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Distraction is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem: The Convenience Principle and the Destruction of American Productivity

January 21st, 2012 · 42 comments

The following line is from an e-mail I recently received from Georgetown’s HR department. It references “GMS,” the slick new database system they installed to unify all employee services:

Please remember to log in to GMS a few times each day to check your Workfeed for any items requiring your attention and/or approval.

Among the tenure-track faculty, the message was a source of amusement: the idea that professors at a research university should be checking with the HR department several times a day, just in case there is some administrative task waiting for them to complete, runs counter to everything we’ve ever been taught about how people succeed in academia.

I’m mentioning this note here, however, because I saw it as an example of a deeper principle currently shaping the American knowledge work environment — a principle with destructive consequences.

The Convenience Principe

Motivating this request from Georgetown HR was convenience. If every employee checked in daily with that department, a lot of the administrative processes required to operate a large university would run more smoothly. This would make peoples’ lives easier, therefore the policy is justified.

I argue that this convenience principle is at the core of how knowledge work organizations decide which work habits to keep and which to discard, especially when these habits involve technology.

Consider, to give a more general example, e-mail. There are no shortage of strong arguments that living your day in your inbox prevents long, uninterrupted thought, which in turn greatly reduces the value of what you produce and the rate at which your skills improve.

Nicholas Carr almost won a Pulitzer last year for his book on this phenomenon, The Shallows, which was based on his earlier Atlantic article, titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”.

So why hasn’t there been any major changes to how American organizations use e-mail? The convenience principle stops them.

If you subscribe to this principle, all it takes to argue back against a critic like Carr is a list of examples where restricting e-mail in any way would lead to inconvenience.

Here is English professor Ben Yagado, in the pages of The New York Times, arguing against John Freeman’s 2009 book, The Tyranny of E-mail:

“[Freeman] writes that ‘one of the biggest generators of excess mail is a medium-size message sent to a group of people, which then causes a pinball effect’…And the problem is? In [my inbox right now such a discussion is going on]: I asked a question and got helpful responses. Freeman says what I should have done is ‘pick up the phone.’ Really? Take the time to make 50 separate calls?”

This is a typical argument from convenience: Yagado’s dismisses Freeman’s broad critique of e-mail because he has a specific example where e-mail made something easier. Case closed!

This principle is also common in discussions of social media. Two years ago, I wrote an article about college students quitting Facebook to improve the quality of their schoolwork. Many other students have since written me with similar tales.

In most of these cases the students were in serious trouble due to constant distraction.

The student profiled in my article, for example, was named Daniel. He decided to quit Facebook after falling to a 2.95 G.P.A.

His friends, however, were aghast at his decision to leave the social network and argued strongly against the action. Their airtight case? Certain activities, such as finding out about parties, would become less convenient.

The convenience principle is so ingrained in our culture that Daniel’s friends believed that their argument that something would become less convenient was unimpeachable. Daniel, for his part, ignored them. He missed a few invitations, but not many. His G.P.A. jumped to a 3.95.

The Net Value Principle

Due to its ubiquity, it’s easy to see the convenience principle as self-evident. I argue that it’s actually contrived and harmful.

To understand this perspective, let’s contrast it to an alternative. The goal of any knowledge work organization (or student, which is really just a one-person knowledge work firm) is to produce information that is rare and valuable. With this in mind, consider the net value principle of selecting work habits. This principle says that the adoption of a work habit should be based solely on its net effect on the value produced by the organization.

This principle also sounds obvious, but when you dive deeper into its implications you’ll find that it often conflicts with the conclusions of the convenience principle. The reason for this conflict is that convenience often has nothing to do with value.

Indeed, producing value can often be a quite inconvenient process for those involved…

Case Study: A Software Company Without E-mail

Here’s a hypothetical scenario, imagine a software shop that decides its programmers should not have e-mail. To flesh out the hypothetical, we need a few more details on how they manage without this technology:

  • To handle the administrative details needed to run a business, imagine the firm hires a dedicated administrative coordinator to stop by each programmer’s office once a week to gather any needed information and promulgate any new policies.
  • Also imagine that projects are managed with project management software. This allows team members to keep track of who is working on what, report bugs, and keep track of the project status.

