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  D.F.'s Column Archive
March 1, 2006
Work Tools? No, Silly, They're to Help You Relax

Reuters reports this week that American workers believe they work more than they used to – but get less done. I saw the story on the Internet while I was at work.


Modern technology, or so goes the lament, is distracting us too often. Every day the average person receives 46 e-mails – many unsolicited! That reminds me of this one that went around about funny slipups in pastors’ sermons . . . oh, sorry. Got distracted for a second there.


Perhaps the most interesting lament in the story is this one: "It just increases the expectations that people have for your production," said Ronald Downey, professor of psychology who specializes in industrial organization at Kansas State University.


Oh. I’m sorry. This is entirely my fault. See, I spent thousands of dollars on computers, e-mail accounts and cell phones for my employees, and I was thinking to myself, “Now they will get more done.”


That wasn’t supposed to be the idea? My bad. If I had realized I was supposed to be making an investment in their greater at-work leisure, I would have also bought some of those poofy beanbag chairs, a popcorn maker and HBO.


The study was conducted by Day-Timers Inc., the Pennsylvania-based company that makes those little appointment books no one uses anymore because they can just keep their schedules on those distracting computers.


Ah yes, wasn’t life easier when they passed around those goldenrod envelopes with the little tie thing that wrapped around the little round thing – and you had to sign your name to the routing log before passing on the enclosed memo to engineering? That was a lot easier. And when you needed to get in your car or hire a courier to deliver a simple piece of paper to a client because the client happened to need it that day – you weren’t distracted then! That drive was work!


Just about any tool of your trade has the potential to be distracting, even as it holds out the promise of making your job easier.


If you use e-mail to distribute information to 100 people in seconds when it used to take days, good. If you use it to spend two hours discussing the prospect of a Darko Milicic trade with your buddy in California, not so good.


Not as many of us have those inbox/outbox racks sitting on our desks anymore, because we don’t use as many paper memoranda anymore. But they made cool toy parking garages when we did. And the memos themselves were excellent for paper airplanes or paper footballs.


Ah, the days.


But as technology has advanced, the nature of the distractions has evolved. When fax paper – remember, the stuff on the rolls? – became completely useless, a few of us discovered that it rolled up very nicely into the best in-office baseballs, and all you needed was a tube-style shipping container and you were ready for nine innings. Was it challenging to get the boss to let us play ball in the office? Not if we let him pitch.


If people who have been given better tools with which to do their jobs now see this as a negative, because it means they are actually expected to produce more, they might consider the alternative of making their livings sitting on benches in parks. No one will expect them to produce anything, and I am sure they will not disappoint anyone.


The Day-Timer study, and others quoted about it, complains that people are stressed out. An outplacement consultant, delightfully named John Challenger, says people are too challenged.


"There's a sense that no matter how much I do, it's never enough," he said.


Yeah, well, that’s why you have to come back tomorrow, John. There’s always more to do. You have better tools now than in the past. Whether you use them for productivity or porn is entirely up to you, but if you don’t think better tools should be accompanied by higher expectations, then I guess you might as well just relax, because that’s what productivity tools are apparently for.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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