In the following post, D’Amore-McKim School of Business Assistant Professor Martin Dias discusses the ways human-augmented technology can impact our personal and professional productivity and offers solutions to its pitfalls.
Internet-connected devices definitely provide the opportunity to improve personal and professional productivity in terms of reducing search costs, increasing bargaining power, and increasing your ability to collaborate without having to co-locate. That said, it is important to be mindful of potential pitfalls to avoid.
You can think of using Internet-connected devices as a trilemma of double-edged swords:
1) Transition costs: These devices reduce the costs of physically transitioning from one location to another (working virtually) and raise your confidence that, because your device is cloud-connected, you are not losing what you were working on somewhere else. That reduction in transition cost reduces the load on your mind. On the flip side, we are often fooled into thinking we can multi-task (our brains are not really designed for multi-tasking), so by transitioning rapidly from one task to another you risk paying high mental switching costs… producing the twin pains of reducing productivity and reducing work quality.
Example: Toggling between typing an email to your client and texting a response to your friend. You are not multi-tasking; you are toggling, possibly quite rapidly, but toggling just the same. In addition, there is ramp up and ramp down time your brain needs to transition. When you think to yourself, “Okay, wait, what was I saying?” This is part of the switching cost you will pay. If you also mistakenly include something in the email that was meant for the text, then go ahead and polish up that resume for a different type of transition.
2) Time compression: These devices reduce search and coordination costs, and therefore on the surface would appear to be “time saving” devices, but in reality we need to think of them as “time-compressing” devices that have benefits and risks. Benefit-wise, you save time and money when attempting to communicate and coordinate joint activities. Risk-wise, you compromise your ability to balance savoring the moment and planning for the future. When time feels compressed we tend to shift into fight-or-flight modes of thinking and increase our sense of desperation.
Example: Palm Pilots became available in 1996 (a little perspective, this was just after AOL.com, Amazon.com, Pizza Hut Online all launched, but well before Google, Facebook, and Twitter). They were touted as “time saving” devices designed to help us do more work, which was great right up until the moment each of us who had one started stressing out to do more work.
3) Transparency: Based upon the personalization of devices and hyper-connectivity of devices, life is more of an “open book.” The good news is that transparency about goods, services, and service providers means you are, in many ways, much more informed about pricing and reliability. As a consumer, you do not have to let your feet or your fingers do the walking to the same degree any longer. The bad news from a productivity standpoint is that since we are social creatures we often have to fight the FOMO (fear of missing out) compulsion.
Example: When you go online to start the home-buying process (which was not possible a generation ago) you have the opportunity to see all sorts of facts about the property beyond the asking price – taxes, local school performance, how long the house has been on the market. You quickly become more informed as a consumer. That’s good news, right. Flip side, the typical person could also become more obsessed as a consumer, especially when they see how many other “views” the property has had and that there is an open house coming up.
What to do?
If you web search “avoiding technology addiction” lots of advice will be provided to you. In terms of also improving productivity, here are three things I have found helpful:
1) Time-boxing: Strategically set times for productive and creative work when you have mental energy (use your time compression device to set up calendar entries). In the office scheduling solo concentration time could be particularly important because times you’re “free until” indicator is often available to co-workers.
2) Time-outs: Yes, “disconnect” has been encouraged many times before, but we really have GOT to get better at taking time away from connected devices (or anything with a screen for that matter). I am saying this as a person who makes a living off researching and teaching IT use. Take time out to NOT use technology, especially as bedtime approaches.
3) Tell someone: Since communication costs have decreased, share your weekly goals with someone you trust who is also trying to increase their productively; thus achieving the human capital trifecta of improving productivity, enhancing planning skills, and building relationships. Web search “accountability partner apps” and a lot of options will be presented to you.