All Work, No Play Makes Jack a Less Productive Boy

Ann All

I am fascinated by research that attempts to prove just how productive people are on the job. I think it's notoriously difficult to attach numbers to this. Most studies focus on how much time people spend in employment-related activities at the office, vs. activities that don't have anything to do with work. Yet super achievers can cram as much work into a couple of hours as their more average counterparts spread out over an entire day. Also, I suspect it's more than a bit naive to expect people to respond honestly when asked how much time they spend on personal stuff while at work. As in other behavior surveys, I think most people probably hedge their bets and submit answers they think fall within the "acceptable" norm.


A few months ago, I wrote about the large percentage of folks who said they watched YouTube videos from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays when (presumably) quite a few of them might be at work. My take: Such diversions are OK, within reason. Now it turns out it may even be a recommended practice.


Of course, that's if you buy into the University of Melbourne study that found people who used the Internet for personal purposes at work were 9 percent more productive than those who did not. In the fairly small survey (300 workers), 70 percent of them admitted to indulging in what researcher Brent Coker terms WILB (workplace Internet leisure browsing).


The productivity boost occurred in those who spent less than 20 percent of their office time on non-work Internet use. "Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without," said Coker. (As if we needed a study to tell us that.)


I've yet to find a news item about the study that specifies exactly how the researchers arrived at the 9 percent figure, which makes me more than a bit skeptical about it. Still, I agree with Coker's contention that taking a brief break can help folks regain their concentration when it lags. (Like most writers, I indulge in a fair amount of this to to overcome the dreaded block.) Facebook certainly seems like a healthier alternative than ducking out for a smoke.


As I noted in a post from last spring, there's even a fancy-sounding prescription for achieving the elusive right balance between "attentional" and "attention-shielding" technologies. And hooray, IT can definitely help.

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