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Is Our Productivity Obsession Counterproductive?

Don’t let the #productivityhack hype lure you in! It’s busy season and bloggers and app developers are just waiting to entice tired accountants with their claims to speed up your efficiency and change your life.

I am convinced our obsession with productivity is simply a ruse for procrastination. Every time I add a “game-changing” new productivity tool to my phone I spend a few hours getting acquainted with it and then never use it again. Why waste my precious time? Is it worth it?

Let’s take a closer look at technology from both a micro and macro perspective to see if it is actually improving productivity by increasing the rate of output per unit of input.

Micro perspective
The number of productivity tools and techniques on the web today is overwhelming. No wonder having a low information diet is so appealing. It isn’t possible to try to implement them all; however, there are a few that win my endorsement.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all: instant messenger. Why call when you can instant message? The new darling in this space is called Slack but anything with basic message functionality will suffice. I’ll admit that the primary purpose of instant messaging is to keep everyone up to date on office gossip, but occasionally it does expedite finishing a project.

Next up is file exchange. Consider Google Drive or a corporate equivalent (e.g., Microsoft SharePoint). I have experienced significant efficiency gains by using a cloud-based storage platform and prefer it over email. It is much easier to wrangle everything when it is in one, easy-to-access place.

On the flip side, productivity tech is waiting to gobble up your time on unproductive tasks. The ultimate productivity drain is an old classic. You guessed it. Email. The landslide of emails you have to deal with each and every day.

Another time suck is when companies get overzealous and adopt too many productivity tools. Managing your engagement team with one tool and billable time with another duplicative tool is downright annoying, causing you to sit back and ask, “Why me?”

The Verdict: The jury is still out. While some apps do appear to increase efficiency others make us want to pull our hair out.

Macro perspective
A quote from C. P. Snow in a 1971 New York Times article says, “Technology… brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”

Hate to be the bearer of bad news. Here’s another chance for technology to stab us in the back.

Research suggests that economic productivity is stalled out, even decreasing. Wait, what? That can’t be true… right? Apparently it is (even though some folks in Silicon Valley blame the measurement methods.)

Robert Solow first discovered a disconnect between technology and productivity in 1987. He said, as quoted in Wired, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” The Economist also refers to the Solow paradox indicating that there is a “failure of new technology to boost productivity (apart from a brief period between 1996 and 2004).”

Let’s just hope is we are still in the learning curve phase and that economic productivity will start shooting up again as we continue to embrace and better utilize technology.

The Verdict: Our obsession with tech might be misguided if immediate productivity growth is the number one goal. Studies indicate rapid technological advancement does not equal instantaneous productivity growth… at least not yet.

It’s your turn to chime in. What productivity tech has helped you be more efficient? Is our society's fanatic approach to productivity actually hurting us? Share your thoughts.

Related articles:
Productivity Means Accepting The Fact Reinforcements Are NOT Coming
Now That Busy Season Is Long Over, Are You Still Killing Yourself for the Sake of Productivity?