Facebook and the Wrong Definition of Productivity

I'm convinced that "productivity" is a dumb word. It presumes some magic metric for how people create value in the workplace, and that metric is usually, inexorably tied to a clocking problem. Work faster, work harder, work more hours - and my favorite - waste fewer hours! I hear Tock's admonishments ringing in the back of my head every time I see the red flag of Facebook notifications. The open question: is Facebook the new Solitaire?

In short, Facebook is a valuable business tool provided you treat it as a context creation vehicle and not actual work product (for most people; Sun has people whose primary work product is created via Facebook and that's because they're primarily recharging employee workplaces). If you spend hours a day creating goofy groups and inviting random friends, or searching for the transitive closure of your friend(friend(cousin(high school buddy))) relationships, then you probably do have a time management problem. But the problem with casting any activity as a "bad use of hours" infers that there's some sorting and prioritization of hours that belong to your employer versus your friends, family or co-workers. Whose hours are they, anyway? The subject is at the heart of what is typically called "work/life balance", but I've more recently heard simplified to "life balance". That's the right emphasis -- when you're always connected, always thinking, frequently Tweeting to inform your e-crew (and self-selected marketing bots), there's no thick-drawn line separating the two. While Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and their social relatives are heavily colored by non-work relationships and content, they can improve rather than impair productivity.

How?

Productivity is about reducing problems of time, geography, and knowledge. Who can help me with a problem, where is the information (or the expert) that I need, how quickly can I find the best answer? There's a negative side the scale as well - what's impairing progress, what if I take the first answer that later creates a myriad of issues, what if I follow a bad link (people, website, or driving directions)? Building -- and maintaining -- relationships drives the positive side of productivity, because they help you navigate to a suitable win more quickly. Actually paying attention to the content traversing those social graphs sometimes addresses the productivity impairments.

This was brought home, literally, last week when I twittered that I was "pissed off." Immediate Facebook status comments echoed Journalism 101: What upset me? Why? When? My status wasn't work-derived, only the after effects of a bad conversation with someone who sent me a very incorrect bill, but without the context it was an attention-grabber. I even got a ping from my boss, who readily admits that he follows me on Facebook as a way of managing me. There's probably some obtuse managerial treatise in that statement, but his outreach kind of snapped me to attention and quite honestly -- got me back to work. Well within the usual hour long damping factor needed to get productive again after such aggravation. Whose hour was it? No need to debate ownership: it was a useful chunk of time.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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