Technology and Expectations: The Laptop

Ahh, the internet is a beautiful thing. I would be in a world of hurt if the internet was down for even half a day. I depend on it.

Why? Because the internet allows me to be mobile with my work. I can go to any computer that’s online and have everything I need to crank out work (thanks to writely, gmail,, basecamp and other web-based apps).

Because technology has allowed us to work from anywhere with an internet connection, a typical workspace can be anything from a tricked-out home office to a laptop at Starbucks. But this isn’t always the most productive environment for working. As much as we hate to admit it, the best place to work is still an office of some sort.

Although it is nice to potentially be 100% mobile with our work, in order to be truly productive you need a central office space where you can call your work “home”. Laptops totally go against this mindset.

Fly Like An Eagle

Laptops have transformed how we do business. Literally. No longer do we have the chains of constraints of where we do our computing. No longer do we have to look at the same four walls day in and day out. We don’t even have to work at set hours if we don’t want to! But laptops in all their agile splendor still have some downsides in terms of productivity. The main one being the very reason why most people use one: It’s not a centrally located device.

True productivity means that we are in a location where we’re comfortable because we’ve become accustomed to it. We’re also more apt to be productive in an office space because we have all the tools that are be needed. (This probably isn’t true in a crowded coffee shop.) But really, the most beneficial reason for an office is this: The Mindset that comes with it.

A Mindset For Every Location

Most people associate mindsets with locations. When I go to a bedroom, I sleep. When I go to a kitchen, I eat. When I go to a bathroom, I …. brush my teeth. We’ve trained ourselves to not even think about it. The idea behind a “work space” is that you take on a work-mindset there as well, because that’s what you do while in that space. Yet just like the cell phone and email, the main problem with productivity is using the same tool for work and play; the blurring of edges. With a laptop, the same concept is true: when you’re constantly moving to different “work” locations, you never even have a chance to establish those edges.

The Expectations

And not only are you potentially less productive with a laptop, you also take on a whole new set of expectations that go with it because of it’s portability. Because you can take the machine anywhere, you are expected to use it everywhere.

Uh oh.

Now bosses can expect you to read their emails, and do more work at home after hours. Clients can expect you to correspond with them on vacation. While some people still justify it because they’re technically not at work, they’re still not fooling anybody. Work isn’t a location. And with the laptop, you can potentially be expected to “work” anywhere.

At Dell Inc. and the Kichler Lighting Group, studies have shown that workers that use a laptop work longer hours per day than workers with a desktop.

Expectations may also be raised when an employee is given a laptop. New managers at Kichler typically request one, says Sink. “Three weeks later, they wish they never had,” he says. “The expectation changes [to], ‘OK, you can take work home with you, so I’m going to expect more.'”

And here’s the kicker:

While Kichler employees are spending more time working on their laptops, they didn’t just start working those extra hours. “They were taking more stuff home to begin with,” Sink says.

Setting Those Boundaries

So how do we dissolve these crazy expectations? We have to set boundaries. Try only using your laptop for work in certain locations. This will help with your ability to stay focused and productive. If you can develop a mindset for working regardless of the situation, my hat goes off to you. Those of us with shorter attention spans might have a harder time.

[I’ve found that tracking my time on everything I do on the computer makes me very aware of how much I’m actually getting done. I use SlimTimer to track with Bubbles to run on my desktop. So far, I’ve increased my productivity quite a bit just because I’ve been aware of how I spend my time.]

The more connected we all become with technology, the less time there is for the individual. Time away from everyone else is an important thing in terms of productivity. It allows you to re-align and re-focus your day and schedule. It allows you to unwind and recharge.

Don’t get me wrong: Laptops are a great technology. The convenience that comes with those suckers is amazing. Laptops can also be very useful in mixing your daily drudgery up and switching locations, especially to get away from everyone. But we have to be careful not to take the mindset that we can “work anywhere” without establishing a central workplace and making some hard edges about where you’re planning on getting stuff done.

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  • Doug September 22, 2006, 8:47 am

    Good article, and I couldn’t agree more about setting boundaries. I have a laptop provided by the organization I work for, and I take it with me on business trips, use it for making presentations–all the usual stuff. But as a matter of personal choice, I rarely use it to extend my work day into the evening or weekend hours. I may fire it up in the morning before heading to the office, to check my e-mail and see if anything important transpired overnight that I need to be aware of before I get there, but it’s rare to find me using it for work after hours. This isn’t to say I don’t use it at home–our organization permits personal use of laptops, provided they are not used for for-profit activities, so I use it a lot for other things–I just don’t like to think much about work when I’m not AT work. I’m guessing that on my deathbed, as I say my last goodbyes to those I love and prepare for eternity with God, I won’t be wishing I had spent more time working at my career.