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The Illusion of Increased Productivity 

February 8, 2016

My phone beeped to let me know I had an incoming call. It beeped instead of playing my ringtone because I was already on another call. This is not usually an issue. I spend most of my day on the phone. It’s not usual for me to be on two separate conference calls at the same time. The difference today was that I was driving. 

My car is 20 years old, but it has a nice hands-free feature that let’s me pipe the phone audio through the speakers. I have to remember to mute the phone before turning on the blinkers to avoid broadcasting that click-click sound. I don’t mind taking calls while I’m driving. I have always thought it makes me more productive. Today, I reconsidered that.

I have a long commute by Utah standards. It’s 40 miles from my house to my office. I have a choice of two different routes. One is mostly freeway driving. It takes 45 minutes when traffic is light and can take up to 90 minutes or more when traffic is heavy. And, it’s that annoying stop and go, “Hey, why did you cut me off,” “Stop tailgating,” “Whoa, that was close,” kind of driving. 

The other route is mostly highway driving. It goes past cow pastures, and a huge copper mine. It winds up and down over rolling foothills and provides some gorgeous views of the mountains and the valley. That route takes 75 minutes consistently. Even though it’s still 40 miles, there are many more stop lights and some of the roads I take have 25 MPH posted speed limits, if they have signs posted at all. I can listen to an entire Jazz album between my house and the office. Great music, beautiful scenery and the Lexus that I spent a year rebuilding. It’s kind of coo. . . BEEP-BEEP. 

The phone calls are not part of that rosy picture. I can’t play a CD (I mentioned the car was old.) I can’t really relax and enjoy the scenery. And rather than enjoy the journey, I’m mostly thinking about how much easier it would be to handle the issue if I was at my desk with all my tools. 

But, on the positive side, I’m being productive on my drive, right? Rather than waste the hour and fifteen minute drive, I can be productive. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m not sure I believe it any more. I’m a salaried employee. That means I’m exempt from getting overtime, or even an hourly wage. What it really means is that I work until the job is done. Except the job is never done. So, I work 40-50 hours most weeks. Occasionally, well, more than occasionally, something needs attention on the weekend. Last Saturday, I spent a couple of hours on the phone dealing with an outage issue. 

I will work the same number of hours today as I would without a phone call during my morning commute. But, what I lost today was the opportunity to enjoy the drive. Rather than wasted time, that commute was my time. And I lost it, or rather I traded it for the promise of greater productivity. I’m not sure I got good value for my trade. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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