From the perspective of the convenience principle, this e-mail policy is a disaster. It’s substantially easier for the HR department to send out a quick e-mail whenever they need information from employees or need to announce a new policy. In fact, there are times when an announcement really needs to be made right away and can’t wait until the weekly one-on-one meetings are done. Handling such cases would be really inconvenient.

The same inconveniences hold for interaction among programmers. When a question arises it is incredibly easy to immediately shoot off an e-mail. This gets the questions out of your mind and abdicates your responsibility to keep track of it. Furthermore, if you’re in an e-mail culture of quick response it means you can expect the instant gratification of receiving the information you need when you need it. Without e-mail, it might take hours to resolve such issues. This is also really annoying. There could even be cases where this holds up progress on a project.

From the perspective of the net value principle, however, this e-mail policy might be a big win. The net value principle doesn’t care if a policy makes employees’ lives less convenient or occasionally holds up projects. It’s relentless concern is with the bottom line. If forcing programmers to work in monastic focus leads to a net increase in their abilities and therefore a net increase in the value of their code, then it is worth doing.

Similarly, the net value principle would tell Ben Yagado, the e-mail apologist quoted above, that unless his sole job responsibility is to gather responses to questions from large groups of people, that particular convenience of e-mail is irrelevant. The only question that should matter to him is whether e-mail, as he currently uses it, leads to a net increase or decrease of the value of the scholarship he produces as a professor.

If it leads to a net decrease, he needs to change — even if he can no longer conduct quick polls of friends.

The net value principle would also remind the friends of Facebook-free Daniel that whether or not they can come up with specific things that Facebook makes easier is irrelevant. Daniel should care about his overall experience as a student. Reducing his study time and stress, and increasing his G.P.A to a 3.95, turns out to be a big win when weighed against the downside of occasionally requiring his friends to forward him a missed invitation.

Conclusion

For a long time, I’ve been frustrated with the conversation surrounding distraction and productivity in modern knowledge work. Everyone wrings their hands, but the lack of action is stunning (I can’t think of any other social movement where there is so much consensus that something harmful is happening and yet so little systemic action taken in response).

The hypothesis I’m posing with this essay is that the problem lies in our focus in this conversation. We are discussing the superficial — specific habits we don’t like — when we need to be discussing the underlying principles that keep pushing us back to these habits.

Such an approach can lead to real insight. We might decide with confidence, for example, that in some organizations some supremely distracting habits lead to increased value. While in other organizations, we might find similar confidence in eliminating technologies that make life easier but output weaker.

The point is that we would gain a meaningful way to explore these options and ultimately take meaningful action when needed.

(Photo by The Other Dan)

42 thoughts on “Distraction is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem: The Convenience Principle and the Destruction of American Productivity

  1. Carl Shan says:

    Great and insightful post, Cal. Just a typo here: “Everyone wrings there hands, but the lack of action is stunning.”

  2. Anuschka says:

    I think quitting email or Facebook is not inconvenient, but inefficient. If someone really can’t get any work done just because he owns an email or Facebook account, then he will find a way to procrastinate, even if it’s just staring at a wall. It seems to me that Daniel didn’t improve his GPA by that much BECAUSE he quit Facebook, but that his newly found motivation caused him to quit Facebook and find ways to study more efficiently.

  3. Jarno Virtanen says:

    I do agree with your points in general.

    But I would argue that for programmers especially, email is often the most convenient way to communicate. It makes it possible for the programmer to communicate whenever it is most convenient for him/her. You can tune out email notifications when you are doing work that requires intense focus.

    If instead of emailing, someone would call or visit you, it would most likely destroy your current focus and force you to start over again. Email allows the recipient to decide when it’s most convenient to handle the message. This, of course, assuming that the workplace culture doesn’t expect you to be constantly monitoring your inbox.

