Every year, we see the release of dozens to hundreds of new technologies and tools designed to make us more productive. They’re meant to make our businesses run more efficiently, save us time on tasks we don’t want to do ourselves, and ultimately help us get more done every day. But is technology really making you more productive?
Undoubtedly, you’ve encountered at least a few technologies that have helped you become a more productive worker.
For example, you might be much more consistent with your digital calendar than you ever were with a written one, or you might have a fantastic system for managing tasks in your favorite project management app .
But overall, is technology really making you more productive? Or is it introducing just as many problems as it’s solving?
Production and Efficiency
First, we can think about the literal productive potential of new technologies and the greater efficiencies they can unlock. These are best understood in manufacturing; new technology can allow a factory to churn out a greater number of products per hour, which is largely indisputable. This area can be accurately measured, easily understood, and tracked to ensure it doesn’t come with unintended consequences.
Unfortunately, not all forms of technology offer such straightforward benefits.
A more complex discussion topic revolves around tools designed to automate or outsource operational tasks that are both difficult and mundane. On the surface, any mode of automation should hypothetically make us more productive; once we figure out a way to allow a task to be done without human intervention, we can forever leave it off our task lists and focus on other, more productive tasks. However, automation is more complicated than this.
For starters, automation isn’t always a straightforward process.
A developer I know has a catchphrase: “why spend 2 minutes doing a task when you can spend 4 hours failing to automate it?” The idea here is that designing and implementing automated solutions is rarely straightforward; you’ll often run into unforeseen barriers and complexities that compromise your ability to find a convenient path forward.
Sometimes you’ll spend far more time automating the task than you would simply be doing it.
There are also typically unforeseen consequences of automating certain types of tasks. Predictable, repetitive tasks are easy to automate, but results become more questions once you get into more subjective territory. For example, when using marketing automation software, you might send more messages to more customers. Still, they’ll be less personalized—and they could come across as cold or robotic as a result.
This isn’t to say that automation isn’t productive—it certainly is, under the right conditions—but it’s not a guaranteed way to increase productivity.
We also need to think about the power of technology . Certainly, we’ve experienced a revolution in the ways we communicate. We now have the power to send messages and/or organize thoughts in dozens of different ways.
Throughout the day, we use phone calls, video chats, instant message services, project management platforms, and other tools to stay in contact with our coworkers, collaborate on projects, and provide new updates. Surely this must make us universally more productive, right?
The reality is more complex than that. While the number of available communication channels increases our ability to use an effective platform, it also increases our likelihood of using the “wrong” platform; messages can get lost because the sender used the wrong channel to send it or because they communicated it ineffectively using an unpolished tool.
Communication tools are also an issue because of their ever-present reality.
We have constant access to sending and receiving messages, and expectations have changed accordingly. Many modern workers are under a constant barrage of notifications; they get alerts whenever they receive a new message or whenever a new item is added to their project management platform of choice.
These serve as distractions and can severely hinder a person’s ability to focus on the work in front of them. In other words, they end up spending more time reviewing and responding to notifications than they spend doing their “actual” job.
We also need to think about how technology has impacted our personal lives . These days, it’s not uncommon for people to continue sending and receiving emails well into nights and weekends—even though it’s after work hours. Mobile devices have allowed work to creep into our personal time, which increases stress (whether you realize it or not) and prevents you from doing your best work when you’re on the clock.
Access to Information
Inarguably, technology has increased our access to information. In just a few minutes, any person with an internet-connected device can tell you about the history of Central Europe, the current price for a barrel of oil, and who the first guest host of Saturday Night Live was. Open any news or social media app, and you’ll be instantly plugged into the world of current events.
You can learn new things and find the answer to any problem within minutes — and this is almost universally a good thing.
Being instantly plugged in has a few major drawbacks. For starters, all this access to information is distracting. With a few minutes of scrolling, you can learn about the new movies coming out next year, the performance of your favorite sports team, and how your friend’s vacation in Maui is going.
Why wouldn’t you do this, even if it means sacrificing a few minutes of work? Repeated enough times during the day and enough days of the week, and you’ll end up losing hours without even realizing it.
On top of that, access to information isn’t always beneficial. One reason big tech companies have been criticized for becoming is that they have indirect control over what you see; you may end up with an untrue or incomplete opinion on a given topic because of your bias and because of what algorithms have “decided” to show you.
Busyness vs. Productivity
Anyone with a mobile device will probably tell you they feel busier now than they did three years ago, five years ago, or a decade ago. Why? Because new technologies evolve to keep us engaged for longer periods of time. Everything from project management platforms to social media apps is designed to keep us hooked.
Does busy translate to productive?
The accessibility of new technology means we can stay connected for longer periods of time. In other words, we’re incentivized to be busier for longer periods of time.
But here’s an important consideration—“busy” doesn’t always translate to “productive.” Just because you’re actively focusing on something doesn’t mean it’s helping you achieve your goals, nor does it mean it’s good for your bottom line. Technology has a strange way of convincing us we need to do something—without us actually needing to do it.
Training and Familiarity With Technology
It’s also worth noting that it takes time to learn how to use new technology, and that time shouldn’t be neglected. It might take you an hour or more of experimenting to figure out how best to use a new app, and if you end up replacing this app in the future, that hour could be effectively wasted.
If you’re working with people who aren’t very familiar with technology or have a hard time learning new processes, this time investment can be extreme. Some success in innovation is based on merit, some on luck, some on connections–but typically some combination of all three.
Most people who use technology to increase productivity try to incorporate as much technology as possible; they install dozens of different apps, work with dozens of different platforms, and attempt to juggle all of them at once. This is often counterproductive, forcing you to follow redundantly overlapping strategies and waste time (and money) on apps you don’t use frequently.
So, does technology actually make you more productive, or does it interfere with your productivity? The answer isn’t so straightforward.
While tech introduces us to the potential to improve our lives, it also has serious drawbacks and consequences that must be considered if you’re going to use these tools responsibly. If you find yourself thinking that a new app or tool is exactly what you need to double your productivity, take a step back, and think about the nuances and potential consequences of your decision.