technology making us less productive

Why technology is making us less productive

Is always being on affecting productivity?

I got my first job in communications back in 2001. I worked hard, no doubt moaned about my long hours, but once I left work, that was it. I couldn’t physically do any more work.

I couldn’t answer emails because I didn’t have WiFi at home and regardless, there wasn’t the technology to log in remotely. Our mobile phones only made phone calls and sent texts (no camera phones). The height of their ability was to download a polyphonic ringtone.

If I needed to remind myself to do something, I would ring my work voicemail and leave myself a message. I (probably) received about 20 emails a day. It was generally understood if it was outside office hours, you wouldn’t get a response until the following day at best. Our expectations were much lower back then.

I ripped out pages from a printed A-Z if I went to a party and didn’t want to take a bag. As a result, there were a few areas in London that were a bit sparce… I would ring a friend for directions if I got stuck. It was pretty commonplace for at least one person to be stood outside a noisy bar navigating a friend in.

People started to mention the idea of buying clothes online. I scoffed at the idea saying how that would never work – of course, only thinking about my 20-something self and not how life changing it would be for people who are unable to leave the house or dedicate a day to trailing round the shops. Millennials, please note: it’s not just your generation that can be accused of lacking in self awareness..

The impact of technology

Fast forward over 15 years and technology has changed our lives.

We buy our groceries from our phone. It’s almost impossible to get lost as GPS can determine our exact location and the maps on our phones help us navigate to where we need to be. The postal system, which we all thought was going to die with email, has benefitted from online shopping and all the Amazon and Asos parcels sent to our offices and homes.

We access news and culture regardless of location as long as we can get online. We can watch the latest films and even see theatre productions all without leaving our living rooms.

Social media – initially designed to help us keep in touch with friends and family – is now a viable career option with people ‘selling’ us lifestyles and promoting products. The term ‘influencer’ has become common parlance and changed the nature of advertising.

We run businesses from our phones; processing orders and promoting products and services. We email customers, clients, reach out to potential employers all through Apps and 4G connections.

Yet has technology made us any more productive?

Great power involves great responsibility.

Franklin D Roosevelt

In the name of transparency, I should say I started writing this blog on the London Underground, typing away on my phone, whilst travelling to meet friends. I no longer work a 9-5 but have a flexible working arrangement so I can spend one day a week with my toddler. Technology on so many levels has massively changed my life.

However, I also feel the pull to dedicate more time to social media. Am I out there enough? Could I be doing more? As a blogger, I find it hard to balance my enjoyment of the writing process without evaluating myself by traffic levels.  

How are we monitoring our usage of technology?

A study by the University of West England found that over half of commuters used their travelling time to catch up on work emails. Better connectivity has enabled people to work from the train. For people with long commutes, this must add a considerable amount of time to their working day – and one that they’re not necessarily paid for.

I have a friend who works in Silicon Valley. He gets on a company bus to his office, logs on and starts work. His commute is classified as working time and as a result he spends less time in the office. He has a better work/life balance and isn’t resentful about his commute. Technology is there to make life easier (not harder).

I’ve felt for a long time we measure the wrong metrics in workplaces. We like to see early starters and late finishers and classify them as hard workers, but we forget what really counts is the work that takes place during the day.

Research shows that working over 50 hours a week has a negative impact on our productivity. After 50 hours, our productivity falls and after 55 hours, we are not productive at all. There is absolutely no benefit to our employer in us working – they are not gaining anything other than potential health issues to manage. It has also been shown, overworking is damaging our physical and mental health, as well as impacting on our relationships. It’s a lose-lose situation.

It’s not just the employed that suffer with lack of boundaries. For those who are self-employed and particularly people who work from home, it must be even harder to create a work/life balance. There has been a quote circulating on Instagram creating by New York based artist, Adam JK mocking the ‘do what you love and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life’ idea highlighting how hard it is to switch off.

Quote about running a small business
Courtesy of @AdamJK – Instagram

A more mindful approach to technology

Now, the purpose of this blog post isn’t to start an uprising at our desks or encourage you to throw your phone out of the window, but to reflect on how we we are using technology. Are we using it mindfully?

Tools to help cut down on screen time

Here are a few tricks and tips I use to keep an eye on my phone usage.

  • I monitor my iPhone screen time. If you go into settings > screen time, you get a weekly report on how much you are using your iphone. I aim to reduce this amount week on week.
  • Think about taking off your work emails from your phone or having two phones. There is also a way you can switch off your email in settings. If this isn’t possible, make sure you don’t have notifications switched on. Start putting boundaries around its usage (ie, no work emails at weekends).
  • Be aware of how sending emails outside of work times can affect other people. Are you sending a message that this is how you expect other people to work? Is it impacting on time you spend with family and friends?
  • Become comfortable with your own thoughts and not needing to entertain yourself 24/7. I genuinely think being bored can be good for you.
  • Keep your phone in your bag or away from you to stop temptation. I have a terrible habit of googling to see why I recognise an actor and losing the plot of a TV show because I’ve fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I now make sure I fully concentrate on what I’m watching  – looking at my phone just ruins my enjoyment.
  • Watch out for feelings of inadequacy. It’s so easy to compare your real life with someone’s curated Instagram life and it’s not healthy because it’s not real. It’s something that creeps up on me from time to time and that’s when I know, it’s time to take a break from the ‘gram.  
  • I try to implement Switch off Sunday I also am much more aware of how much I’m using my phone around my child. I tend to put the radio on or listen to a podcast so I can dedicate time to him but also have a little bit of a distraction for myself.

Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential for wisdom.


Arianna Huffington

I often have my best ideas when I’m not really doing anything. My brain feels less cluttered and I have space to think. Taking a break from technology is not about working less, it’s about working better.

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