Full Engagement at Work

Most of today’s companies still value presence over performance. The amount of time employees spend in the office matters more than what they accomplish during that time. The expectation of putting in long hours, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted, breeds a habit of filling time by creating non-critical activities, drifting into excessive socializing, or getting caught up in trivial office politics. For those of us who actually want to be productive rather than busy, being surrounded by counterproductive behavior can be frustrating.

How do you replace busyness with productivity? One powerful way is by increasing your presence-to-performance ratio.

Presence-to-Performance Ratio

Presence is the amount of time you’re at work. This can mean time in the office, at your desk, in a meeting, at the keyboard, or any other way you choose to define it. Performance is the amount of time that you’re actually working.

Suppose Sam is on his laptop for six hours, and his current project is to create a PowerPoint presentation. During those six hours, he checks his email for 30 minutes, spends another cumulative 30 minutes on Facebook (10 minutes here, 5 minutes there, etc.), 15 minutes chatting with colleagues, and 45 minutes cruising various websites (again, not all at once). The rest of the time, he works on PowerPoint.

His presence-to-performance ratio is 66%. Of the six hours he was at work, he spent four hours working, meaning that he was two-thirds’ engaged. That’s actually generous if we factor in concentration recovery time from task switching. If he wants to increase his productivity, he should strive for full engagement.

Keep a Time Log

The easiest way to increase your presence-to-performance ratio is to keep a detailed time log of every single activity you perform, moment-to-moment, while at work. Just keep a running list of each action and how long it took. You can either log the time by the length of the action, or by the start time.

Despite much more sophisticated time logging software out there for free, I like the simplicity of the Notepad editor in Windows. My favorite feature of this rather vanilla utility is the F5 time stamp. Whenever you start a new activity, just hit F5 to generate the time and date on the line, then complete the line with your activity description. You can even go more lo-fi and just use pen and paper.

Start your log right from the moment you’re scheduled to start working, not when you actually start working. It’s too easy to overlook 15-40 minutes of unfocused work in the morning by dismissing it as “warmup” time. It’s better to challenge yourself to see how much you can get done in the first hour, and then take a break if you still feel the need. You’ll probably find that starting the morning with a “sprint” has a positive carryover on how you attack the rest of the day.

You might suspect that jotting down every last thing you do in a work session would get too disruptive to be sustainable, let alone productive. You’re right. A week a performance metrics should shed enough light on your general work patterns. If you’re like me, the results of your first time log will make “66%” Sam look Type-A by comparison. Most people have no idea how much time they waste, just like they have no idea of how much they eat, unless they record it all and do the math.

Naturally, you’ll never become 100% productive at work. If you eat, go to the bathroom, and are minimally cordial with coworkers and clients, you’re going to sacrifice some output. Shoot for the 80-90% range.

Make a Checklist of Recoverable Time

Now that you have a record of all of your activities during the week, productive and unproductive, look for the unproductive ones and compile them into a checklist. The time spent on those activities is time you can recover for more meaningful activities. I define productivity as “meaningful activity.”

Make this checklist your “not to do” list. Either stop these activities entirely (usually the best choice), schedule them as after-work options, or consciously constrain their duration — if there are four websites you regularly visit each morning, give yourself 10 minutes to scan all of them, then go back to work.

Sharpen the Saw

Once you’ve cut out a substantial number of extraneous activities, test your increase engagement objectively by doing another week of time logging. You can either schedule one-week loggings on a regular basis — say, quarterly — or commit to one whenever  you feel you’ve made significant progress. It’s great to feel like you’re getting more done, but logging everything you are and aren’t doing is the reality check that gives you serious insights into your new improvement opportunities.

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Andre Kibbe currently works as a content analyst for Internet Brands. He can be found on Twitter: @andrekibbe


  1. Heather on the 23rd January

    Oh god, I hate to think what would happen if I logged what I did… Need to give it a try, but ‘Sam’ seems extremely productive compared to me. 🙂

  2. Ryan on the 23rd January

    Great post. I have to keep a record of my time for billing clients. This will be very useful to help with that tedious process.

  3. brandscaping on the 23rd January

    Another excellent article Andre – another time waster that shows up in team environments is the time allocated to worrying about how much work your teammates are doing – or not doing.
    Might be interesting to see some logs posted here next week – anyone up to it?

    Thanks for the great idea Andre


  4. Carol Wentworth on the 23rd January

    As a former business owner I can attest to the fact that few employees are fully engaged in their work. I’d say that most employees waste about 20 – 30% of their time. And that’s when they are even physically at work (the amount of tardiness and “sick” days is frightening).

    To an employer the time an employee spends surfing the internet, gossiping with fellow employees, and working inefficiently is a form of stealing. After all, the employee is getting paid to work—not screw around.

    An employee who actually works close to 100% of the time on the job will go far simply because it is such a rarity. Dedication and loyalty to a job will make up for a lot of other shortcomings.

    This is a great subject for discussion—and one that hasn’t gotten much attention. Thanks!

    • Rob on the 28th January

      The those who “works close to 100%” or more I would call the workaholics with a negative connotation (it’s an illness or obsession rather than dedication or loyalty) or simply the liars. I doubt if the outcome of them would be bigger than those of “50%” productivity in the long term. The two-thirds of direct and productive time sound like the best you can get from employee and not getting them stressed in my opinion and my short practice.

  5. Aleksandar on the 23rd January

    F5 and Notepad is a great tip. I didn’t use it so far but that can be very handy.

  6. Steven Corbett on the 23rd January

    Ah… I like that last point- reminds me of one of my favorite verses:

    “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.”

  7. Ruth on the 23rd January

    If you’re just looking for how much time you spent on Facebook, in PowerPoint, in Outlook, etc. RescueTime is a great utility. Actually breaking it out by project would take some hands-on work and there’s certainly value in knowing that you’re currently logged as working on your presentation and shouldn’t be checking Facebook at that time (encouraging single tasking), but for general “what was I doing when” information, RescueTime is great, free and saves you the time of tracking.


    (I am not affiliated in any way with RescueTime)

  8. Andre on the 25th January

    A good tip for those who waste time on social networking sites, download Yoono!
    It is a really cool mozilla firefox addon that lets you access all your social networking sites in one place 😀

    I usually leave the Yoono tab open and I noticed I only spend about 5 minutes on it rather then the usual hour or two.

  9. Gaurav Chandra on the 25th January

    Sadly, more companies or more bosses prefer presence over productivity. If I have completed my work and there is spare time, I would get up & take a walk. This is interpreted as lack of working as I am not glued to my computer screen. If I am surfing the net and glued to the screen, bosses think I working hard. Same for staying late even if I am using company resources for my own work!

    This is the culture today and sadly it happens because the managers themselves are like that.

  10. Bryan Lewis on the 27th January

    Do we log the time we are logging too? Because that is time wasted as well.

  11. Dave on the 27th January

    Good stuff. I have real trouble keeping focused on one task. I have recently started to use a count-down timer and force myself to do one, and only one, task for 45 minutes. It’s tougher than I imagined, but by stopping task switches and avoiding those classic wastes of time it really does make a difference.

  12. Andoka on the 12th October

    Maybe I could apply it in college 🙂

  13. quicksilver on the 12th November

    Have you tried Time Doctor? Try checking out the comparison of RescueTime and Time Doctor to know which software has what you need.

  14. Mike Vardy on the 15th February

    The idea of “being there” instead of just “being” is a constant battle in many workplaces. It’s not often that upper management sees this idea in the right light.

    I’ve started using RescueTime recently; I’m curious to see how it measures up. Or maybe…how I measure up!

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting…and keep on working awesome!

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