Hey Cyberloafer, Get Back to Work

Lady on computer smilesBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

We’ve all been there before. It’s Friday. The day is dragging on. You’ve got a massive amount of work staring at you between now and dinner. The weather outside is gorgeous. But… you’re inside, and the buzz of the fluorescent lights above is giving you a headache.

You look around – everyone’s got their head down, minding their own business. You know you shouldn’t, but you open up your web browser. You click over to your local newspaper’s web site, your favorite celebrity gossip forum, or (gasp) Facebook, and spend 10 minutes joyfully killing time. You quickly minimize the window when a coworker walks by, and get back to work – refreshed and ready to tackle the task at hand.

Don’t feel guilty though. According to a new study, surfing the web at work (or “cyberloafing”) is actually good for your productivity. And the reason may surprise you.

Surfing the Internet Improves Productivity

The research, by Don J.Q. Chen and Vivien K.G Lim of the National University of Singapore, was presented last month at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Texas, and it showed that surfing the web was even more effective at improving productivity than taking a break to do other personal activities like sending text messages or talking on the phone.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Rachel Emma Silverman:

“The researchers found that the Web-surfers were significantly more productive and effective at the tasks than [others] and reported lower levels of mental exhaustion, boredom and higher levels of engagement.

‘Browsing the Internet serves an important restorative function,’ the authors said. Personal emailing, by contrast, was particularly distracting for workers. The second study, which surveyed 191 adults, found similar results.”

The study shows that the internet’s miraculous restorative properties are not simply due to your having taken a break. Surfing the internet is a better break than other refreshers.

Silverman continues:

“When browsing the Internet, people ‘usually choose to visit only the sites that they like—it’s like going for a coffee or snack break. Breaks of such nature are pleasurable, rejuvenating the Web surfer,’ wrote Dr. Lim, in an email. By contrast, workers can’t control the kinds of email they receive, and reading and replying to each message is “cognitively more demanding, relative to Web surfing, as you need to pay attention to what is said on the email,” she added.”

Precisely because you don’t really have to pay attention to what you’re doing while browsing the internet, your brain gets some time to cool down. But other means of distraction – like responding to personal email or phone calls – require more concentration, and they’re not like a break at all.

Laser Focused Productivity: Life Outside the Office

Surfing the web may be one kind of productivity booster. But there’s nothing better at improving your productivity than something important encouraging you to finish your work on time and at the office.

For example, several of the women we’ve interviewed on The Glass Hammer have told us that being a mom has improved their focus at work significantly.

Sallie Graves, Senior Vice President, Head of Insurance and Distributor Services IT at ING, said, “I have a six year old and a three year old. I don’t think I could be as successful in my career without my children.”

She continued, “They’ve given me focus. I feel more balanced and more efficient. They’ve given me the right perspective at work.”

Stephanie Ruhle, Managing Director, Relationship Management at Deutsche Bank, agreed. She said:

“One of the great things about being a working mother is that it forces you to have a laser beam focus. Because I have so little free time, I don’t get bogged down with politics or noise at work. I want to be the very best at my job and then spend every spare minute with my sons. Time is one thing I never take for granted and I’m focused on making the most of it both personally and professionally.”

What gives you a laser focus at work? Try concentrating on what’s really important next time you get bogged down in the office!