Workplace Productivity vs. Tracking the “Flow”

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that at Defrag last week, Stowe Boyd gave a presentation on following a cascade of information, a flow. While I couldn’t attend his presentation, what I heard from others was that Stowe argued that there are no limits on people’s attention. They can get work done and track information in real-time simultaneously. It is all a matter of training.

A common opinion I heard from others was that this was BS. Workers have things to get done, and cannot spend their time watching a ticker of information going by.

I know there are dedicated social media/blogging types who do swim in the cascade of information via apps like Twirl, Tweetdeck and other clients. It makes sense for these folks – they live a life of staying up-to-date on what other social media types are talking about, and engaging others in real-time conversations.

But does that fly inside the workplace? It’s hard to imagine your average worker watching a constant stream of information. (a) They likely don’t care. (b) It seems to imperil their productivity.

Yet should information workers care about what’s happening in their field? And does this flow really affect their productivity?

I’m not one of those with an Adobe Air client feeding me updates from Twitter and FriendFeed. I’m generally resistant to client-based apps, and I don’t feel the need to track the flows so much. But on FriendFeed, I found myself continually going back to the site to check my Enterprise 2.0 List. This list consists of entries from the Enterprise 2.0 Room plus the feeds of a number of people who are active in the space.

Well if I’m going to constantly go back to that List on FriendFeed, why not bring the real-time updates to me? So I’ve been experimenting with running my Enterprise 2.0 List in real-time on my work computer this week.

Getting Work Done and Enjoying the Flow

Here’s a picture of my screen, with a Word document open to the left, and FriendFeed real-time opened in a mini window to the right:


I have two screens at my desk. A flat screen monitor, and my laptop screen. The graphic above is from the monitor, which is big enough to allow two windows.

Here are a few thoughts about adding flow to my daily work.

I already have an ADD work style: I’m probably not alone in this. Since way back when I was a banker writing client pitches and offering memoranda, I have a hard time writing something straight through over the course of an hour. I just can’t do it. I’ll write something, then a I need a break. I don’t know why that is. If I trudge through the writing without break, the quality suffers.

Thus the real-time updates are a welcome break as I write.

The pace of updates isn’t too fast: Not that FriendFeed real-time couldn’t handle it. There are 33 people in my Enterprise 2.0 List currently (the Enterprise 2.0 Room is one of them). They tweet a lot, rarely interact on FriendFeed, post blogs and share/bookmark articles. The pace of updates seems to average once every couple minutes, with a decent-sized standard deviation.

If I had real-time up for my FriendFeed home page, where I’m tracking over 1,000 people, I imagine the movement in the screen to the right would be constant. That would be too distracting.

I feel more on top of my game: Let’s talk about the reason you’d track the flow. By having this up, I’ve got a really good sense about the ideas, arguments, conferences, information and relationships that are going on out in the Enterprise 2.0 world. Professionally, I’ve never been so aware of the goings-on. A lot of this I feed back internally here at Connectbeam.

I also love seeing the @reply tweets of the people I’m following on real-time. I’m finding more interesting people to follow on Twitter as a result. Some of these folks end up on my Enterprise 2.0 List.

I’m still getting my work done: And this is the crux of the experiment. I’m still getting work done while that real-time window is up.

There Are Limits to Our Attention, But I’m Not Approaching Those

Probably the single biggest factor that’s making this flow thing work for me is that I’m not bombarded with an update every second. I think the Defrag attendees who thought Stowe was talking crazy probably were thinking about one update-per-second type of flows. If that was the case, then yes, it’s a mistake to try this.

But a more limited flow built on a select group of people and a feed of keywords is quite manageable. And actually really beneficial.


See this post on FriendFeed: