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The drive to increase productivity is always a timely subject, but perhaps even more so this time of year. Workers have had all summer to dillydally, and will likely do a little more when the holidays approach. Now is the time to work on increasing productivity.

Productivity gains certainly come from access to and ability to use new and better software that’s designed with collaboration and remote-working in mind. But to sustain efficiency, habits need to change. For this edition of What We’re Reading, we look at articles focused on the latter.

The Marshmallow Test

In a recent Harvard Business Review post titled “The Marshmallow Test for Grownups,” author Ed Batista uses the Stanford marshmallow experiment as the frame for a post about how adults manage daily distractions in the workplace.

A little background: For the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which was a study about delayed gratification conducted in the 1960s, a group of children aged 4 through 6 at Stanford’s Bing Nursery School were placed in a room that contained only a table and chair. One treat was placed on the table — a marshmallow, an Oreo or a pretzel stick. The children were told that if they waited 15 minutes before eating the treat, they would get a second treat, and were then left alone in the room.

Batista writes: “As adults we face a version of the marshmallow test nearly every waking minute of every day. We’re not tempted by sugary treats, but by our browser tabs, phones, tablets, and (soon) our watches — all the devices that connect us to the global delivery system for those blips of information that do to us what marshmallows do to preschoolers.”

The problem, as he sees it, is that while we are built to respond to new information, the volume coming at us today is simply too much. The challenge then is how to handle these increasing disruptions so that we can keep up productivity and avoid feeling overwhelmed. In this article, Batista offers a few broad solutions.

Phone calls: Good or bad for productivity?

In two other articles, the authors look at how phone calls can impact our productivity. In Emails Only, Please: 10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste of Time, writer Jason LeMers runs through a list of reasons why phone calls are detrimental to productivity — and have even been linked to increased migraines and backaches.

Services like ChitChat (left) and Voxer (right) aim to create a more productive way of communicating.

Services like ChitChat (left) and Voxer (right) aim to create a more productive way of communicating.

His arguments against the old fashioned way of communicating — phone calls are more disruptive than other means of communication; they require immediate action; you cannot go back over them later as easily — are valid, but some could also apply to text-based forms of communication.

In a recent NY Times article titled “Pass the Word: The Phone Call is Back,” Jenna Wortham points to information about the emergence of services like Voxer and ChitChat, messaging services that combine voice with images and text, and also notes Apple’s recent announcement that it will be adding a voice chat feature to its next software version. These services will attempt to combine the phone call’s ability to convey sarcasm, sincerity and other nuances with the brevity of a text or email.

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