Are we more productive or just busier?

    As employees I agree with the assertion that we're much more distracted than we've ever been. It's also true that in many industries work has slowly crept into home life (something that's always true at a startup).

    But does that necessarily mean we're less productive with our time than 20 years ago? I'm not so sure. Businesses are generating ever  higher and higher revenues and profits with smaller staffs. Something tells me if you look at the staff of any major magazine (the example given in Melanie's article) you'll find that yes, they certainly are working longer hours to put out a comparable product. But you'll also find that competition has forced that product to be better, and the staff to produce it smaller.

    It's definitely a cycle that can only go on so long. You can see more and more people (especially in Gen Y) pushing back somewhat as they look to create lives and join organizations where profit isn't the only motive. But from my seat here in New York, America's market-driven economy is still going to rule.

    Maintaining the Work-Life Balance

    Lately, I've noticed a lot of articles and Internet discussion about one serious downside to working at home: as the lines between work and family blur, it can be difficult to ensure that the time we spend with our kids and partners is "quality" time, and not constantly interrupted by technology (email, PCs, Blackberries, etc.).

    But what about those of us who are juggling work and family outside of normal business hours? You don't have to officially work from home to work from home—everyone I know in a knowledge-based industry takes their work home with them, whether it's on a mobile device or a PC. From 5pm-10pm I routinely check email and work on projects in between family-related activities, including making and eating dinner, helping with homework, reading bedtime stories, tidying the house, paying bills, and, if I'm really lucky, catching up on Lost. I'm guessing you do, too.

    Unified communications is supposed to make us more productive. But does it? Frankly, I'm not sure. Twenty years ago, I worked as the entertainment editor for a major consumer magazine. We did page layouts on paper; it was quite literally impossible to work outside the office, and we didn't. But we also rarely stayed past 5:30pm, and few of us arrived before 9:30am. Today, magazines are laid out on computers, and thanks to technology, writers and editors can do their jobs from anywhere. But my friends in the industry routinely work late nights and on many weekends. And yet, funny thing—they’re still putting out a magazine that looks and feels a lot like the ones I worked on.

    If you ask me, the biggest difference between then and now is the level of distraction in the workplace. Twenty years ago, it was pretty easy to focus on work while at work; with the exception of the occasional cubicle visit or birthday celebration, there wasn't all that much else to do. (It's not like you could sit there and read the paper without everyone knowing.) Today...well, we all know what it's like today. When was the last time you had eight full, uninterrupted hours to focus on anything?

    Of course, there's also the pull of 24/7 availability, which allows us to answer emails and IMs at all hours of the day and night. The truth is, for most of us, those messages could wait for a response. But we've all gotten habituated to immediate feedback, a kind of instant call-and-response.

    The only fix, it seems, is to retrain ourselves and our colleagues: During business hours, work hard to stay focused on your business. Use presence information to signal unavailability; turn off your wireless router and decouple yourself from the Internet; decline meetings unless they are critical to the job you need to get done. Then, after hours, hide your iPhone in a locked closet, and give your kids the key.

    And as for whether we're robbing our children of precious parental attention? I'll take some comfort in this comment on the Times blog, from a poster named Gatreell: "My Mom was a stay at home Mom til I was in high school. That didn't mean I had her undivided attention. I was supposed to go out and play, or read, or somehow entertain myself, and if I had an emergency, she was there. She cooked and cleaned and gardened and visited with friends and ran errands."

    What do you think: Does UC make us more productive--or just more busy?

    Posted by Melanie Turek, Frost and Sullivan | Apr 21, 2010 via No Jitter | blog.