A recent Wall Street Journal article claimed that smart phones aren’t making us any more productive as a society, at least according to metrics used by economists to measure productivity. But how can this be? With over 100 million smart phones at use in the market, we might have expected to see at least some elevation in our ability to get more done.
Obviously, access to technology isn’t the problem. Many of us are now carrying around the equivalent of a powerful desktop, circa 2005.
It could be that we’re measuring the wrong things. In the last century, modern appliances like the vacuum cleaner and dishwasher swept into homes with the promise of exponential increases in leisure time. What happened instead was that standards changed. The appliance might have taken over one time-consuming chore, but that didn’t send legions of housewives out to poetry readings and bridge clubs. It gave them a chance to do the remaining chores really well, to the point where not having a dishwasher now feels like a hardship.
Smart phones are allowing us the opportunity to do certain tasks really well, but that doesn’t mean we’re banking any free time. One thing we’re doing a lot more of is using smart phones to check in with work. According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, workers who use a smart phone on the job are connected to the office for 13.5 to 18.5 hours a day. Compare that to 8 to 10 hours a day for unconnected workers.
So, we’re definitely more connected, but is connected the same thing as productive?
The study also found that users will often stay connected during time that was normally reserved for family or personal hobbies. More than half of smart phone users are checking their phone while in bed—and that means right before going to sleep, when waking up, and oftentimes, in the middle of the night. According to a Forbes study, 41% of executives are occasionally stepping away from dinner or family gatherings to attend to work issues.
So what’s the best way to work smarter with smart phones? Look for apps that solve a specific industry challenge, automate routine tasks, or help eliminate bottlenecks — like Aspect’s Workforce Mobile. In a world where increased connectivity and mobility run the risk of becoming just another workplace expectation, these are likely to be the greatest facilitators of real productivity.