Don’t they have computers for that? Featured

7:03am EDT July 30, 2006
For years, the rallying cry of every technology-based vendor from computer watches to international servers has been “more efficient employees and streamlined systems” -- the holy grail of business planning.

The truth is technology does not make people more efficient. Technology makes things work more efficiently. People are people, and someone who has trouble prioritizing and organizing will face these same challenges.

Productivity paradox
Our personal productivity is not automatically improved because the underlying technology to which we have access is better. In fact, the opposite may actually be true.

A now-famous theory that was debated by the likes of Nobel Laureate economists and MIT professors for years. The productivity paradox of information technology seems to point to a “work begets more work” situation.

While more than a trillion dollars has been invested in information technology since 1970, numerous studies have found productivity to be stagnant or even declining. Of course, this can be debated on many grounds, including quality of life, capability for innovation, and the opportunity cost of not advancing.

Knowledge economy
Regardless of its effect on business productivity, the Information Age demands technological innovation at an increasing rate. This both mirrors and drives the pace of our lives, not only at work, but at home as well.

A simple example is e-mail. In just over a decade, e-mail has become indispensable to all business. So much so, that we need to have e-mail available at all times. According to an August 2005 Forester Research study, more than half of all companies use wireless e-mail service. This translates to an estimated 5 million mobile e-mail users in the U.S. -- and that’s just the start.

Cell phones, PDAs and laptops allow us to carry our work with us wherever we go. They allow us to work endlessly if we feel compelled. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you manage yourself. Adult students who have taken on the challenge of earning their degree while they continue to earn their pay understand the strong temptation to stay connected 24/7 and burn-out is a constant threat, so knowing boundaries is paramount to their success.

The priority of prioritizing
Organizational consultant Dr. Stephen Covey tells us that it takes 21 days of consistent practice to develop a habit. Most of us who have ever taken action on a vow to hit the gym more (or the refrigerator less) know that you can lose that habit in less than a week. The key to gaining control over your time and technology might not be a PalmPilot or the latest Microsoft application; but rather the age-old habit of prioritization.

Prioritizing may be the most important step in besting the productivity paradox. The not-so-simple part is maintaining your priorities during your typically hectic day. This is where communications technology can be a source of empowerment or stress, depending on how you use it.

Here are a couple of helpful tips that can navigate you through the wires and circuits to efficiency.

  • Just do it and stick to it: When it comes to answering your multitudes of e-mails or a BlackBerry information dump, the “right here, right now” philosophy will save hours of time spent refamiliarizing yourself with the subject. Responding immediately will alleviate the compound stress of not dealing with the matter and not getting back to the person who wants your input.

  • Make technology work for you: For every industry-revolutionizing breakthrough in technology, hundreds of “advancements” only serve to clutter our work day or distract us from the task at hand. At University of Phoenix-Columbus, we put a premium on sophisticated and strategic use of online and electronic-based systems. A Web-based rEsource platform gives students a personalized homepage for their course work to streamline efficiency and provide a forum for communicating quickly with classmates and faculty.

  • Change (or update) your outlook: Make appointments to pull yourself away from the computer -- even if it means scheduling it in your e-mail server. Mentally “logging off” can allow you to stay on track and prioritize your day

  • Be master of your (Web) domain: Technology brings the promise of efficiency to every office and is a vital part of business and professional success. It’s important to prioritize and not “byte” off more technology then we can chew. We take a critical eye to all technologies impacting the business word and embrace only the most effective, vital and streamlined tools.

ERIC ZIEHLKE is campus director for the University of Phoenix Columbus campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 230,000 students at more than 150 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Reach him at (614) 433-0095 or