You're Wasting Your Time (and $650 Billion Dollars)

June 28, 2008
And since time = money, it's not surprising that someone finally put a dollar figure on the amount. Tech research firm Basex, quoted in a recent New York Times story, puts the number at $650 billion in lost productivity from "information overload." ...

And since time = money, it's not surprising that someone finally put a dollar figure on the amount.

Tech research firm Basex, quoted in a recent New York Times story, puts the number at $650 billion in lost productivity from "information overload."

Obviously this is a cumulative number for the entire economy for one year, but the more I focus on my own productivity, the more I realize that I am constantly losing time and money from e-distractions. I also am realizing that productivity is not an event -- it's a process, and even if there were a finish line, I'd be far from it.

The Times story included these revealing stats:

A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times

28% of a typical worker's day is spent on interruptions by things that aren't urgent or important, like unnecessary e-mail messages — and the time it takes to get back on track.

(Merlin Mann at 43Folders points out that, according to that same graphic, 20% of an average day is spent on meetings, which "expressed as a year . . . means a meeting you start on New Year's day would let out around the middle of March. Yikes.")

So, in the same vein, two hours of every day (and that's assuming a standard, 8-hour day, which is an anomaly of its own) are wasted while you're getting interrupted, and recovering from the interruption. Yikes indeed. (Maybe this is why eight hours are no longer enough?)

Whatever the reason, my personal experience tells me that the numbers Merlin quotes are low -- between obsessively reading political news and relentlessly checking email, I'm actually surprised sometimes when I cross things off my to-do list.

Think about it -- what would you do if this amount of inefficiency were happening in your production line? You'd pull the cord and stop the process, and figure out a solution before you started it up again.

Basex offers one idea -- having your employees make these types of pledges:

- “I will not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.”
- “I will read my own e-mails before sending them to make sure they are comprehensible to others.”
- “I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especially one word replies such as “Thanks!” or “Great!”, and will use “reply to all” only when absolutely necessary.”

Merlin Mann's suggestions focus around getting to "inbox zero" and range from what you'd expect (the aforementioned explicit company policies on email etiquette) to more "box-external" ideas (such as "No Email Fridays").

Web Worker Daily notes that IBM’s Luis Suarez reduced his incoming stream by 80% in a week by using these 2.0-style tactics:

Answer questions via blog postings or wiki pages, rather than email, so that future contacts with the same question can find the answer without asking you.
Use instant messages for short answers; switch to phone if a conversation lasts more than three minutes.
Use a feed reader instead of email to track relevant content; this gives you more control of what you receive and when.
Encourage your contacts to follow your lead, so they cut down on the overall email glut too.

Gina Trapani and the Lifehacker squad have an entire tag category devoted to the subject. According to the Times story, Intel and Google are taking steps to solve the problem, with Google even introducing an optional email plugin for its staff that can cut you off from your inbox for a specified amount of time every hour.

And if you should find something that works for you, be sure to send it to your co-workers -- in the office, as on the shop floor, productivity is easiest to achieve when everyone pitches in.

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