When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

24 February 2006

Americans work more, seem to accomplish less

Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research.

Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers Inc., an East Texas, Pennsylvania-based maker of organizational products.

The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.

“Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it’s slowed everything down, paradoxically,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Americans work more, seem to accomplish less - Yahoo! News

Okay, time for a little rant on productivity.

The researchers cited in the article above have observed a couple of dynamics at work. First, technology raises the bar: it makes it possible for you to do more, so you’re expected to do more. Second, it enables multitasking, perhaps to an unhealthy degree: you’re constantly taking little bites out of all the tasks before you, but are you ever really finishing anything?

I would add a third observation: the technology that we use to do our jobs is often much more complicated than it needs to be, and we spend an inordinate amount of unproductive time trying to make the damned stuff behave. The cluttered interfaces and bloated feature lists of much modern PC software do *not* make positive contributions to usability and productivity.

I’ve had a lot of different job titles, but for the most part I write for a living. Several years ago I switched from a bloated, cluttered word processor (Microsoft Word) to a full-featured but much cleaner text editor (TextPad) as my primary composition tool. Only after I’ve written the basic copy and am ready to apply styles and formatting do I cut and paste into Word or OpenOffice (if I’m producing printed matter or a PDF) or Nvu (if I’m publishing to the Web)

Should you really need a day of training and a third-party manual the thickness of a small city’s phone book to get productive with a project management tool like Microsoft Project?

Does Microsoft Outlook really need to have an interface like a 747 flight simulator just so you can send and receive e-mails, make little notes to yourself, and keep an address book and to-do list?

(I’m not picking on Microsoft, honestly–but when you dominate a market like they do, you make yourself a fat target.)

Try one of 37Signals’ products (Basecamp or Backpack - ultraclean, usable project management and personal information management software, respectively) and then tell me you’d willingly go back to Project and Outlook.

(Also posted at Knowledge Work.)

1 comment:

Solveig said...

I love this post. ;> For several reasons.

I have a fortune cookie fortune taped to my monitor, "Do not mistake temptation for opportunity." I.e. just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. More isn't better unless it's the right more.

As a writer, you know that it's harder to write a small good manual than a big manual. I'm currently writing a smaller version of my OpenOffice.org book and I'm spending a lot of time up front just deciding what goes in. That's why the phone-book-sized manuals come out--it's easier. And as a result people have trouble finding the most-used features in the software. (Of course, another reason for big manuals is problems with the software, which are "fixed" by documenting the workarounds.)

You're absolutely right that more features aren't better. I like the approach of Photoshop Elements--$100 version of Photoshop, for Regular People. Brilliant. I don't see a lot of other software producers doing that, but it's excellent for productivity and the wallet.

Many people going to OpenOffice.org ask about an Outlook scheduling equivalent--thanks for the tips, I'll check out BaseCamp and BackPack.