The Smartphone Survey is Open

istock_000001000665small.jpg(To answer the 9 question survey click here.)

It’s dawning on me after some reflection that I am developing a real yen for not just time management, but how it is practiced in workplaces around the world.

I remember sitting in meetings in Caracas, Venezuela, back in 1999 and being amazed that a ringing cell-phone would stop a meeting in its tracks, even if the owner happened to be presenting.  As a result, meetings took longer than they should resulting in a profound feeling of frustration on all sides.  The old habit of answering the phone whenever it rang obviously wasn’t working in 1999, let alone 2010.

But no-one ever said anything, or did anything about the problem.

It was a good experience for me, because the very high cellphone penetration found in Caracas was a useful predictor of behavior that would become commonplace in companies in every country around the world.

As you can see from my recent posts, I have been digging up all the research I can find on the topic, and now I’m doing some research of my own to fill in some of the gaps I have discovered.

My smartphone survey runs until the 28th, and it consists of 9 questions.  You don’t need to be a smartphone user to answer the questions — in fact, I’m collecting some data on the opinions of those who don’t have smartphones, and those who plan to get one (I am in the latter category.)

Take a moment and help me answer some important questions — there’s a lot at stake.  You can access the smartphone survey by clicking on this link.

P.S. I’ll be unveiling the results of the survey during my free Smartphone webinar on July 28th at 8pm. Click the icon at right to be placed on the early notification list or click here.

More Managers Want their Workers Connected 24/7

I do believe that I have referenced this important study that was published in April 2010 in a few of my posts, but I have had a few questions, so here is the source document that I, and others, have been referencing. The study was published by Intercall and it’s entitled: “Technology in the Workplace – April 2010.” It includes data gathered from interviews of some 2500 respondents.

Here is one of the findings:

American workers are feeling the anxieties associated with a lack of job security:
A full quarter of respondents report feeling that their job security is partially dependent on their supervisor seeing them connected to work even after hours.

While this doesn’t say that supervisors are necessarily asking for this kind of availability, it implies that the conditions are being created for the requirement to be clearly conveyed. I imagine that that number is only increasing. But that could just be me!


Two in five American workers report that they are doing the job of two people because of the impact of the economic recession on their company (39%).

No comment needed there.


My morale / job satisfaction improves when my employer provides the technology tools and services that help me to do my job better and faster.

It’s a great study, and it reflects that change in the workplace that I hope to reflect in some new training modules I am putting together around the topic of smartphone habits. These modules will be included in MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free, which will soon be released, and I’ll be coaching those who do MyTimeDesign 2.0.Professional on how they can improve their performance in this area.

P.S. I know I’ve been throwing a lot of research at you recently, but the times they-are-a-changing, and I want to keep putting the facts in front of my readers, so that they can make informed choices.


Microsoft’s Research Revealed Email Problems Back in 2000

This must be the week for research and reflection, because I am once again writing about a piece of research that I have found that has some interesting findings.

This article is entitled “Supporting Email Flow“and it’s authored by Gina Danielle Venolia, Laura Dabbish, JJ Cadiz and Anoop Gupta.

It’s a little dated, as it was published back in 2001 by Microsoft Research, but it has some interesting findings that I believe are echoed by what I see today in the actions of professionals everywhere. The majority of the questions in the study were answered using a 5-point Likert scale where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 5 = strongly agree.”

Finding #1:   The median response to the statement, “When I’m at my computer and a message arrives, I immediately look at it” was 4 or “agree” (avg=3.7, sd=0.9).

Not too surprising, but I wonder if this number has changed because of the number of email messages that we receive each day in 2010.  I believe that that  the underlying habit has not changed, but it’s success as a tactic for handling email has been undermined.

Finding #2:   “When I get to work in the morning, the first thing I do is check my inbox” was 5 or “strongly agree” (avg=4.8, sd=0.4). The median response to “When I get back from a meeting, the first thing I do is check my inbox” was also 5 (avg=4.7, sd=0.6).

Finding #3:  6 of 10 interview participants used email messages as their to-do lists, and on the survey, the median response to “I keep messages as reminders for later action when I owe a response” was 4 or “agree” (avg=4.3, sd=0.7). People also kept messages that they needed read later (median=4, avg=4.1, sd=0.8) and messages for which they were expecting a response from someone else (median=4, avg=3.9,

Finding #4: “If a message needs action but I can’t do it right away, I move it to the Outlook Task list”. The median response was 2 or “disagree” (avg=2.4, sd=1.3).  When users were asked, “I can easily tell which messages I have kept as reminders,” the median response was 3 or “neutral” (avg=3.2, sd=1.3).

The fact that this was and is happening was not addressed by the researchers.  I was surprised at this, because it highlights the fact that Outlook was not being used as designed.  In other words, I surmise that the intended flow of activity in Outlook was that a user would convert an email into a Task, and add it to a list.  Obviously, this was not happening.

