing the ideal hours for human productivity helps to set realistic expectations for yourself at the workplace. Moreover, emphasizing workplace productivity over the hours spent at work boosts employee satisfaction. The level of complexity of work determines how long we can be productive at work. 

It’s worth noting that employers settled on the 8-hour work day about 200 years ago when work revolved around factories. Back then, work was mainly manual. 

The advent of automation in most industries led to jobs focused on problem-solving skills, requiring more mental input.

There are benefits to knowing what is the actual number of hours in a day a human being can be productive:

1. It helps you set realistic expectations

Knowing the ideal hours for human productivity matters because it helps you set realistic expectations for yourself and others. 

You will not treat yourself as a failure at work because you didn’t hit the time target. Instead, you’ll evaluate your work productivity based on what you achieved and not the hours you spent at the workplace. 

You may beat yourself too hard for not having put in the hours at work. However, you still accomplished a lot within a period of focused engagement. 

2. It determines your work satisfaction

By appreciating that there’s a human limitation to productive engagement at work, you’ll be happier in your workplace. 

You’ll not be demoralized or feel bad about yourself because you fell short of a particular time threshold at the workplace. Pushing beyond the limits of productivity to merely mark the time may easily lead to burnout and frustration in the workplace. 

3. The level of work complexity determines optimal productivity

The complexity of your work determines how long you can remain productive. 

If you’re dealing with work that is overly strenuous to the mind, your productive peak may be shorter than another person working on less-demanding tasks.

What is considered productive work?

A considerable chunk of your work time goes to social media, making phone calls, chatting with friends, talking coffee, and munching snacks. Although all these happen during working hours, it doesn’t count as productive work. 

Measuring productivity was much easier in the industrial age and in a manual work setup with repetitive work where we could count the number of items a worker produced over a specified time. However, measuring output in a modern workplace is challenging.

Quantifying productivity from a creative process or a customer interaction can be subjective and difficult to assess. Nonetheless, there’s more to productive work than just ticking off your “to-do” list. 

Productive work refers to the amount of output realized within a specified time vis-a-vis what the organization aimed to achieve. It also entails elements of the quality of the completed work and the cost at which workers attain results. 

Different organizations measure productive work differently. The management may break down productive work into smaller units of measurable output distributed to departments and cascaded further downwards to individuals in the form of targets. 

Productive work happens when individuals, departments, or organizations achieve their targets within a specified time. For the purpose of our discussion, we’ll focus on individual productive work. 

How to track the hours you actually work?

Tracking the hours of productive work will help you determine how much of your office hours in a day go into actual productive work. 

Besides, a tracking system helps you manage your human resources by telling who is productive at work. Such a system can form an objective basis for staff appraisal and rewards. 

A time tracking program is a tool you need to gauge your productive input per day. If you use it on employees, they may feel micromanaged. Nonetheless, you can explore tactful ways of introducing the tracking tool by emphasizing its benefits to the employees. 

Whether you’re looking for ways to track your or your employees’ productive input, there are various methods to track work hours.

Manually by use of pen and paper

Individuals or small organizations with little exposure to technology can opt for the old-school pen and paper to track employee hours. It’s straightforward. You can use a simple jotter that records the time an employee checks in and out of work.  

You can transfer the data to excel for ease of computation.

However, the manual tracking system is unsuitable for larger organizations with numerous employees as it becomes cumbersome to maintain. Furthermore, items can be doctored on the jotter to create “payroll fraud” where workers can be paid for hours not worked. 

Time clocks

Time clocks are more sophisticated compared to manual pen and paper. You log in or “clock in” when you check in to your workplace and log out when leaving for the day. 

The downturn with time clocks is that they’re expensive to install as they require accompanying hardware to work. Besides, they’re impractical for mobile staff and where a business operates in multiple locations. Add to that the maintenance costs. 

Some time clocks require employees to input their biometrics when reporting to work or when leaving at the end of the day. Employees stand a health risk from constantly touching the machine. 

Mobile apps

Advancements in technology have led to the emergence of remote work. Cloud-based mobile apps help employees clock in and out irrespective of their location. 

Sales staff or remote workers handling projects only need to log in to their mobile apps and indicate when they are working on projects. 

Mobile apps offer further convenience to managers who get real-time updates on employee engagement with tasks. 

Before you embrace this time tracking method, ensure that all employees have smartphones. 

GPS tracking

GPS employee tracking devices allow you to track your employees with utmost accuracy. The GPS tracker is particularly essential if you have employees who operate from various work sites. 

You can have an app that allows for geofencing where your employee’s device automatically sends a notification to log on when they’re within a work site and to log out when exiting the worksite. The tracking system records when the employee logs in and out. 

You must ensure that your employees have mobile gadgets that communicate with the tracking device. 

URL tracking

For organizations where workers spend their working day on the computer, URL tracking systems work well. Once you log in to your computer, the system tracks you via a time on your browser. 

Besides tracking the time spent at work, plug-in trackers can also record the websites you visited during working hours. By so doing, URL trackers can help you keep tabs on how much time you’re spending on work websites or non-work-related sites. 


Humans have a limited number of hours for productive work in a day. Working within your most active hours for maximum productivity helps you make the most of your working day. 

If you’re looking at improving productivity at the workplace, consider Iris Reading’s course on speed reading and memorization techniques that help professionals and students boost their productivity.

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