Marijuana Trumps Blackberries for Productivity… and Amazon Challenge

35 Comments

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This guy gets more done than your CTO
(photo credit: Indian Gypsy)

My first article for Huffington Post made it onto the homepage today: Marijuana Trumps Blackberries for Productivity. Here is some food for thought:

Millions of Blackberry users in the US were left without their favorite drug from 8pm EST Tuesday to 6am EST Wednesday last week, when technical problems at service provider Research In Motion cut off wireless e-mail access. Some fumed, but others took a deep breath of relief. The brief escape was relished by a growing number of users who have realized that this digital leash often kills productivity instead of increasing it.

Not convinced? Let’s compare Blackberries to the top anti-productivity product of all-time: good old-fashioned marijuana.

In 2005, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hands, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points.

In a digital world of infinite distraction, it is “single-tasking” — shutting out interruption instead of facilitating it — that will save us. What’s the alternative? Checking e-mail once every five minutes, then every minute, then every second? It’s not a scalable coping mechanism.

The world doesn’t hiccup, let alone end, if you check e-mail twice a day instead of twice an hour. If it does, it usually means that your work culture rewards overwork to counter its own ineffectiveness. This is predicated on burnout and not a game worth winning. The next time you get the Crackberry urge, consider the option of being productive instead of being busy. Or, if that’s too abstract, consider grabbing a joint instead — you’ll probably get more done.

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35 comments on “Marijuana Trumps Blackberries for Productivity… and Amazon Challenge

  1. Blackberry and email cocaine.

    My boss is a coke head when it comes to email. I had the tragic situation where he made me sit and explain why emails were coming to his blackberry and not to his PC and vice versa.

  2. Firstly, where is the link to the dope head research, anyone can say that “there’s some research that…etc”. I heard some research on Radio 4 once that said people who smoked marijuana were better drivers because paranoia set in and they slowed down ….no link though :-)

    Secondly, having read this and agreed, I went to my Apple Mail program and found that the least frequent setting is only one hour!

  3. Err, I bought it on Amazon but it says it won’t arrive for another 3 or 4 days so I went to Borders and picked it up today. I think I might send the extra copy to my i-banker friend – he needs it

  4. I was so impressed with what I read on Amazon.com about your book (testimonials and reviews), I bought 3. I know 2 business friends who could use it. Can’t wait to get it. Sounds like you’re talking to me! Hope this helps you move on up at Amazon.com! Have a great one! Best, Jeff

  5. Tim,

    I listened to the podcast of your presentation at SXSW, having been previously inspired by Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness”:
    http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html

    I’m currently hovering with my productivity levels, but I’ve managed to master a 20 hour work week, according to Russell’s advice.

    I’m following your zen for the email checking and the peace of mind is like a calm sea after a rough storm. I don’t even think the auto-responder is necessary – I’ve been replying twice a day for two weeks now and I don’t think anybody has noticed anything in the difference.

    Now I just need to filter out the noise from the blogosphere and get myself off of Netvibes!

  6. I bought the book at B&N brick and mortar store. I picked it up, read the introduction and immediately headed to the cash register. Devourd the book in 1 sitting. AM now going thrugh the book and implementing the inital steps like getting a Passport and Clear card.

  7. As a counterpoint to the referenced study, do a Google search on “continuous partial attention”. This seems to be a new skill which many attempt, but only some do well.

    I’ve been on conference calls with co-workers and customer employees at the same time as having an out-of-band chat online (eg, IM, IRC) with these same co-workers (excluding the customer) so as to better prepare a response to the customer. I’m sure some of you have done this yourselves. But my manager has surprised me on multiple occasions where he can seemingly converse on the call with flawless composure and awareness, at the same time as carrying on a text-based discussion with us in a chat room. I can type pretty quickly, but my attention tends to shift either to what I’m typing/reading or to what I’m saying/hearing. (For those of you who suffer from PHBs, I understand your frustration, but regrettably I won’t be sending my manager to take over your department. ;-) )

    So yeah… continuous partial attention. Check it out.

  8. Dear Tim:

    I just finished your whole book and I am impressed. I work in a service job (as a psychologist) and I now realize that I will never make the kind of money I want to make unless I create a product. I could write a book, design a T-shirt, or sell some kind of biofeedback tool, but your book was a shift in consciousness for me. I do contain my service work to only three days a week of direct client time. (I believe that alone is what keeps me sane in an insane job). Do you have any advice for the new entrepreneur who is moving from service to product based work? Also, I was curious because you give hints in your book but then never tell the full story of your own biography… Did you ever finish your thesis at Princeton? Do you do coaching on marketing? I would be interested. Thanks for your contribution. –Sharon, Mother, psychologist, entrepreneur

  9. Hi Tim!

    Got your book on December 2007 from the local imported book shop in Indonesia. I couldn’t get through chapter three, though, the awful smell coming from the book is disturbing me. I don’t know if this is a problem with the others as well. Please let the publisher know and use another printer next time. It’s a hassle for me to return the book since the book shop doesn’t have another copy and sending back to the US will cost a great deal.

    Great book so far!

