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.
And undoubtedly, you’ve encountered at least a few technologies that have helped you to 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 when working remotely.
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 the context of manufacturing; a new technology can allow a factory to churn out a greater number of products per hour, and this is largely indisputable. This is an area that 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 topic of discussion 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. In other words, you’ll spend far more time automating the task than you would simply doing it—if you’re even successful automating it in the first place.
There are also typically unforeseen consequences of automating certain types of tasks. Predictable, repetitive tasks are easy to automate, but once you get into more subjective territory, results become more questionable. For example, when using marketing automation software, you might be able to send more messages to more customers, but 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 as it relates to communication. 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?