Productively Unproductive cartoon

Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly prioritized his work life by classifying tasks as important or not important, and urgent or not urgent.  The resulting two-by-two graph became known as The Eisenhower Matrix and it influenced a lot of thinking in work productivity.  We generally spend far too much on work that is urgent but not important.

As Stephen Covey famously summarized it: 

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Tools like Slack and Teams can help us be more productive, but it’s all in how we use them.  Modern work culture prioritizes the urgent over the important.  So the default setting is to have constant notifications, alerts, and messages to respond to as soon as they happen.  

The average Slack user keeps Slack open for 9 hours a work day in the background, actively using it for 1.5 hours throughtout the day.  That average user checks Slack 22 times an hour, sending 70 messages a day (“power users” send 1,000 messages a day).

The result is that we have to consciously put in guardrails to find time for deep thinking on important work, or we can fill our days just by responding to the distractions of what seems urgent.  Ironically productivity tools themselves can get in the way our productivity.

Here’s how Ian Bogost at the Atlantic wrote about this last week in an article titled “Slack Is Basically Facebook Now“:

“Slack’s new redesign, with its fresh prods to engage, makes the software feel even more like social media.  The interface has always seemed hell-bent on getting you back into the program, even if you’d prefer to do the actual work that your job demands…  

“Almost all software wants you to look at it, but Slack, a supposed productivity tool meant to help knowledge workers recover from their email, demands more fixation than email ever did.

“There is refreshing honesty in the Slack update … it admits that work is secondary.  Making deals, managing employees, designing products, executing marketing — all of those activities are surely worthwhile pursuits of knowledge workers. 

“But as with all of the great enterprise software that preceded it, one now gets those things done in spite of Slack rather than by means of it.  Most important, for the workers using Slack, is using Slack.”

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

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