Why Poor Performance is such a Productivity Killer

Jimmy, Grandad and Grandma go to CornwallI am struggling with a system today that is going slow. It’s nothing unusual this particular system is always slow, or at least I perceive it to be slow. In other words, it works slower that I would like it to – but worse than that, it works slower than my attention can sustain.

I’m now multi-tasking – I’m writing this in the seconds in-between this particular system responding. I’ve lost attention on my primary task, which is to interact with the slow system and I’ve moved onto a secondary task; writing this blog.

Everyone should know that multi-tasking is not the most efficient way of doing anything, but I’ve fallen into the trap and my attention has now completely gone. It happens like this:

  • Interact with system – click.
  • Wait a few seconds.
  • Interact with system again – click.
  • Wait a few seconds – get bored, check Twitter.
  • System is now waiting for me to finish on Twitter.
  • Interact with system again – click.
  • Wait for no seconds – already expect a delay, check FeedDemon for updates, see an interesting one, read it.
  • System is now waiting for me to finish on FeedDemon.
  • I notice system has come back – take a few seconds to remember what the next step was.
  • Interact with system again – click.
  • Wait for no seconds again, start to write post, also try to keep an eye on the system coming back but I’m not very good at it. Now only writing blog post because I can do that without any waits or interruptions. Not doing blog writing particularly well either.
  • Look back at the system after several minutes, notice that it has come back. It’s probably been waiting for minutes but my attention is completely gone.
  • Realise that I’m not doing what I should be doing so agree with myself that I am going to go and finish the primary thing that I should be doing. Struggle to focus on it because my mind has got into a groove on the blog post.
  • Give up and go back to the post. Think that if I get it finished I will be able to refocus on the job at hand.

This type of attention conflict is completely destructive to my productivity. I don’t get any of the tasks done and feel guilty for loosing focus on the things I should be doing. In many ways it would be better that the system was unavailable than running slow. I’d rather focus on one thing and be completing that than trying to do multiple things poorly but it’s just not engaging enough to keep my attention.

Working, as I do, in IT service design and management most customers primarily contract in terms of availability. The system must be available all of the time. If the impact of performance can be even more damaging than lack of availability – perhaps we are measuring the wrong thing?

Perhaps I just have a very short attention?

One thought on “Why Poor Performance is such a Productivity Killer”

  1. I think I can guess the system you are referring to!
    Brilliantly explained, I often find myself in that same “workflow”!
    When you multiply the impact of that lost productivity across an organisation of many thousands, the cost is staggering. Surely it makes the cost of the investment needed to put it right look small?


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