Last week’s Casual Fridays study was supposed to be about distractions and distractibility. Many of us struggle to keep our minds on work when the whole wide internet is available to entertain and inform us. So I wondered: Are people who are more easily distracted by the temptations of the internet actually better-informed? Do they know more about current events, tempted as they are by the incessant flow of news update not just hour by hour, but minute by minute?
The answer: not really. We asked respondents several questions about how easily distracted they were, and how much time they spend at work doing non-work-sanctioned activities (such as, perhaps, responding to our survey). Then we quizzed them on recent national and international news events. Were people who spent more time surfing the net better at answering these questions? Nope. There was no correlation between scores on the quiz and amount of time spent on non-work activities. People who spent more time following the plane ditching in the Hudson River the day before our study were slightly better on the quiz, but one of the quiz questions was about that incident, so that’s to be expected.
But we also asked respondents about how much their employers restrict access to the internet, and how important the internet was to their job, and found something a little more interesting: restricting internet use may have the opposite of its intended effect. This graph shows the types of restrictions our readers have at work:
While most respondents said there were no restrictions, nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated there was some sort of restriction on internet use in their workplace. But most respondents also said the internet was very important for their jobs:
So although the internet can be distracting, most of our readers need the internet to do their jobs. How do employer restrictions impact their work? On the surface, not much:
Where the responses get interesting is when we cross correlate employer restrictions to other factors. Take a look at this graph:
This charts the number of internet restrictions an employer has versus how frequently employees check their work emails, voicemails, and IMs when they’re away from work. Respondents with more internet restrictions at work are significantly LESS likely to check their work messages while away from work. The message employers may be sending employees by restricting access at work is that work and home life don’t mix. Employees who aren’t allowed personal internet time at work are less likely to use time at home to monitor their workplace communication.
This might also be due to status differences: lower-level employees may have more internet restrictions compared to high-level employees, and these high-level employees might be more invested in their jobs, and so more likely to check in with the office when they’re not working.
A couple other interesting correlations: People who are available for IMs more of the day tend to spend significantly more hours per day doing non-work-related activities like gaming or surfing the web (r=.19). But people who spend more hours per day doing non-work-activities also spend more total time at work (r=.19).
One more thing: I thought everyone might be interested in the responses to the question about taking the survey itself:
And finally, how do readers handle the distraction of the Internet? Here’s a summary of this result:
Some of the “other” responses were quite innovative. Here’s a sampling:
- “Leave my power cord at my girlfriend’s house for a few days. I can only use my laptop when I really need it in that case.”
- “Take an ergonomic break every hour and a half.”
- “Log myself out of, and refuse to save passwords for, the biggest time sucks — social networking sites — so that when I go to waste time, there’s one more layer of choice.”
- “Focus on other sources of entertainment, like TV (less addictive than the internet) and books.”
- “Switch locations. I have certain places I go to work that I think of in my head as “no internet zones”, and only allow myself to use the internet if it is necessary to do research for the job.”
- “Read a book.”
- “I have a second login without all my favourites.”
- “Shut off tweetdeck.”
- “Take the subway somewhere.”
- “Keep blackberry near worktable (just checking is often enough) this way I don’t run into the other room to check and get even MORE distracted.”
- “Must complete a specific project before checking email (if on a deadline). Or commit to certain amount of time on project (ie 2 hours before checking email).”
- “Just thinking about work’s importance and the money I will win for that.”
- “No food until work is done.”
- “Reroute fark.com to 127.0.0.1.”
- “I put on headphones and listen to music, which allows me to focus on my work for some reason.”
- “Go to the library without my laptop.”
- “Turn off IM (not much of a trick).”
- “Given that I need the Internet for my work, it’s more not getting distracted by links and polls. ”