If You're Measuring Productivity In Hours, You're Doing It Wrong

from the output,-output,-output dept

Usually we don't see these types of stories until March Madness time, but the NY Times is writing about how much productivity is "lost" due to trying to keep up with the "data stream." Apparently research firm Basex has come out with a gimmicky calculator to determine how much productivity is likely lost, and put out a silly, borderline ridiculous press release noting that Intel claims it worked with the research firm to determine that the impact on productivity because of information overload was "up to eight hours a week." Seriously? Productivity is measured not in hours, but output. If productivity were just about hours, we'd be looking for ways to get people to work more hours. But, most people recognize that there are diminishing returns to making people work too much -- and they have time off to charge their batteries.

If you're going to measure productivity this way, we could just as easily say that we're putting out a study showing that sleeping costs a company approximately eight hours a day in lost worker productivity! Something must be done! While I have no doubt that information overload can be a cost to productivity, it's not going to be measured in hours. If I "waste" 20 hours a week dealing with information overload, but I'm able to extract information that makes me three times as productive, the rest of the week, then that's a good trade-off. Do people actually pay companies for this sort of research?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Edward Heath, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 11:45am

    Information Overload

    I am involved already in my company's review of information overload. It is a serious problem as far as we are concerned and probably costs us millions of dollars a year.

    I agree that productivity is not measured in hours. However, you are overlooking what information overload is. You equate "waste" with work - and that's not the same thing. I went to the site, used the calculator, and read the report from the research firm. That's not what they are saying at all. Information overload is a serious impediment on productivity - but you need to compare apples to apples and that's why it's important to have an ongoing dialogue about the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Edward Heath, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 11:50am


    I clicked too soon.

    What I wanted to say is that, if we solve information overload, you might end up spending 3 hours instead of 20 hours searching for that important bit of info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Rick, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Follow-up

    If you're spending 20 hours searching for one bit of info, you suck at your job and should be fired.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Uday Shankar, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 12:14pm

    Milliseconds... not hours

    An associate of mine works for a large pharmaceutical distribution company that measures productivity in milliseconds.

    Pick up the slack Joe! You're 8 milliseconds behind Ivan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    mike42 (profile), Dec 24th, 2008 @ 12:30pm

    Old information

    This was a terrible bit of "research." 28 pages of padding and 2 pages to say, "context switching is bad. Don't do it." Yes, we already know multi-tasking doesn't really work. And pick up any book on software development, and one of the primary subjects is, "Don't distract your workers." Microsoft even went so far as to give each coder their own office!
    And since when is this "information overload"? Information overload is more information than you can process, and has nothing to do with distractions. This is context-switching, plain and simple. Oh, darn, is context-switching not a buzzword?

    "Ground breaking research." Yeah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Curtis Cooley, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 12:41pm

    No Definition

    What a giant press release about nothing. They don't even define what information overload really is or how it costs so much money. I ran the stupid calculator and it asks questions about company makeup not about what the people actually do.

    Sounds like a chicken little entrepreneur: The sky is falling, so pay our consultants a gazillion dollars and we'll build you a roof.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Max Worth, Dec 24th, 2008 @ 1:35pm

    Everyone here suffering from too much info?

    I'm reading the comments rolling with laughter. Curtis says there's no definition. We don't know what IO is? Mike says the report has lots of padding - I read it too and while I could probably condense it into 1/2 the number of pages, I found it very helpful.

    If you are an executive who, such as myself, suspects that info overload is indeed slowing things down, then tools such as the calculator are actually helpful. I showed the results to my manager (divisional VP), and he immediately asked what we can do to lower our exposure.

    The calculator isn't the end all and be all - I suspect if they asked too many questions, no one would even try it - but it gave us a range that lined up with figures I already had calculated. Again, useful in building a case for taking steps to fight info overload.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Ray, Dec 25th, 2008 @ 9:05am

    Robert Scobles long overdue intervention

    Finding this article a few days after Mike Arrington at TechCrunch has suggested it was time for a FriendFeed / Twitter intervention for Robert Scoble put a huge smile on my face.

    I believe it's a case of working smarter not harder. Somehow Robert Scoble sees it from a different perspective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    nasch, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 9:36am

    Re: Everyone here suffering from too much info?

    I showed the results to my manager (divisional VP), and he immediately asked what we can do to lower our exposure.

    What are you hoping that this proves? That the research is excellent? That your manager is gullible? I'm not sure where you're going with that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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