The year is 2061 — you roll out of bed and the minicomputer in your head telepathically reads you your emails. Except instead of listening to them, you just know what the emails said because they’ve already been deposited as memories in your mind. You go to a bar for a beer, think about a lager and a robot flies up and hands you one. You step into your Scotty Beam 5000 and immediately materialize on a beach for your vacation, and you make a joke about how your parents used to complain about “flying” on “planes”.
Sounds pretty smooth, doesn’t it? Unfortunately we don’t live in the future and you still have to order your beer with your mouthpiece. Here’s the (good or bad, depending upon your perspective) about our shared human experience:
Important Thing #1: Everyone has a finite number of hours to accomplish their goals
We’re all dealing with a scarcity problem. There’s only a certain amount of time that we’ll get to spend doing the things that we love.
Important Thing #2: Not all activities in your life are created equal
We are faced with choosing between things that we love, versus things that we don’t. I don’t like folding laundry, but I like eating cookies. I don’t like going to the dentist, but I like spending time with my family.
Everybody has preferences about their allocation of time, and they spend time trying to maximize the time spent doing things they value vs minimizing the time spent doing things they don’t.
However, here’s the rub:
Important Thing #3: Some low value tasks are unavoidable
This is the reason that your average person doesn’t spend 100% of their time doing things that they like the most. Doing your taxes, getting your oil changed, vacuuming, getting up early for work: these are all tedious tasks that most people encounter in their life.
Most people would agree that they need to do their taxes. They’ll hire an accountant, or pay for TurboTax, or even just fill out their own 1040. I guarantee you that everyone wishes it were easier. The same applies or every single low value task — they could all be shortened, simplified and otherwise automated using technology and processes.
The future of work & why it matters
The global pandemic of 2020/21 has dramatically accelerated transformation in the workplace. A Pew Research study from late 2020 showed 71% of employed adults whose work could be done from home were working remotely. This is up from the just 20% that were working from home before the coronavirus outbreak.
Regardless of your opinion on remote work and productivity, this sea change is happening. Another impact of working from home is longer hours. I started working from home in 2013 and experienced this myself: 45 percent of employees who work remotely say that they work more than they did before.
Anecdotally, when I started working from home I had more flexibility. It was easier to fold the laundry, get lunch with a friend or even get sucked in to screaming at CNBC. In exchange, I found myself answering emails at all hours and writing content pieces on Sunday afternoons.
Important Thing #4: Now that “work time” is becoming intertwined with “personal time”, automation at work will be significantly more important.
This great rebalancing of time spent at the office blurs the line between personal time and work time. Flexibility is gained at the expense of potential overreach by those at work.
Important thing #5: Reducing time spent working → increasing time spent doing high value things, lengthening a person’s high value time
This leads me to the most important point of all. If you want users to adopt your product, you’ve got to save them time. Employers have effectively shifted the productivity equation onto the employee by giving them more autonomy and allowing for flexibility in where they work.
Time is the ultimate resource, and it is finite for everybody. Software vendors are competing with each other for mindshare of users. Instead of focusing on increasing time spent in platforms, perhaps they should focus on the net impact of their tools.