  4. Christie says:

    I find it interesting when people say that email is beneficial or inefficient. Email is a tool. It is only a tool. It is not in charge of you. You are in charge of it. Have you ever heard anyone say that a hammer was inefficient ? Can a hammer be inefficent ? Or, is it the person holding the hammer that is inefficient ?
    ~ Christie

  5. This is misleading. You’re using the word “convenience” to mean “efficiency in things I don’t care about.” Whereas the term “value” is used to mean “efficiency in things I care about.” So the assumption you’re smuggling into your argument is that things like HR policies, parties, and the sort of socializing that Facebook facilities aren’t important. That might or might not be true for any particular person, and perhaps more importantly it might or might not be true for the organization as a whole.

    Email and Facebook are simply tools to make certain types of communication more important. The solution is not to ban the tools, it’s to understand what’s most important. Your problem is that other people (HR, many students) don’t share your views about the appropriate way to prioritize. I’m not sure how that’s email’s fault.

    In terms of the corporate use of email, I think it’s important to understand that work product is not really the most important output of a knowledge worker. Relationships are the knowledge worker’s most important output, at least if the knowledge worker wants to keep his or her job. A programmer that isn’t well liked and that feels to his or her teammates like an obstruction to their projects is likely to be the first person on the chopping block if there are layoffs, regardless of how much “real work” he or she gets done.

  6. K says:

    Um… guys… why are there comments about the convenience of email? Cal’s point is that convenience is not the currency we should be trading, but value or output. If you are arguing about email, I think you misunderstood the entire post.

  7. Ethan says:

    Very interesting post. Just want to point out a typo in the subtitle “The Convenience Princip(l)e”

    It seems it was more the shock of a bad result that motivated him to do more work, and the fact that he quit Facebook had relatively little to do with his improved result. He could have made his time on Facebook more efficient by only responding when he needed to or by limiting his time. He became more motivated by the realisation of how productive he was being thus compounding his improvement.

    Personally, I don’t see Facebook as very beneficial at all. I guess for some people’s line of work where social media is involved it is a necessity but I think the problem here is that Daniel (and I imagine many others) went on Facebook actively looking for something to stimulate, interest them or grasp their attention. This procastination comes as a result of boredom and seemingly unimportant goals.

    When Daniel realised he had to do some more work to up his GPA, he had a goal, an aim. He had something specific and important to work towards and consequently he stopped procrastinating. I feel when people go on Facebook they are not looking or planning to do anything specific. It is more they look for something to stimulate them and grasp their attention. I guess this also reigns true for email, Twitter etc.

    Eliminating distractions shouldn’t take priority over self-control.

  8. Nathan Sweet says:

    I think you make good points Cal. I think Facebook in particular can be a harmfully addicting distraction, because it involves constant emotional feedback, far more dangerous than email (which usually doesn’t give that much emotional feedback, but in cases that highly resemble normal mail). Certainly there is something to be said about striking a balance with the distracting tools that we use.

    I kind of agree with Christie, to a point. Email is a tool. I don’t think email is inherently distracting at work, I think that an organizations attitude towards it can make it distracting though. I know that people work in environments where high expectations are set for both productivity and responsiveness, and if one falls at the expense of the other than there will be hell to pay. In such an environment email, as a tool, becomes inefficient and scary (unlike a hammer, which carries no institutional assumptions with it).

    I think we need to talk about institutional assumptions more than the tools themselves. For the most part, the company I work for gets this right, if I’m expected to be extra responsive on a given day (usually rare) then my boss understands that my productivity will have been poor that day, this seems to work well and creates, for me at least, a healthy relationship with email. I get several hundred emails a day (like most people) and I am able to delete 80-90% of them, having seen only the subject line. My organization’s attitude towards email gives me confidence to do this. At the end of the day it’s rare for me to have any unread email in my inbox, but I don’t feel like a read a lot of email. Organizations need to be slapped in the face when it comes to the expectations they set for their employees (i.e. understanding that context switching is damn expensive).

