How Productivity Tools Killed My Productivity

I love gizmos. I’ve nabbed pretty much every sort of smartphone straight from the Nokias, iPhones thru Windows smartphones to my glossy new Android Phone. And I love tools too. I must have acquired each available to-do manager on the market. So with all these productivity enhancing tech and tool purchases you’d have thought I’d become more productive, right?

Well, in the sense that I can now fill my quiet time with activities, yes.

How Productivity Tools Killed My Productivity

If I’m on the train or bus, I can read my e-mails. Using my blogger app, I can browse my blog and update posts, comments anytime, anywhere. If i’m in the middle of nowhere I can still keep in contact with my Twitter mates. But the reality is that none of these activities are especially crucial for my worklife. They’re not trivial. They’re not crucial.

Essentially, the tools have made me more profitable at the mundane. They’ve allowed me admin my emails and blog and twitter, when I wouldn’t previously have been doing anything. Or would I?

If I think back at what I really used to do when I was sitting on a bus, or in a cab it turns out I wasn’t doing nothing. If I was on a train then typically I’d be reading. Learning useful stuff. Or thinking about a  project perhaps planning for next days work.

And in fact this is important stuff. Actually making the effort to think about my work or to improve my knowledge and talents. Way more significant than answering emails, tweeting or doing facebook.

The indisputable fact that I’m always online with my phone has meant that I now spend some more time reacting to events ( email, tweets, even phone calls ) than I do proactively thinking and planning. My ability to obtain access to this steady electronic stimulation has squeezed out the quiet time where I used to actually do some of my best thinking. And it is getting worse.

Being constantly online has conditioned me now to check my email when I’m a little bored to see if something interesting has come in. And usually it has. Not something critical. Possibly nowhere near as vital as the document or the idea I was supposed to be working on when I got a bit stuck. But fascinating.

And if there’s nothing fascinating on e-mail I am sure there’ll be on Twitter. Or I could always check my site statistics for the 20th time today. Lord help me, I’ve even just checked e-mail now while I was in the middle of writing this blog post.

And who knows how terrible I’d be if I had a Blackberry with that horrible red light that tells you when you get a new email. I don’t know I’d ever be able to resist checking what had come in.

Honestly, we’ve got more productive at the things that aren’t particularly critical and less productive at the thoughtful difficult work that actually is.

We’re obsessed by realtime. I had to smile lately when otherwise-sensible social media gurus lauded the new development in Tweetdeck that meant you got instant updates instead of every 30 seconds. ‘Cos being 29 seconds behind the times is going to kill you right?.

Now here’s the thing. I am not saying all of these productivity tools and technology are a bad thing. Even if they were, it’s too late the genie’s out of the bottle. But what we need to do me especially is learn to become their master, not their slave.

To use them when it really is productive not to bash otherwise productive activities because checking e-mail is simpler and more exciting. So next time you find yourself checking e-mail more than a couple of times per day or whipping out your Blackberry in a train to check Twitter, Think to yourself if this truly is the most sensible use of your time.

So what about you? Have you managed to tame your tools and use them truly productively?


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