A friend mentioned to me recently that the average person works only three productive hours a day. That figure astounded me, so I went looking for verification. I found some information here: http://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/in-an-8-hour-day-the-average-worker-is-productive-for-this-many-hours.html
Anyone who doesn’t work a regular office job will immediately note that this study looks at people with … regular office jobs. It doesn’t apply to factory workers, construction people, freelancers, anyone whose work duties are either strictly regimented or vary according to the actual work available. I am in the latter category. I have been self-employed since 2003—thirteen years. Prior to that, from 1988-1999, I worked from my home as a consulting editor for Bantam Books. Because I was not in the office, 90 percent of my work was directly on manuscripts, either reading them for acceptability, writing revisions letters if work was needed, or line editing contracted manuscripts. Few phone calls, no meetings, no one stopping by my desk to chat. I learned that I could edit for five hours a day before I lost focus; and I learned that five hours a day was a good day’s work. Two hours more than the three productive hours per day the study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.
Now that I know about this three productive hours for the average office employee, I am applying it to my freelance work. Several months ago, I started a part-time job in a store that sells art and fine crafts and jewelry. I quickly realized this was like having school-age children again. I had to make every minute of my work time in my home office count. So I’ve set an hourly goal for productive editorial work for each week (as opposed to each day, since my at-home time each day is inconsistent). Whereas I used to work five hours a day for five days on my freelance work, for a total of twenty-five hours a week, I’m now setting a goal of three hours of productive work per day spread out over seven days, or twenty-one hours a week. This is a reasonable goal, and in the week that I’ve been practicing it, it has worked.
Writers who have full-time jobs might want to apply the same logic. How-to books on writing, as well as most successful writers, advise writing every day. For some people, who may have demanding jobs, long commutes, children, or the like, this can be extremely difficult. So try setting yourself a weekly goal, either of hours spent writing or number of pages written. Be realistic. If you really can only write for two hours at a stretch two days a week, then set the goal of four hours a week—and make sure you do, in fact, write four hours a week. If you find that this steady practice is invigorating your writing, making you eager to do more of it, find another hour and push your weekly total up to five. And then maybe to six. The act of writing can increase a writer’s determination to keep writing, to commit herself to her essays or poems or stories or novel. And just imagine. If you do more than three productive hours of writing a day, you are doing better than that average office worker!