  9. Roberta says:

    Both email and FB lose a lot of nuance as opposed to face to face or voice communication resulting in mis-understandings when verbal inflection or immediate discussion one on one in person would have avoided same. I like email but agree – it is a tool. I am ambivalent about FB.
    Our new immediate habits need to be closely and carefully monitored to ensure they are serving us and not us them.

  10. James Barnes says:

    *Typo: “Everyone wrings there hands”

    Couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in your post.

  11. Chet Frame says:

    I agree with your thesis that convenient communication can be a distraction and a liability to deeper thought or better quality work. It is not limited to academia. In the business world people seem to be getting captured in Covey’s quadrants 1 and 3 – “Urgent and Important” and “Urgent and Not Important” rather than in Quadrant 2 – “Not urgent and Important.” People are electronically available to their work 24/7, but are less productive because they are not focused on managing work. They are focused on managing communications modes.

  12. Study Hacks says:
    Um… guys… why are there comments about the convenience of email? Cal’s point is that convenience is not the currency we should be trading, but value or output. If you are arguing about email, I think you misunderstood the entire post.

    Well said.

  13. Doug says:

    First time commenter- and new to the Blog and I must say I am amazed at the number of typo-Nazi’s reading this particular blog. Gotta make themselves feel ‘impotent’ I s’pose. As far as the points made in this particular posting – Right On! I work as an Engineer/PM in a highly technical Govt agency that is losing creativity and imagination by the ton every day Loss of these core elements of problem solving ability is clearly linked to both the tools we use (e-mail / powerpoint, word etc) and how we use them. To the commenters that claimed e-mail is ‘just a tool’ you are seeming to forget that how the tool is made to work defines mostly how it is used (goes for a hammer too). I really first latched onto this over stimulation and distraction phenomenon in the early 90′s when I read a book called “The Age of Missing Information”.. – At which point I threw out my TV and lived 6 years free of TV’s grip. Awesome good times they were!! The tool of TV was replaced with the tool of real living. My organization aften cranks out 200 page text and graphic laden documents when the same organization did the same work (maybe better) 20+ years ago with documents a fraction of that size types on a typewriter.

  14. Devon says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I never thought about how the unquestioned holy grail of convenience could be a huge blind spot in making all sorts of decisions. I’ll be looking out for that in myself from now on. Thanks!
    Devon

  15. William B Swift says:

    >Eliminating distractions shouldn’t take priority over self-control.

    Distractions interfere with your functioning even when you are disciplined enough not to actively respond. That was one of the problems with hypertext that Carr discussed in The Shallows (one of the many problems).

  16. Russell Wallace says:

    > Eliminating distractions shouldn’t take priority over self-control.

    That _sounds_ righteous but it’s not actually true. The fact is that we have a limited amount of willpower, not enough for everything we want to do. Cutting down on distractions is an essential strategy for making efficient use of our supply of willpower.

  17. Dustin Ewers says:

    This is a great post. I think it really shows how something that is convenient for one group of people can be very detrimental to another group of people.

    I also think some of the burden for this issue should be placed on software developers. The developers who created the HR system should of found ways to deliver the information in a less distracting way, as opposed to requiring the users to check a website. Software should be designed with your principals in mind.

  18. Lily says:

    I don’t know whether or not Facebook, email, etc. decrease productivity. I genuinely think they might, but I would like to see additional evidence before making conclusions.

    I agree with the idea that focus increases productivity, and distractions hurt focus. What I have trouble with is the idea that distractions are externally imposed as opposed to internally controlled.

    The proof Cal offered?

