As I sit at my desk, immediately in front of me I have 3 digital screens running. I am writing this on my laptop, researching on my tablet and answering messages and taking calls on my smartphone. And I’m not alone: according to a report by Forrester, over 52% of workers in IT, Digital & Marketing use 3 or more devices at any one time during working hours.
There’s no doubt technology is meshed into every aspect of our lives – whether at work or play. And most business apps promise more, faster, better. So why is it that in articles and blogs there seems to be an established norm that we’re working more and more?
Yet much to my surprise, a recent article published in the Economist shows data from OECD countries that shows the reverse is true. You can see from the graph below:
The big difference between the workplace in 1990 and 2012 – apart from the reduction in suits – is the role of technology. So perhaps tech really is the facilitator of a more efficient workplace?
But maybe it is simultaneously making us feel overwhelmed and under pressure.
Technology is a fantastic enabler – but is too much tech impacting our performance during the hours that we are working? Should we be turning it off?
Even just asking this question may seem counter intuitive for a company like ours – one that is immersed in tech. Yet being more productive at work is critical for all of us, whatever business we are in.
Leaving work at work
Perhaps the biggest change in the last 20 years is the blurring of the lines between ‘work’ and ‘home’. I’m sure we all can admit to taking work home with us, cheekily checking emails as you’re eating your dinner.
According to the management consulting firm Accenture, 50% of people admit to checking their work emails outside of working hours.
They conducted an online survey of 4,100 business executives from medium to large organisations across 33 countries, in order to gain insight on behaviors and attitudes towards people’s careers.
One series of results stated: “78 percent of respondents agreed that technology enables them to be more flexible with their schedules.” However: “70 percent of respondents also agreed that technology brings work into their personal lives.”
Clearly we are more connected to ‘work’, even if we’re not doing what could be classed as ‘working’ for longer hours.
Does this mean increased productivity? In Google’s Dublin office they have instituted a policy called “Google Goes Dark.” All of the employees had to leave their work devices at work and switch them off. A clear effort to divide the boundary that exists between home and work.
A recent media kerfuffle involved a misleading news report that the French government had banned workers from checking email after 6pm. Even though this was a red herring, it raises the issues of work / home delineation – one that I think is important to maintain, for your mental health and overall productivity.
Personally I never check work emails at evenings or weekends, and often put my phone on flight mode after 9pm.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone that has carried out experiments like this? Any thoughts on the effectiveness?
The interruption effect
81% of people admit to interrupting a conversation, a mealtime or a playtime to check their social media, text messages or an email.
There are a range of issues with the amount of pings and alerts we get from our smartphones and devices. Firstly – it’s an interruption that you can’t control. Trying to think deeply while receiving tweets is a quick way to failure.
Writing, coding, planning is all pretty ineffective when you’re thought process is constantly broken. Multi-tasking on things is very ineffective – yet makes you feel like you are busy (and therefore satisfied): as this article explains in detail.
I’ve been very influenced by a book called The Power Of Less, which advocates that you should focus on less to achieve more. One of the big themes of this book is trying to ringfence dedicated time to focus on a task, and helping that by checking email only once or twice a day. The author – also Leo Batuta writes a very successful blog called Zen Habits.
I can attest to the power of keeping your focus focused. This means not checking your emails, and favoured social channels, in real time. Turn them off! It’s amazing how productive you can be with some uninterrupted time.
Yet over and above your personal focus, there is the other question of etiquette: should we be checking our devices at all when in a meeting or work lunch? It can come across as disrespectful if you’re engaging with your phone more than your lunch companion…
There is a now-infamous game – The Phone Game – which I may suggest as a policy for Techdept meetings. The game was designed for people out for dinner with friends. You stack all your phones on the table, and the first one to pick theirs up pays for dinner!
This may sound frivolous, but it makes a serious point – when with people (for work or play) you should be focused on the present, on the moment between people. Great ideas come from collaboration between individuals, and if focus is continually lost, you lose the impact of that group interaction.
The challenge is that social media is such an integrated aspect of our lives that the inevitable proximity of our smartphones means that the temptation to answer any ring, ping or ding means some serious self discipline.
Switching yourself off
According to researchers at the University of California, we are consuming about three times the amount of information today that we did in 1960 – mostly from devices held in front of our faces, emitting light from their screens.
Yet research conducted at the Lighting Research Centre in New York found that the blue element of light emitted by screens could be “linked to increased risk of sleep disorders because these devices emit optical radiation at short wavelengths, close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression.”
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain in response to the dark, and helps us to regulate the internal clock, to get ready for sleep. Exposure to the light from the screens may reduce the production of this hormone thus making it more difficult to sleep.
One in three British workers suffers from poor sleep, research shows, with stress, computers and taking work home blamed for the lack of quality slumber.
“If you regularly get less than 7 hours of sleep, you’re not at your best,” says Thomas Balkin, PhD, director of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “The less sleep you get, the worse you do.”
Is the answer to a tech problem…more tech?
To help combat the “blue light” problem, F.lux, is a program that automatically adjusts the hues on computer screens. As the company puts it, “f.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.”
OK – if this helps I need to try it so I’ve downloaded the program and it’s running now. Has it made any difference? I admit to noticing the screen automatically adjust to the light in the room, anything above that, time will tell…
The other option is to go analogue and invest in a pair of these.
The Uvex S1933X Skyper safety eyewear SCT-Orange UV Lens is available at Amazon for only £9. They block the blue light emitted by screens irrespective of its source so may be an interesting experiment in reducing light problems from your devices.
But to be honest, do you want to lay in bed reading your iPad wearing a pair of Ali G glasses? No I don’t either. I’d prefer to turn off the device and talk to my missus instead.
When you’re at work – work
Technology is so integrated into our lives that we have to find ways for it to enable, not interrupt, our days – whether writing a report, or talking to friends over a coffee.
Remember you have the ultimate power to control your working day – the off switch!
It’s time to rebalance our relationship with our devices, social networks and messaging apps, they should be working for us – not us working for them!
But what do you think? How do you keep on top of your work day, stay productive, and keep up your Klout score?!
Let me know in the comments below
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