Breaks for Facebook, Web Help Productivity

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-04-02 Print this article Print

A recent study of 300 people in Australia appears to show that taking short, online breaks during the workday helps to give the mind a break and allows for better concentration and focus.

The nitty-gritty of the study isn't really discussed in too much depth (which makes me a tad skeptical of it) in the press release from the university, but it does say a few choice things.

"People who do surf the Internet for fun at work--within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office--are more productive by about 9% than those who don't," said Dr. Brent Coker, in the release.

Twenty percent? That seems awfully high to me, but then he did say "less than," and he is talking about a different culture in Australia. At the same time, we all need and want breaks during the working day. I think that's a given. The key here is that it's not clear at all how productivity is being measured in the study. What does it mean to be productive in an age of overwhelming information and unprecedented access to it?

Coker has the title of Director of Managment and Marketing at the University of Melbourne. Coker seems to be trying to put his ideas on the map by using an acronym for this whole thing, dubbing it WILB (Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing). Lord knows we need more of those.

But there's a catch: Online breaks need to be in moderation. "Approximately 14% of internet users in Australia show signs of Internet Addiction--they don't take breaks at appropriate times, they spend more than a 'normal' amount of time online, and can get irritable if they are interrupted while surfing," said Coker in the release.

So what does the future of productivity hold in store for you at work? Take a gander at some research done over at the Pew internet Project. They predict the following by the year 2020:

Few lines divide professional time from personal time, and that's OK. In 2020, well-connected knowledge workers in more-developed nations have willingly eliminated the industrial-age boundaries between work hours and personal time. Outside of formally scheduled activities, work and play are seamlessly integrated in most of these workers' lives. This is a net-positive for people. They blend personal/professional duties wherever they happen to be when they are called upon to perform them--from their homes, the gym, the mall, a library, and possibly even their company's communal meeting space, which may exist in a new virtual-reality format.

Is it OK?

At that Pew Research link, many people who are already 'knowledge workers' reacted to the predicitons and gave their take on what work will be like in 2020. Check them out (there are about 75 quoted comments in a range of people from Forrester analysts to COOs).

Here's my favorite:

There is no doubt that this trend will intensify over the next dozen years. But whether this is a "net positive for people" is controversial. Certainly it has some identifiable benefits. But it has also led to people's overall lives becoming extensions of their work lives and consumer lives, and the elimination of boundaries and of silence is a cultural shift with many problematic aspects. As Thomas Friedman has said, it leads to "over-connectedness being the social disease of the 21st Century." -Jeremy J. Shapiro, a professor of critical social theory at Fielding Graduate University with a research emphasis on the social and cultural effects of information technology and systems |

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