    1. One student got a bad GPA and quit Facebook. His GPA improved. But I presume he did other things to improve his GPA as well, and both quitting Facebook and his other efforts could have been mediated by an *internal* resolve to increase focus.
    2. Hypothetically, a computer group might be more productive if it didn’t use email. Not only is this hypothetical, but it’s unclear that it would actually force programmers to work with “monastic focus.” Who is to say that they wouldn’t get up and talk to each other or play mindsweeper or anything else? (Novels were castigated during Dickensian times as being huge distractions…)

    Did you happen to find any studies or historical analyses about whether it’s actually email/Facebook/etc. or just a general tendency to be distracted?

  19. Sophia says:

    When I read the title – “Distraction is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem” – I immediately thought of what in Tibetan Buddhism is summed up as the “six confusions about work.”

    They are:
    1. work as drudgery
    2. work as war
    3. work as addiction
    4. work as entertainment
    5. work as inconvenience
    6. work as a problem

    It’s when we have one or more of these six attitudes to work that we have trouble at/with work.

    (Michael Carroll writes about this in Awake At Work)

    I’m sure many people will find this approach too simplistic, or that there is no or not enough scientific evidence for it.

    But if we believe that it is attitude that makes the crucial difference, contemplation – as the posts here show – can go a long way.

  20. S says:

    This reminds me of a recent Mark Bittman column in the NYT, where he referred to “convenience” as “one of the filthiest of modern catchwords.” Apparently it makes us both stupid AND fat. Here’s the full link: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/shared-meals-shared-knowledge/

  21. Steven Davis says:

    The convenience problem is huge in IT security. Almost all designs are deeply lazy and focused on convenience. Convenience for developers as well as users.

    Car keys are not convenient. But they work.

  22. Christie says:

    The problem in the inital post is that there are two people with two different goals. Cal wants to go good work and needs to be uninterrupted. HR, may also want to good work, but their job is to get the exact info to a large group. There is a conflict between the two definitons of “good work”.
    I’m very interested in the idea of convenience vs quality of work. There are examples all around us. How well is your house built ? How well is anything in your house built ? Should hospitals run on the goal of convenience or quality of care ? Should 7-11 run on the goal of convenience or quality of product ? There are consumers who are willing to pay more for the product that was made with the goal of quality vs. convenience of the manufacturer.
    ~ Christie

  23. Study Hacks says:
    The problem in the inital post is that there are two people with two different goals. Cal wants to go good work and needs to be uninterrupted. HR, may also want to good work, but their job is to get the exact info to a large group. There is a conflict between the two definitons of “good work”.

    There is no conflict here. “Good work” is what means the organization produces the most value. Whether or not the HR department is good or efficient at extracting info from a large group might not be that important from the perspective of what maximizes the University’s value.

  24. rowsella says:

    I work in a hospital and find that often technology gets in the way of my care of the patient. For example, we use a scanning system to administer medications. This requires multiple steps to get the patient logged in, the meds logged in, the patient re-logged in with various screen blocks to verify things– why med is early/late as we group the way we administer meds d/t our patient assignments but pharmacy sets the times in the computer. Previously, we used a medication record book and if we had to alter the time, we just marked it. Frequently the computers don’t scan or register the medication or they just don’t work for a variety of reasons. My paper medication record never failed. One day it took almost an hour to troubleshoot a laptop scanner and find another that would work to give meds to my first patient. During that time another one of my patients had a drastic condition change. Ultimately, all the meds that morning ended up being very late as the system is not conducive to another nurse being able to pick up and help (as it is more time consuming). If I had a paper medical record, I would have already had all or most of my medications given.

    And don’t get me started on electronic nursing notes which eat up a large amount of time — away from the patient as well as our “self-paced” learning inservices which are a total joke. It is a wonder we retain anything or that we get any patient care completed.

  25. David says:

    If you shift the emphasis to net value, how do you measure that value? The metrics that a student uses to measure the value of her overall college experience are going to be different than the metrics that a programming team uses to determine the value of their output. How do you account for the intangibles? Maybe one of the appeals of email and Facebook are the instant feedback that they provide. If I’m not sure what my goals are at work but I reply to someone’s email and offer them a good suggestion, I get a sense of accomplishment at work even though I don’t have a clear-cut idea of what types of value I’m supposed to be producing.

