Perpetual productivity in the age of interruption

02 Nov 2006|Added Value

An ongoing conversation at Cheskin, as within almost any company, has been one of assessing and helping to improve productivity, quality and performance. A big question is what really contributes to and hinders our ability to perform our at our best. In a company where collaboration, creative processes and innovative thinking are an essential part of our DNA, there are not always obvious answers. One thing is for certain though – technology is an essential component.

As a company where a majority of the people here are on the road somewhere in the world almost 40% of the time, technology is essential – email, IM, cell phones, PCS connection cards for wireless laptops, Blackberries, WebEx, camera phones, digital everything – you name it. None of this is unfamiliar. Yet what is the tradeoff for this level of immediacy and information?

Thomas Friedman points it out pretty clearly in his article yesterday in the NYT, The Taxi Driver. Like Friedman, I often feel cursed by connectivity in this “age of interruption.” Last night, I found myself considering taking a sick day just so I could have the ability to focus on one initiative sans interruption for a day (fortunately I came to my senses in the morning). Last week, I was able to check 5 things off my to do list within 2 hours only because I was locked in the quiet, dimly lit SF jury assembly room with nothing but my laptop and no cell service. Some of my colleagues, including myself, often feel that our most productive hours are on the weekends or after 6pm. I hope I’m not the only one who thinks something’s not right in this scenario.

Friedman remarks that he was much smarter when he could do only one thing at a time. I don’t know if I was smarter, but I certainly felt more productive and that what I produced was of a better quality. I don’t think Friedman is suggesting we abandon our tech tools (as did his friend in Jerusalem). But somehow we have to come to terms with the reality of working wired today. My guess is that the interruptions won’t diminish, but that our sense and definition of productivity will need to shift. No doubt those who have been raised in this digital multitasking environment won’t feel the same kinds of tension that I do. What can I learn from them? And what will that mean to the future of work?

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