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Can Social Media Procrastination at Work Be a Good Thing?

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The direct definition of 'procrastinate' is to actively delay or put off an action, usually something important. When you were revising for exams, did you ever randomly decide that you hadn't tidied your bedroom in a while? That's procrastination, and in its purest form, it usually stems from a fear of failure.

Think of it this way, you never procrastinate when the task ahead of you is enjoyable, or not overly time consuming. This is where, in modern terms, the word has been somewhat misappropriated. Time spent dithering on social media is now almost universally referred to as procrastinating, because hey, you could always be doing something more important, right?

Well, not necessarily, and some research suggests that even when you are doing something important, there's no reason why you can't balance sporadic social media activity with it, almost as a kind of mini-break. It's a well known fact that attempts to spend hours working solidly with no break is a recipe for disaster, but is spending your downtime between bursts on Facebook as effective as, say, getting up and walking around for 5 minutes?

A recent survey by Viking suggests that, in the UK at least, the average office worker spends 52 minutes a day 'procrastinating', and 57% of them spend that time on Facebook, compared to 30% for Twitter and 36% for BBC News. This would suggest that most people are spending that time checking what's going on in the world, as well as what's going on with their friends.

That is, if anything, an encouraging notion. Although there's a separate argument about just how effective Facebook and Twitter are as comprehensive news sources, the idea that office workers are deviating away from their assignments for short stretches to actually check the news paints a more intellectually stimulating picture than just scrolling through a random relatives latest holiday album.

In the same survey, 44% of workers said that a social media ban would negatively impact their day, and 29% said it would make them less productive. Reasons for checking social media while at work can vary, and in some office situations it's even required, if you have to keep track of trending stories or share content.

Even 5 years ago, social media bans in offices were common, but this is increasingly becoming less the case. For one thing, it's difficult to police, everyone has a smartphone and offices aren't classrooms, people are left to their own devices (no pun intended). Also, 5 years ago everyone was pretty much in agreement that social media was a passing fad, but now the generally accepted viewpoint is that it's going to be a part of the modern social framework for the foreseeable future, so a ban on using it in the office is a bit like banning texting.

Evidence to suggest that social media usage is an effective use of daily mini-breaks is thin on the ground, but there's even less evidence to prove that it isn't. Other studies have suggested that social media use can exacerbate mental health issues like depression and social anxiety, but that's part of a wider issue, and a cursory check of Facebook every half-an-hour is hardly going to be make or break.

Speaking personally, I check my Facebook from time to time as the day goes on, and sometimes even have running conversations with friends in similar working environments, and I've never found it to interfere with my productivity. I haven't found it helpful, either, mind. For me, having music on and getting up to walk around are the two best ways to keep productivity consistent (and coffee, can't forget coffee).

The fact is that most office work is, in some sense or another, mentally taxing, and focusing too heavily on it is never a wise idea. Removing yourself from it entirely and allowing your mind to settle a bit is always helpful, but wiring yourself back up to the wider world, either in terms of socialising or checking the news likely yields a similar result, if not quite as effective.

You will find people who are such habitual users that the moment Facebook appears in front of them, nothing gets done, but that's compulsive behaviour and it's the exception, not the rule. The bottom line is that the only person who can judge how much social media usage is appropriate is you, but cutting it out entirely will only create a stigma. Just remember that procrastination is about putting things off, and anyone who accuses you off putting something off because you took 5 minutes away from it is a world-class jerk.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum


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Can Social Media Procrastination at Work Be a Good Thing? Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 Rating: 5

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