  26. Matt says:

    1. One student got a bad GPA and quit Facebook. His GPA improved. But I presume he did other things to improve his GPA as well, and both quitting Facebook and his other efforts could have been mediated by an *internal* resolve to increase focus.

    Precisely. The distraction is internal. The students that quit Facebook and got better grades didn’t improve because Facebook is inherently distracting, they improved because they realized that most of what happens on Facebook doesn’t matter in their academic career. They decided that college was a priority and adjusted their behaviors accordingly. But I guarantee you they still do things that are potentially detrimental because they are too convenient — it’s just that it’s in areas that aren’t a priority to them. Some might argue that hunting for your own food is a character building activity, but most of us are content with the convenience of going to the grocery store. We choose to use that time and energy for other things that we value more. In Cal’s example, Daniel’s friends obviously value keeping up with social happenings more than he does, but that’s their decision. Facebook has nothing to do with it. I’m sure they would still be going to parties if Facebook didn’t exist. Likewise, I’m sure the HR department at Georgetown would insist that professors keep track of administrative tasks whether or not they had a “slick new database system.”

  27. “(I can’t think of any other social movement where there is so much consensus that something harmful is happening and yet so little systemic action taken in response).”

    Wait, so you mean people who don’t like procrastination are actually procrastinating on forming an group to systematically bring down procrastination?

    Yeah that sounds about right.

    As to the guy who quit Facebook, in favor of something much less fun (school), that was driven by fear (the fear of suspension, failure from school). You think he missed a few FB Invites? If he was actually studying twice as much (as his results would suggest) he missed out on real socialization too. Good for him. It’s called discipline and delayed gratification. But that’s no slight against Facebook. Hanging out with our friends is supposed to be fun. It’s not a job. University is W-O-R-K.

    I will completely agree with your overarching premise: if you procrastinate alot and get distracted easily… really consider if your Major/Career of choice is really right for you. You might just be living out someone else’s (parents?) dreams, and yearning for something else. Find a cool job and you won’t be so eager to escape it.

  28. Matt says:

    Everytime a new technology comes out, there’s always a group of people that think it will turn society as we know it into a smoldering crater in the ground. In “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr talks about how this has been a problem since writing was invented. People thought Gutenberg’s press was going to ruin intellectual thought too, but I don’t think that anyone would agree with them today. Yes, technology changes us, but we’re the ones who choose to use it.

    The real problem today is not convenience or new technology, it’s that our society does not promote critical thought as a virtue. Until you get into college, you aren’t pushed to really think about anything. The public school system was designed during the industrial revolution to be an assembly line that produces “good workers”, not intellegent, thoughtful human beings. When Cal talks about determining the “Net Value” of things he is really just saying that people need to think about why they do the things they do. When you have generations of people who suck at critical thinking, you have generations of people who do things just because they can, not because they should.

    If everyone would take five minutes everyday and turn off their iPods, silence their phones, step away from the keyboard, and just think about their goals in life, a lot of problems in this world would go away.

  29. I deal with this kind of thing all the time. I design back office systems for a stock trading firm. When there’s a new software release, it’s convenient for me to send out a blast email with the release notes. After all, our users are all around the globe. Email is just easy — for me.

    But email’s not too convenient for the traders on the receiving end, who aren’t creatures of email. They’re on the phones talking to customers, and don’t have the patience to read long emails. I could call them and walk them through the changes — but that’s not too helpful either, because they want to be on the phone with customers, not with me.

    The only real solution I’ve found is to work my ass off to make great products. In my case, I need to make software that people can use without a whole lot of explanation. For essential, more complicated features, maybe some people need to be taught how to use it in person. And for other things, maybe email works OK.

    So I propose that we think about this problem in terms of PRODUCTS. If you are in the HR department, think about your department as if it were a product. Your goal is to make your HR product as easy as possible for the professors to use. Forcing professors log onto some system multiple times a day can’t be the best solution, can it?

