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Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

    In my recent NewHabits-NewGoals time management programs I have noticed a disturbing trend: now, there is always at least 10% of the class that is unable to comply with my request to turn off their Blackberrys or iPhones for the duration of the class.

    This needs to be put in context, however.

    None of the people sitting in my classes are emergency room surgeons, firemen or policemen. I am not delivering these programs in a war zone, during a hurricane or in the middle of a tornado.

    Yet, they find it absolutely essential to be checking their email every few minutes.

    When I ask the obvious question: “Why?” the response has always been a modified version of the following explanation given to me by a banker with a company headquartered overseas, in Canada. She once failed to respond to an email from Canada within an hour or two. She then received a call from her boss telling her that her lack of responsiveness had been noticed, and that he had been asked by someone in headquarters to intervene, and do something about the “problem.”

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    That this banker was an executive seemed not to matter. She was expected to constantly monitor her email at all times. Period. After all, hadn’t she been given a Blackberry?

    Welcome to the latest technique in micromanagement.

    For aspiring micro-managers, it’s easy: simply give the employee the gift of a Blackberry. Then, send them “important” emails at odd hours (5pm is a good choice.) When you don’t get a response within minutes, make a critical comment, and mention their need to improve their time management skills. Praise them for their responsiveness as they inevitably knuckle under in time, and thank them for becoming a good “team player.”

    For the manager, it’s a case of “mission accomplished.” The employee now understands how important it is to respond to email quickly. The desired behaviour has been put in place.

    We can thank the Blackberry for taking away the last excuse that employees had for not doing exactly what their bosses want them to do, immediately.

    However, what effect does this have on overall corporate productivity?

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    I remember a company I did business with that had a policy of not installing voicemail on their employee’s phones. (This was in the days before cell phones.) In their commitment to serve their internal and external customers, they insisted that whenever the phone rang, even for executives, that it had to be answered.

    This well-intentioned policy had the unintended consequence of pressuring employees to develop the bad habit of dropping whatever they were doing to answer the phone. Back then, they had no idea who the caller was as there was no caller-id provided. A call to a wrong number took precedence over whatever the employee was doing at the moment.

    While that ancient practice would make us smile and shake our heads, the new habit of checking and re-checking email over and over is even more destructive.

    While your phone might not ring every day, the same isn’t true for email — the norm is to receive not just one but several messages per day. An employee that must respond to email quickly must therefore check their email many, many times per day, just to make sure that something more important or more urgent hasn’t just been sent.

    To get at that item, they must read virtually all their email, just in case one of them is critical.

    The manager might think they are getting a responsive employee by giving them a Blackberry, and following the steps I described above.

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    In fact, they are turning their professional into a drone who is incapable of planning their day, and isn’t trusted to decide what to work on from one moment to the next.

    If the author of “Flow” – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly – is to believed, it takes an employee 20 minutes to get back to their most productive state after they interrupt themselves for any reason, including email.

    The professional becomes an unproductive drone.

    What drives this crazy state of affairs is a fear on the part of employees, who knuckle under a regime that they freely acknowledge is destructive because they are afraid of negative repercussions. Better for them to do the stupid thing they despise over and over again, than to be the odd one out who gets called up by their manager for having poor skills.

    Many companies who adapted electronic email devices have seen productivity drop and fear rise, as these bad habits become ubiquitous. They are beginning to ask themselves — how did we get to this place?

    A few are reversing it.

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    They are putting in place smartphone policies that limit their use to certain hours, and banning their use on vacations and public holidays. They are actually training their employees how to manage themselves in a way that expands the amount of “quality time” they spend at their desk each day, by teaching them how to get into and sustain the flow state. They are actively removing the requirement to respond to email by a given time, and are using the phone as a way to communicate emergencies, which is improving the quality of delegation, requesting and promising.

    In other words, they are actively turning the tables on bad habits that have sprung up around the latest technology, and taking charge of the fear-driven culture change that has become the norm in too many companies.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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