Technology: a Productivity Blessing or Curse?

 

Anyone who works in the business world knows that technology can be both a blessing and a curse. At its best, it allows us to do more in less time. At its worst, itís a frustrating, productivity draining distraction.

As we rely more and more on our various gizmos and gadgets, productivity can become a tricky thing. Itís like the prescription drugs they advertise on TVósure the stuff works as advertisedóbut just listen to all those side effects!

Read on for a few technological side effects that might be creeping into your work or home life:

May cause drowsiness. The best and worst thing about technology is improved access to information and the ability to work from virtually anywhere. For you this might mean traveling with your laptop, never being without your Blackberry, or sneaking off in the evenings to check your office e-mail.

Weíve never been more connected. While this gives us more flexibility than ever before, it also means that work is a whole lot more likely to put its nose where it doesnít belong: smack dab in the middle of personal or family time.

Despite a common misconception to the contrary, this is NOT what the road to success looks like. More likely, itís the road to burnout.

If you never really turn work off, then youíll never let your mind reenergize. Our bodies and brains need down time. Remember that bringing work home and being plugged in after hours should be the exception, not the rule. Is it really required that youíre accessible at all hours, or are you doing that to yourself? Exercise a little discipline and control it, rather than letting it control you. Canít do it? Youíre addicted.

Can interfere with everyday activities. Just as technology can interfere with personal time, it can also wreck havoc with your productivity during normal working hours.

Yes, you can set your e-mail up to tell you the very moment a new message arrives. No, that doesnít mean you should drop everything to deal with every e-mail as it comes in.

Think about it. How many e-mails do you get in a single day? If youíre constantly checking your e-mail, you are constantly interrupting otherwise productive activities to deal with something that 99 times out of 100 is just not that urgent. Even if it only takes you a second to read a message, youíre still derailing your train of thought and wasting several minutes to get back on track.

Turn off your global alerts (under your Tools, Options, Email options, Advanced email options) and turn ON a Rule to play a sound when you receive an email from an ďimportantĒ person (under Tools, Rules and Alerts).

Particularly when you need to spend focused time on a critical project, donít be afraid to close your e-mail software all together, forward the phone to voicemail, and set your IM to ďDo not disturb.Ē

Youíll be amazed at how much you can get done when you say ďnoĒ to all the little technological distractions that compete for your attention.

Call your doctor immediately if you develop anti-social tendencies. Sometimes it feels like the more technology brings us together, the more it pushes us apart. E-mail, voicemail, and instant messaging are all great communication tools, but they will never take the place of good old-fashioned personal contact.

Just because itís easier to pick up the phone or fire off a quick e-mail, doesnít always mean itís the appropriate way to communicate. If youíre dealing with a particularly sensitive or personal issue, take the time to walk down the hall and see someone face-to-face (when itís possible). These days the novelty of actually speaking in person can go a long way towards getting things done and building productive relationships.

Do not drive or operate heavy machinery. There is a time and a place for multi-tasking, but behind the wheel isnít it. If you know you wonít be able to resist checking that e-mail on your phone the moment it beeps, shut the thing off until you get where youíre going.

Many salespeople have guiltily admitted to me that they drive with their knees or elbows and respond to emails on their Blackberries WHILE DRIVING down the Interstate. Please, please, donít do it! Thatís an accident waiting to happen, and the lives you endanger arenít just your own.

So whereís the fine line between making the most of technology and being consumed by it? At the end of the day, you really have to do two things to help your team make the most of technology:

Make decisions about technology. Iím talking about deciding to what degree you want to embrace technology. Unless you are in a highly technical or specialized industry, chances are that you donít always need to have the latest and greatest of everything.

As managers, we need to decide the happy medium between staying ahead of the technological curve and being left in the dust. Most employees donít need it all, but they do need the tools to do their jobs without getting bogged down.

If your people are constantly wasting time with dial-up modems or dinosaur computers, itís time to invest in technology that wonít hold them back.

And once you DO have the technology, learn how to use it! Youíd be amazed at how many features a program like Outlook has that most people will never touch in their working lives. Iíd estimate most people know how to use 10-20% of its capabilities. Invest in your team. Learn how to get the most benefit from the tools you use every day.

Manage expectations. Once your team has the tools it needs to get the job done, it is important to set expectations around how those tools will be used. What is a reasonable time frame to expect a reply to an e-mail? How often should we be checking our voicemails? Should we be reachable by cell phone at all hours of the day and night?

It doesnít matter so much what the answers are (though in general, less is more). What does matter is that you and your team ask these questions and come up with clear, unequivocal expectations.

That way, once you have the tools to be productive, you can also be sure that youíre using them in a way that makes sense for your organization.
 

Make it a productive day! (TM)

(C) Copyright 2008 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.