  10. Also fail to indicate that the book I bought is actually the English version. Not the (possibly) upcoming Indonesian version that you mentioned here. BTW, I never heard of any Indonesian publisher with that name before.

  11. Well no duh the stoned group did better. Being stoned is just a state and not something you have to make a deliberate effort to do or be. With a blackberry you have a habit of making the effort to answer it. When you’re stoned, you’re stoned. You don’t think about making the decision to be stoned or that you try to be stoned, you just are stoned and think about things with a slightly altered mind.

    If someone listed me a series of numbers and asked me to repeat as many as I could, no doubt I would probably remember more when I was drunk or high then I was crafting words to say in an email and then transferring those words through a small blackberry keyboard that requires more attention to use correctly. The difference is your not trying to concentrate on something else when you’re high/drunk.

  12. Well, the papers have it wrong, as usual. The study wasn’t a real study at all. Here’s what the scientist himself wrote a couple of weeks later in response to questions from another blogger:

    “This “infomania study” has been the bane of my life. I was hired by H-P for one day to advise on a PR project and had no anticipation of the extent to which it (and my responsibility for it) would get over-hyped in the media.

    There were two parts to their “research” (1) a Gallup-type survey of around 1000 people who admitted mis-using their technology in various ways (e.g. answering e-mails and phone calls while in meetings with other people), and (2) a small in-house experiment with 8 subjects (within-S design) showing that their problem solving ability (on matrices type problems) was seriously impaired by incoming e-mails (flashing on their computer screen) and their own mobile phone ringing intermittently (both of which they were instructed to ignore) by comparison with a quiet control condition. This, as you say, is a temporary distraction effect – not a permanent loss of IQ. The equivalences with smoking pot and losing sleep were made by others, against my counsel, and 8 Ss somehow became “80 clinical trials”.

    Since then, I’ve been asked these same questions about 20 times per day and it is driving me bonkers.”

    Google is your friend, if you let it…

  13. I’d like to address just one aspect of I’d like to address just one aspect of this blog entry, the question of marijuana and productivity.

    Let’s consider of a few figures in popular music, namely Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson. (This is the handful I could come up with off the top of my head, I imagine the list could grow quite long) All of these individuals are, or have spent substantial periods of their lives as, regular marijuana users.

    Now I’m interested in hearing anyone make the case that any of these individuals would fit into the category of “unproductive.” On the contrary, each is recognized as being one the most prolific musicians of our time, the creators of entire genres of music, and having made important contributions to 20th century thought and culture. And these accomplishments all happened during periods of regular marijuana use. (As you might guess, I wasn’t there when Dylan wrote “like a Rolling Stone” or when Lennon wrote “Imagine,” but I’d say it’s a good guess some of this stuff happened while they were stoned.)

    As a working musician and song-writer myself, and a person who occasionally, and sometimes a little more than occasionally, smokes pot and hash, I understand that the state of mind one attains through these substances does have the tendency to enhance creativity, and in turn creative productivity. The conservative anti-drug crowd may refuse to accept that anything good could come from “drugs,” yet, in addition to my own first-hand experience, I appeal to the above evidence. I can imagine what it would be like for someone who is stoned and trying to do an IQ test who becomes bored and frustrated with such meaningless and shallow mental gymnastics and is subsequently distracted with the desire to write poetry.

  14. Yeah absolutely rite..In a digital world of infinite distraction, it is “single-tasking”–shutting out interruption instead of facilitating it–that will save us.

  15. I don’t know. The effects of marijuana on attention span would seem to be of a different order than the effects of some random interruption, like checking email. We tend to do an activity as long as it interests us, and when we become bored, for one reason or another, we look for something else to do. If we are not very productive in a given situation, it is because we are not enjoying the business of the moment, and any distraction which is readily available will suffice to put us “off task”.

    On the other hand, marijuana gives one the subjective feeling of increased interest in the task one is performing, and so I would think that its effect would be the opposite of the effect of these random distractions, which come about precisely because of our boredom.

    The trick to being productive is to find something which you really enjoy doing, I would think, rather more than avoiding one or another incidental pleasure. No doubt marijuana has an effect on productivity, but I do not think it need always and everywhere be bad. On the other hand, no one could deny that marijuana does not abet us in specific tasks. I would not want to have a surgeon operate on me while high — but it is rather because it would make him hesitate and second-guess himself, I think, that because it would cloud his thinking.

    Another thing to consider when thinking upon the way a drug effects our work, is what dosage of the drug we are using. One cannot assume that a large does will simply do more of the same thing as a small dose. One has to ask, whether the drug effects our ability to speak, or our ability to come to a decision, or in short our ability to perform any of the members of a given class of action. The best way to proceed, I would think, would be to consider whether or not we would want somebody to carry out some business for us in that state of mind, based on our own experience doing such things.

    There is no doubt that marijuana in high doses makes it difficult to work. But marijuana seems, for me, to activate my capacity for speaking and thinking (it is as well to say this as it is to say, “activate the language center of the brain” — since these “centers” are just Aristotelian capacities in disguise).

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    My boss is a coke head when it comes to email. I had the tragic situation where he made me sit and explain why emails were coming to his blackberry and not to his PC and vice versa.