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Is Technology Improving or Sabotaging Your Productivity?

When it comes to technology, most of us are grateful for it. Computers make everything easier—from researching information to communicating with friends and colleagues—and even once basic devices like phones and cars are getting high-tech makeovers to do more, faster and better.

At the same time, there are critical drawbacks that occasionally prevent technology from working in our favor. When you lose your Internet connection, you’re practically helpless. When you do research, it’s easy to get distracted by peripheral tasks. When you’re online, you’re constantly getting messaged and distracted from your work.

Ultimately, is technology increasing or decreasing our productivity?

The results are mixed. Online productivity statistics suggest that workers, on average, are only productive for five hours on the computer during a typical eight-hour workday. Yet, at the same time, Internet access gives us more contact, more information, and greater speed—so those five hours might be even more productive than eight hours of work just 20 years ago. In fact, one study estimates the increase in productivity to be 3% annually since 2011.

So what does this mean?

It means you’re far more productive with technology than without it, but you’re still highly likely to waste time while you’re using that technology. Because of technology, you are probably getting more done than your grandfather did 50 years ago, but also because of technology, you’re not getting nearly as much done as you could be.

To improve your productivity using technology and limit its productivity downsides, put these five strategies into practice:

1. Keep track of how you spend your time

This first point is critical. As cited earlier, the average worker who spends eight hours on a computer per day spends only five of those hours doing productive work. What happened to those other three? Blink, and you’ll miss them.

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For the most part, workers aren’t consciously aware of how much time they’re wasting. To properly identify when and how you’re wasting that time, set up a time tracker such as one of these productivity tracking tools. Take note of how much time you spend doing each task throughout the day, and make gradual improvements to phase out unnecessary expenditures.

2. Don’t stay in constant contact

One of the greatest advantages technology offers is the ability to be in constant contact. You can have an email window, a chat window, an incoming text message, and a ringing phone all active and distracting you simultaneously. Your coworkers, bosses, clients, vendors, partners, and friends can all reach you at any time. On one hand, this is a marvelous advancement for efficient communication, but on the other hand, it’s a recipe for constant distraction.

How many times during the day do you interrupt your work on a task to address one of these modes of communication? The solution is to open yourself to communication during certain, designated periods, and avoid excessive communication in the meantime.

3. Eliminate distractions, manually if necessary

Distractions are always only a click away. Eliminating those distractions can prove difficult, especially if you’ve made them a habit. However, there are manual ways to remove those pesky tech distractions from your life. For example, you could simply disable Internet access on your device while you’re editing a written report. If that’s not possible, you can use a browser extension like StayFocusd to disable access to sites that habitually cause you to lose focus on your work. You might also want to delete or hide certain apps on your phone during the workday, to prevent yourself from mindlessly opening them for a quick distraction.

4. Plan your day in advance

This is a time-tested productivity tip that goes way back, but in today’s tech-riddled age, it’s more relevant than ever. Early each day (or the night before), make a list of all the tasks you intend to complete, and prioritize them based on what’s most important. Then, allocate a specific amount of time to complete each of those tasks, with short breaks as necessary throughout the day.

If you only have one hour to complete a report, it will force your mind to focus on completing the task at hand, and between tasks you won’t have a period of ambiguous idle time that so frequently leads to distraction—you’ll know exactly what you need to do next, and you’ll be able to easily move on.

5. Spend some time away from your devices

Last, but not least, try walking away from your devices whenever you get a chance. Give your eyes and your mind a chance to decompress from staring at a screen all day by going for a walk or having a stretch. A break from technology itself—that is to say, not on a time-wasting website—can actually improve your productivity overall. Doing some work offline and away from your devices can also help you stay focused—provided there are some tasks you can handle without a digital device or Internet access.

Put these productivity tactics to work

With these tactics in place, you’ll keep technology from dragging down your productivity unnecessarily. Technology isn’t a great evil that gets in the way of traditional work; instead, think of it as a magnificent tool that most of us aren’t using correctly. Once you better understand the benefits and potential liabilities of technology in your own work environment, you’ll stand to waste far less time overall.

RELATED: Debunking 5 Time-Management Myths Hurting Your Productivity

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