Some may argue that I go too far in supposing that the designers of Outlook’s User Interface (UI) had any use-process in mind, and that it’s up to the user to employ the tool in a way that makes sense for them.

I’m no expert in UI,  but I do know nonsense when I hear it.

It’s no accident that the majority of users gravitate towards Outlook’s Inbox in order to read their email first.  The program was designed as an email management tool, first and foremost, and its design encourages users to “do email” first.

The results show that this is exactly what happens in reality.  Those who know better, and instead spend time planning and scheduling their day before downloading email must create a novel habit for themselves that runs counter to Outlook’s design.

Given the fact that this research was undertaken and the results were made known to the public as far back as 2000, I have to ask… why, 10 years later, has nothing changed in the way that Outlook is designed?  Improved techniques for email processing such as the Zero Inbox as widely seen an antidotes to email overload, but Outlook’s design has done nothing to help, even when the data shows that a group of researchers in the bowels of Microsoft knew that the program’s design was failing in a critical, core function.

There are  some other interesting findings that would interest the historians of email, but I was intrigued by the following result which was included as a bit of a side-note.


This graph shows what happens once a user receives an email, in order of preference for each activity.  The most popular activity was “Leave in Inbox.”

What’s remarkable is that the article never once predicts what might happen in 2010 or 2020 when the volume of email messages increases, and the most popular strategy, leaving email in an Inbox, turns out to be  detrimental.  There are users who have tens of thousands of email messages in their Inbox, simply because they adopted a technique in 2000 that turned into a burden in 2010.

What an avoidable tragedy.

Recent Reseach on Blackberry un-Productivity

istock_000009385044xsmall.jpgI stumbled across some research that backed up what I have been seeing in companies recently.

The paper I found came from researchers at MIT:  Ubiquitous Email: Individual Experiences and Organizational Consequences of Blackberry Use by Melissa Mazmanian, Joanne Yates and Wanda Orlikwski.

It was gratifying to read, as it backed up quite a few things I have been  observing, and wondering why I felt alone!

They studied a small private equity firm and observed that:

“This (the ability to check email via a mobile device) encourages a compulsive checking of email and an inability to disengage from work that is common to all users but framed as a matter of individual choice.  Emerging norms reveal implicit expectations of availability and responsiveness that are in direct contrast to espoused firm values. Thus, members of an entire firm carrying a device that facilitates unobtrusive’ access to email may unwittingly generate shared patterns of use that encourage a self-reinforcing cycle of constant communication.”

In other words, while the members of the firm were steadily moving towards a cycle of 24-7 communication via their Blackberry’s, they were doing so while denying that there was a new expectation being created.   That’s a nice way of saying they were in denial.

The study goes on to show that people had begun to act unconsciously, and so had the organization, to the point where they were betraying their values, seemingly without knowing it.

They also seemed to think they were in control of their blackberry use, when in fact they were checking their devices within an hour of leaving work, every weekend and in every room of their homes.

All users report that carrying a BlackBerry offers the opportunity to monitor information flow while providing the opportunity to control the form of information delivery and receipt. However, in acting upon these opportunities individuals also experience a compulsion to check incoming messages that leads to difficulty in disengaging.

‘Difficulty in disengaging,” huh?  90% of those surveyed described a “compulsion to check” their Blackberry for new email.  They seemed unable to say where this compulsion was coming from, however, as they continued to insist that using their Blackberry was always their choice.  When they mentioned the stress that the device brought to their lives from being “always on,” they again failed to ascribe it to the firm.

The researchers concluded that when the device is introduced in a social network, new norms of communication arise that encourage imitation in how the device is used (i.e. everyone copies the boss) and eventually these norms become coercive.

Even when the employees don’t fully realize that this is what’s happening.

They do feel the effects however:

… users report an unrelenting desire for information and a drive to monitor incoming messages, which they explain as a need to reduce their anxiety of being disconnected. Ironically, such stress is amplified (and possibly created) because constant connection is possible.

Only when the researchers probed were some employees able to see a connection between the negative effects they were feeling and the increasingly coercive expectation they had failed to notice.

What’s important to note is that this particular company had quite an overt commitment to work/life balance, freedom and individual autonomy.  In other words, they appeared to be more “enlightened” than the average company and more willing to consider the humanity of its workers, according to its stated values.

When asked, one of the partners described the issue of a growing expectation as one that had its cause in the the fact that the world was getting “faster.”  He didn’t ascribe any of the responsibility to the company whatsover, and to its decision to give everyone a Blackberry back in 1999.

Loyalty?  Group-think? Denial?

(It seems clear from the research a new employee who refused to use a Blackbery would have a very short stay at the company, but that’s just my opinion.)