    Now, some interesting problems. The first is the budget problem. The HR department might say they don’t have the budget to handhold all the professors. Maybe the solution then is to enlist the professors in asking for a larger HR budget. Or to enlist the professors in coming up with a better notification solution that’s cost-neutral. The best answer depends on the situation.

    Second is the monopoly problem. The Georgetown HR department has a monopoly on providing HR services to Georgetown professors. How do you get a monopoly to provide a great product?

  30. The e-mail and the Internet can be both distractive and destructive tools, unless we are in control, unless we know what is good and what is bad for ourselves.

  31. Rickard says:

    People tend to underestimate the impact of their environment on their behavior, as well as overestimate the impact of their willpower. Changing your environment is often the most effective way to change your behavior by far.

    People seem to be ashamed of not being able to consciously control their behavior. The question we should ask ourselves (credit goes to PJ Eby for this) is, would we rather be special because we did things the hard way, or successful because we did them the easy way?

  32. Lonn says:

    I loved reading this post! Additionally, the comments on this post are as exciting and thought-provoking as the post itself. I have happened upon a community of strong minds. Lastly, I am on twitter but not facebook. I didn’t think I had the time or energy to manage facebook life on any level.

  33. Tasha says:

    Cal-

    I fully agree with your post. One problem with email is that it’s easy to shunt tasks onto someone else, then check them off as “done.” A teacher I know just received an email from one of the administrative assistants asking her to compile a complete list of every non-edible chemical substance in her classroom, specifically including those in markers. My first response was “So, this is for compliance with the Analytical Chemists’ Full Employment Act of 2012, right?” (I ended up suggesting that the teacher reply with a link to the NIST Chemistry Webbook and be done with it.)

    By the way, my University uses two online learning platforms, different semi-affiliated websites for each department, a consistently buggy email system that was supposed to get replaced last year (it’s now being split into two email clients, one for students and one for staff), and a “central hub” website that mainly provides links to other sub-sites, most of which require an identical username and password. It took me three hours over two sessions to find and register for my current classes once I had a complete list of what I was to take. At the same time, administrators extol the benefits of the university’s online presence, and teachers are strongly encourage to use it whenever possible. Given the principle described above, our system(s) must be very convenient for someone, somewhere…

  34. My (conveniently provided) reply is that you might be very interested in Jaron Lanier’s relatively recent book, “You Are Not a Gadget”, which I’m presently reading. It raises many of the issues that you’ve raised here–for which I thank you.

    Cheers,

    —Michael B.

  35. mdb says:

    I think your HR example is not an example convenience, but laziness. There were many ways this could have been done on their part, requiring a person to log in several times a day to check for notices was probably the easiest solution for them. Another solution would be to have system email (another convenience) the people that have a task – this could be done daily or weekly or even have different times for different problems. Probably harder to implement but would have made the whole thing better for everyone. HR will get 0 compliance with this, but they did it the lazy way – why should they expect others to do the work?

  36. Thanks for the guidelines shared on your blog. Another thing I would like to express is that weight-loss is not information on going on a celebrity diet and trying to lose as much weight as possible in a few days. The most effective way to lose weight naturally is by acquiring it slowly and gradually and obeying some basic suggestions which can assist you to make the most from your attempt to slim down. You may recognize and already be following some tips, however reinforcing awareness never affects.

  37. Ashish says:

    I read this post and immediately added Facebook to my SelfControl blacklist – so I can’t access it till tomorrow morning. Just today, you’ve probably saved me 30 minutes – thanks.

    Reversal: two years ago, mindless web surfing led me to this blog, which has proved invaluable in my quest for greater efficiency.

  38. Erin McJ says:

    Just discovered your blog and am thoroughly enjoying reading the archives. Not to add to the typo din, but this one seems to me to matter — I am almost certain you mean Ben Yagoda.

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