Are “Digital Distractions” Limiting Our Productivity?
A story on the CBS evening news caught my ear as I was making dinner one night. It was about an architectural firm where the partners felt that texting, email and the internet were sabotaging their employees’ creative thinking. Apparently, an emerging concern in a lot of companies today is that employees are not getting their work done because they’re getting interrupted so much.
Author Nicholas Carr supports this theory in his book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” He believes that if you can temper the compulsive checking of messages and shifting of focus, you can unlock deeper sources of concentrated thinking.
Interestingly, this company decided to try an experiment. They restricted their employees’ use of email to checking first thing in the morning, at lunch and right before they left for the evening. Additionally, they did not allow internet browsing at all. Multitasking was not allowed. They were simply to concentrate on their work. As you can probably imagine, the employees were horrified. They could not conceive of how they would survive.
Somehow, they did. Nine months later, CBS checked in with the firm to see how things turned out. The experiment worked. The employees found themselves able to to put more thought into individual tasks if they were not constantly shifting from one task to another. They went from distracted multitaskers to focused and productive MONOTASKERS!
Now, I wonder what kind of impact this experiment would have on our employees? Initially, it seems kind of ridiculous, as we are a company that PROVIDES digital solutions. We use the internet not only for research, but to keep up with the latest industry news, and to get ideas and inspiration. We work across cities with each other and our clients, so email, texting and instant messaging are essential to stay connected and to be responsive. I can’t imagine being in my project manager role without the freedom to multitask.
However, when I step into my creative content role, I always seem to do my best work at those times of the day when I am not being interrupted by emails, or meetings, or having to manage details and put out fires for multiple, simultaneous projects.
And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE GoTo meeting, but when collaborating with my co-workers is required (which is quite frequent in the world of digital development), there’s nothing that can replace the level of communication and productivity that you achieve when you’re sitting across the table from someone hashing through ideas vs. trying to explain your ideas through the spiderphone without the assistance of hand gestures or a whiteboard.
So what’s the secret to better productivity? I don’t believe limiting our digital distractions will increase productivity in our company. I think it would actually inhibit our work. However, I DO believe that making more time for MONOTASKING is essential to the continued generation of brilliant ideas in a world where the pace of digital growth and development isn’t likely to slow down. Calling all multitaskers with a specialty in monotasking! We need you!