The survey for the study was completed back in 2004, and in the end the authors predict that the problem at the firm was only likely to worsen as the volume of messages increased and as smartphones became ubiquitous.  To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a followup study at the same company, but here in 2010 there are lots of corporations that are increasing the amount of smartphone-driven stress in employees’ lives, without anyone being fully aware of where it’s coming from or what can be done about it.

Distracting Ourselves with Digital Devices

blackberry-man-bathroom.pngI wrote a recent article on the Stepcase Lifehack website entitled “A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era”  that describes the ways in which users’ bad habits are ruining the gains that should have come from this new technology.

These habits range from “driving-while-texting” to “interrupting-conversations-to-check-for-random-email.”

What’s remarkable is how automatic these behaviors have become, and how scary the concept of ubiquitous smartphones in the workplace should be to company executives.

In part, I was inspired to write the article after reading the following two articles:  FastCompany’s “Are We Distracted or Are We Just Bored?” and The New York Times’ “Your Brain on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price.”

In the first article, the author believes that people have become ultra-responsive to  electronic interruptions because they are losing the ability to focus on work that requires quiet, thoughtful focus.  He believes that employee readiness to be “always on” is unhealthy.

I agree, but I would assert that people have enabled this to happen by picking up negative habits that were useful at one point, but have become destructive.   For example, answering the smartphone whenever it pings/beeps/rings/ vibrates might be a good habit when someone is receiving less than 5 emails per day.  However, when that number grows to 147 (as it has for the average knowledge worker) then it becomes a problem.

The New York Times article addresses the seeming reality that humans are poor at multi-tasking, but we are quite good at noticing the exciting stuff of which distractions are made.  It also raises the alarming possibility that our brain-chemistry might be changing in response to the instant distractions provided by electronic devices in our environment.

At the same time as these articles are being published, I don’t notice a rush of people looking for answers, and I can’t help but wander if there’s not some resignation in the air because we are in a recession, and these are the keys to keeping a job… for the moment.

A New Resource: Videos

istock_000000185287small.jpgAs you may have noticed, I recently added a new tab to the row at the top entitled:  Videos.

The fact is, I have over 200 minutes of video content that was locked away in my archives and recently decided to pull them out and bring them together for the first time.  They make for interesting listening, I think — most are short, while others are much longer (up to 30 minutes.)

The one caveat is that they were developed at different times, so a few of them require a sign-up to a mailing list.  This is still important because in many cases a transcript of the information is sent as a follow-up, and in other cases there are important links to all the videos in the series that are included in additional emails.

This makes the retrieval process a bit tedious, but I don’t have another way yet to deliver lots of links, transcripts etc. to those who are interested in only a single video.  So, until I come up with a way to send all the information at once to only those who want it, this is the best method I can think of.

P.S.  I’m about to make MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free available to the public again, so make sure that you have signed up for at least one of my lists.  If you haven’t, then grab the ebook at the top left of the home page and you’ll be automatically added.

Productivity Needs to be Redefined

I just submitted an article that I hope will be published at the Stepcase Lifehack website in the next week or so.

blackberry-ad.jpgIt talks about the sales pitch that companies have used to sell smartphones:  “Buy this device and you’ll be able to send a receive messages from all sorts of interesting places.”

This is echoed in the Blackberry ad featuring Nina Garcia at left.

The text is quite small, but it reads:

Ask Nina Garcia Why She Loves Her BlackBerry

“I’m a creative person, freedom is everything. I have to be inspired and that can happen anywhere. I’m always on the lookout for new designers and trends. I really use my BlackBerry for everything. At the fashion shows, photo shoots, ___________ (?) and shopping, it doesn’t leave my side. Forget the bag. I have to say, BlackBerry is my favourite accessory.”

So, according to the ad, she is able to use her Blackberry at fashion shows, photo shoots, when she goes shopping, etc.   This is not unusual.  I think most people who have Blackberry’s would say that they love them because it allows them to their messaging in non-traditional places.

The question I ask in the article I wrote is whether or not this is a good enough definition of productivity, by itself.  It’s obvious that millions of people think so, and that a great deal of money is being made by companies who are giving us these new abilities.

At the very same time, many people are demonstrating a slew of un-productive and bizarre practices, enabled by the fact that they have smartphones.  The habit of driving while texting is an obvious example.

The article looks at the fact that professionals and their companies need to be aware that when the definition of productivity is expanded, then smartphones destroy productivity, which is the reason why some companies are banning them from meetings altogether.

I argue that changing habits to suit a new smartphone is a little like allowing the tail to wag the dog.  Instead, the 2Time approach is to upgrade one’s time management system, and while doing so, find the right tools that make sense.

Hopefully the article will be accepted — if not, I’ll post it here.