March 30, 2010, 6:03 PM — That mini-tower by your desk, that tablet by your bedside, the netbook you use on the commuter train, the 3G smartphone that's always within reach -- they're powerful, essential tools of the office, right? They do for white-collar productivity what the assembly line did for factory productivity -- isn't that obvious?
Well, maybe. Or maybe not.
The dirty little secret of office technology is that no one can agree on how exactly to measure white-collar productivity. That means, in turn, that no one can prove definitively that PCs and other technologies contribute anything to productivity.
What the experts have figured out is how to track what office workers actually spend their time doing. The results indicate that -- contrary to any assumptions about their usefulness -- personal computers, smartphones, notebooks, netbooks and associated gadgets can be such massively beguiling, addictive time sinks that they materially damage the economy -- draining it by one-sixteenth, according to one calculation.
There was a time when "interruption" meant an unexpected phone call or visitor. Mail was delivered only once daily. Now office workers are continually barraged with e-mail, instant messages, texts, BlackBerry traffic, blog updates, news feeds, Tweets, Web sites with enticing links and calendar reminders -- and the phone still rings, people still drop by and paper mail is still delivered.
Simply dealing with the deluge gives people the illusion of productivity. But statistics indicate that might be all it is -- an illusion.
No one is advocating flipping the switch back to precomputer days. What they are saying is that the computer's potential for undermining productivity should be understood -- and countered.
Simply dealing with the deluge gives us the illusion of productivity. But statistics indicate that might be all it is -- an illusion.
There are easy ways to do that, efficiency experts say -- sometimes by turning off seemingly innocent features that serve mostly to distract us, sometimes by using overlooked features that eliminate time-wasting tasks, and sometimes by simply steeling our resolve against the siren song of endless digital distraction.
From factory floor to office door