Driven to Distraction – A Look at How Tech Tools Can Impair Productivity

The great irony of the modern workplace is that often the very tools we employ to keep us productive are simultaneously impeding our productivity by demanding our time and attention when we are trying to focus on getting things done. Our natural desire to stay in the loop (or procrastinate) by incessantly checking messages and emails sidetracks us from completing work in an efficient and prioritized manner. Obviously, technology is wonderful and is here to stay, but our relationship with it definitely needs work. In today’s blog, we’ll take a look at how messaging apps and emails might be zapping your can-do spirit, as well as a few steps you can take to bring peace and order back to your project pile.

Project Management/Messaging Apps

There are a lot of great benefits to using work-messaging apps like Slack and project management tools like Asana, but as calculated in a recent post by office management gurus Managed By Q there is a serious and costly downside to these tech tools as well. Michael Muse, the Sr. Director of Product Operations at Managed By Q says, “We pay the cost in diffuse little increments as we get pulled into conversations throughout the day. By cost, I don’t mean what’s on our invoice. I mean whatever didn’t happen, after you saw a notification ‘just asking for a quick look at [insert thing you are not currently working on]’.”

Muse calculated the number of messages people at his office receive annually through Slack to be around 366,000; of which 28 percent are public, seven percent are private, and a whopping 65 percent are direct messages (DMs). The problem with DMs is the false sense of urgency they create because the sender knows you have seen the notification, and you are the only one who can respond. “Ever interrupted an in-person conversation because you noticed something in a Slack channel? Me neither. But you better believe I’ve cut off a verbal conversation midstream to answer a DM,” says Muse.

He estimated that the average person at his company loses 72 minutes of productivity each day just in stopping what they are doing, reading a new message, and then going back to their task at hand and trying to refocus on it. Research performed by the American Psychological Association (APA) supports his findings and reveals that switching from one thing to another reduces the brain’s ability to drive productivity by 40 percent. Yikes.

Restoring Balance to Messaging Apps

If Muse’s findings sound like a typical day/year at your workplace, there are several things you can do to regain lost productivity.

  1. Encourage employees to plan for productivity by scheduling daily focus time, and hitting snooze on messaging notifications. Sarah Lang, a blogger and Slack user at TicketLeap says, “Even when you’re not on snooze, getting notified about everything at all times is intense. You can set channel notifications by going into each channel. Turning off desktop notifications for high volume channels will dramatically improve your life.”
  2. It may seem a bit captain obvious to say, but messaging apps are designed for brief messages, not discussions, long conversations, or in-depth collaborations. If you see a string of messages headed in that direction, encourage everyone to save the discussion for the weekly stand-up, or if it’s urgent, schedule an impromptu video chat at your nearest huddle space.

Welcome Back, Email – Sort Of!

In the beginning, messaging apps were designed to solve the productivity problems of email and ultimately replace it. However, in an ironic twist of fate caused by channel overload, many people are returning to email. As Cabel Sasser the Co-Founder of Panic, Inc. recently tweeted, “Slack is amazing it totally replaced my e-mail inbox!!!! *secretly now has 95 separate inboxes.*” Although it may be tempting to abandon messaging apps for email, if not managed well, email can still harm productivity.

Just last year, the research firm, The Smith Institute, published a study on email that revealed, “workers spend as much as 50 percent of their average eight hour working day dealing with emails, but only about 14 percent are crucial to their work.” According to an infographic produced by Atlassian, a company that designs software to help businesses be more efficient, the average employee:

  • Receives 304 business emails a week
  • Checks their email inbox 36 times per hour
  • Takes 16 minutes to refocus on work after handling an incoming email
  • Loses 10 IQ points when constantly fielding email, which is equal to an entire night’s sleep

Perhaps most disturbing is that Atlassian estimates the annual productivity costs lost to email for each employee is about $7,150.

Breaking the Cycle of Email Addiction

There are several steps you can take to regain control of your email life.

  1. Turn off notification sounds on all your devices, which act as a sort of Pavlov’s bell, stimulating curiosity and distracting you with anticipation or the instant gratification of procrastination.
  2. Schedule a time you will check and respond to email, and then follow it until it becomes a habit. For example, you could schedule 30 minutes in the morning, 30 after lunch and 30 before leaving work for the day.
  3. Organize your inbox by deleting unimportant emails and filing others into appropriate folders and subfolders. Plus, reducing clutter enables you to feel less overwhelmed and regain focus.
  4. Like messaging apps, emails are for sharing written information. If an email trail is turning into a reply-all discussion, brainstorm or collaboration session, tell everyone to hold that thought until everyone can communicate face-to-face in a video meeting.

Get More Done With Highfive

Designed to empower companies and teams to be more productive, Highfive all-in-one video conferencing devices allow people to engage in quick and productive meetings, and as the new saying goes, everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand messages or emails. Featuring HD video and audio, as well as Dolby Voice technology, Highfive makes connecting face-to-face to communicate, collaborate, share slides, and more, a fun and engaging process. Priced at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems, Highfive allows anyone using any device to connect with team members and get more done. To help your employees escape messaging and email madness, give them all a Highfive.

By Sara Moseley