When Computers Reduce Your Productivity

How many times has something like this happened to you?

By now, most of us who participate in social networking — Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. — know firsthand how social networking can absolutely destroy productivity. The rest of us with Internet connections can see how having an email client or Web browser open at our desks can seriously reduce productivity. But have you ever stopped to consider how the computer applications we actually use to get our work done hurt our productivity?

For an example of this, I can draw upon something that happened to me last week.

WordPress LogoI manage a number of WordPress-based Web sites, including one for N&W Associates, which sells helicopter ground handling solutions. N&W is owned and operated by Walter, who is an older gentleman who builds wheels and tow bars from scratch in his workshop. He’s a very nice man but not exactly computer literate, so I manage every aspect of the site for him. Every once in a while, he sends me some new material for the site and I put it online.

About a month ago, I completed my move of all sites I manage from GoDaddy hosting (good riddance!) to Bluehost. N&W was one of the last sites I moved. After moving it, I tested it and it worked fine.

Last week, Walter sent me an email message asking if I’d add mention of R66 helicopters, since their skid configuration is the same as R44 helicopters, thus making his equipment compatible. No problem, I said. It was an easy fix. His site only has about 6 pages so adding references to the R66 should take about 10 minutes tops. I told him I’d do it right away.

And I did. Or at least I tried to.

Trouble is, when I went to log into WordPress on his site, I couldn’t log in. No error message — instead, the login screen kept reappearing, as if I hadn’t even tried to log in.

For about 10 minutes, I tried multiple password combinations. No luck.

For about 5 minutes, I used FTP software to examine the settings files for a password and tried that password. No luck.

For about 20 minutes, I researched the password problem on WordPress’s Support site.

For another 20 minutes, I tried three different techniques to reset the password. No luck.

For about 20 minutes, I researched the login problem on forums on WordPress’s Support site.

For another 15 minutes, I tried both of the solutions people in the forums claimed would work for them. No luck.

For 10 minutes, I went back to the WordPress support forums using a variety of different search phrases. In one forum post, someone mentioned, in passing, the .htaccess file. A lightbulb went off in my head.

For 5 minutes, I used a text editor to open the .htaccess file I’d created for N&W. There was some code I’d included that would automatically rewrite the site’s URL to www.helicopterwheels.com (in the address bar and site logs) no matter how the domain was reached. I pulled out those four lines of code, saved the file, and tried logging in.

It worked.

For those of you who care about the problem, here are the details. The N&W site can be reached through two domain names: helicopterwheels.com and r22bigwheels.com. When I moved the site, to ensure continuity during the move, I moved it using the r22bigwheels.com domain. That’s the domain that was set up in WordPress’s General settings for the moved site. I used DNS on Bluehost to point both domains to the same folder containing the site files and it worked fine. Trouble is, when I tried to log in as an administrator, WordPress wanted to give me administrative access on R22bigwheels.com but the .htaccess file kept directing it to helicopterwheels.com. I’d created a loop. Once I logged in, I changed General settings to www.helicopterwheels.com, saved them, and restored the lines of code I’d temporarily removed from .htaccess. It worked the way it was supposed to do.

That little fix took another 5 minutes.

So if you add up all the time I spent on this “10-minute” edit, you’ll see that I lost an hour and 40 minutes of my day.

I can’t blame the computer, of course. And I can’t blame WordPress. It was my configuration error that had caused the problem. But placing blame isn’t the point of this post. The point is, we rely on computers to make us more productive and get tasks done quickly and efficiently. But all too often, it’s computer problems that slow us down.

The problem could be something technical like this. Or it could be a computer malfunction, such as a bad hard disk or software bug. Or it could be the simple fact that we don’t know exactly how to perform a task and have to learn how to do it before we can get it done.

I’m not suggesting here that we work without computers. But I am suggesting that we keep in mind that the more we rely on computers, the more we’re setting ourselves up for the possibility of getting less work done.

And I’m also suggesting that we try hard to keep things simple. If I didn’t put that fancy code in N&W’s .htaccess file, I wouldn’t have lost an hour and 40 minutes of my day to troubleshooting.

Got examples of how your computer cost you time? Share them in the comments!

What do you think?