Do I spend too much time online at work?
July 16, 2009 9:55 PM   Subscribe

How much time do you spend online at work? Am I spending too much time online?

My job isn't that challenging, and though I'm working towards (and slowly getting closer to) an improvement in position that I'd really love, I find that I have a lot of free time between tasks to read online. I could read work-related information, but instead I peruse RSS feeds and use social media.

The amount of time I spend online depends on how busy I am. Some days I might spend 4 out of 8 hours messing around online, and some I only have time for an hour at lunch. I'd say I average 2 hours, though most of it is in 30-second to 5-minute bits.

My direct manager is a friend, and also tends to be online a lot (and even uses one of the same popular social media sites as me).

I'm getting my work done, and have the highest ratings on my performance reviews. Still, it makes me a little nervous and I'm wondering if I'm actually not spending more time online than everyone else, and we've all just learned to hide it well.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely none that isn't work related. I'd no more spend working hours surfing the net than I'd spend them making personal telephone calls or dealing with personal correspondence. I know some companies have no problem with limited personal use of work place resources, but unless an employer explicitly states it's OK, I'd assume it isn't.

If I had an employee who was spending an average of two hours a day surfing the net, I'd be either increasing their workload or reducing their hours. Two hours a day is a quarter of your working week. That's a lot of goofing off, no matter how productive you are for the other 30 hours.
posted by Lolie at 10:16 PM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not a good idea.

Even if it's not impacting your work, you're leaving a window open for a future manager to discipline you, or for management to deny you a promotion, or any number of other "unfair" retributions. For example, your "friend" who is your supervisor could get promoted or fired, or could simply be unhappy with you at some point in the future. Then what?

If I was your superior, I'd overlook a couple of 'checking my e-mail' times or maybe even up to an hour of 'messing around' during a work day, but 4 to 8 hours screwing around in a single work day is excessive, and pretty clear terms for dismissal if anyone wants to find an excuse.

You say you're working toward a promotion, so can you find "fun" things to do online that would help you toward that, or help you with your NEXT promotion after that? I know that if I was being paid for 8 hours of goofing off online, I'd damn sure do my best to use that online time to improve myself professionally. What an opportunity!
posted by rokusan at 10:21 PM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

As Lolie suggests, the professional way to handle this is to ask for more work.

"I had nothing to do for six hours yesterday" is the right way to fix the problem.
posted by rokusan at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2009

How much time do you spend online at work?

It really fluctuates, depending on what I have to do and whether or not I can get into The Zone, where nothing distracts me. I might have a run of 2 or 3 days where I waste literally hours and hours online (in short bursts) and then go for the same time again with very high productivity & only brief patches of web surfing in my lunch hour or tea break. It's actually something I feel quite guilty about and make intermittent attempts to cut down on... but the online time always seem to creep back up. Have you considered using Leechblock or something similar, for a reality check on your time management?

You don't say what kind of work you do, but many of my friends are civil servants in pretty cruisy positions, and would spend AT LEAST 4 hours per day surfing the web looking at nothing in particular. So I don't think your stats are particularly unusual - but maybe I just know a lot of slackers!

Am I spending too much time online?

I would say that if you're asking this question, then yeah... it's probably your conscience letting you know that something needs to change. I speak as someone whose conscience seems to be saying the same thing...
posted by Weng at 10:36 PM on July 16, 2009

Echoing what has been said so far.

I am in a similar situation as you with my current employment: Lax environment, almost no supervision, easy work, never behind schedule and so on. So during work hours I am mostly on MSN with a friend who also happens to be on the internet a lot. I'd say I spend about an hour or so on the internet (guess where :D), usually for a bit every few hours and whenever I eat.

The difference is, my job is temporary and slated to end in September when school starts, so no real chance for a pay raise/promotion. If I wanted, I could easily spend way more time goofing around, while still completing my assigned work. However, I'd rather not because I happen to like my work and waste enough time at home. I want to do a good job for myself and so I do all sorts of extra stuff to help out. I want people to have a decent impression of me when I leave so that I can have a decent network of contacts and good references. In the end, I feel I am fortunate that my primary motivation is wanting to do a good job and wanting to learn more about my field and the rest of the nonsense on my various cover letters.

So basically, since you do seem to have so much flexibility, do what has been suggested and ask for more work. Even if you don't particularly care for the new work, at least help out with what you can at first so that you can work your way into doing stuff that you do like and want to spend time on.
posted by shoebox at 10:49 PM on July 16, 2009

If you haven't already install timetracker. It's a firefox plugin, perhaps there is something similar for other browsers. Quantify what you are doing.

Then think about what you would think if you were running your own company and you knew that one of your employees was spending half their time not on work related stuff.
posted by sien at 10:59 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking this is one of those things where if you have to ask, you already kinda know what the answer is.

That said, I spend a fair amount of time on the internet at my job too. I've never actually tried to quantify it, but a half-assed guess would probably be something around 2 hours as well. My place tends to be very laid-back, but the understanding is that everything had better be completed properly in order to screw around online. If something does come up, you better be ready to handle it quickly. Also, we try to not be completely obvious about the screwing around.

Asking for more work is a good thing, especially since you're trying to advance. Even better would be to notice things that need to be dealt with and then approaching your supervisor/boss, telling them that you'd like to deal with said things.

Since part of my job consists of sitting on the internet doing research, I set limits for myself like 'I can go check AskMe after doing x.'
posted by sperose at 11:11 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

But, if you don't have enough work to do, you don't have enough work. If the organization needs a dedicated person for the tasks that you perform, but those tasks are already completed and there are no more outstanding, what are you supposed to do? If there's not more work, the manager can't make more work, sometimes - it might make him/her a little crazy to have to deal with figuring out more tasks to pass on, whether or not you have the skills for them, etc. And if the company has an employee start handling part of others' workload, it makes the other people (& possibly the manager) look kind of bad, plus they're getting more from you beyond your job requirements and not paying you any more money.

I mean, if you have a solid 5 hours occupied by tasks, and then no more work available for you, do you need to be sure and spend the other 3 hours reading only stuff related to your job? I don't think so, especially since reading stuff related to your job is not a requirement for your job - the requirement, I presume, is that you get done what you're asked to get done. And just stay on top of working toward the higher position, of course.
posted by citron at 12:14 AM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

You never know what's going to happen in a business. Your boss might not be a protective buffer forever. Or maybe IT decides on a whim to check what Internet sites employees are using.

For what it's worth, I suspect this is very common. Walking around the office, I've often been surprised to see plenty of non-work windows open. (Which is another thing to think about: your habit might be noticeable to others.)
posted by zompist at 12:21 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, I figure - 30 second to 5 minute bits of reading online is not a long time - if you didn't have a computer, would you feel guilty for a 30 second pause or distraction or just plain doing nothing? Or a three minute run to the water cooler? Or a couple minutes of rearranging your desk? Nah.

And about cutting an employee's hours for this: bureaucratically speaking, assuming this is a full-time gig in a decent-size organization, reducing a full-time position to part-time is probably a pain in the ass & way more trouble than it's worth & something the supervisor would probably never want to do - go to the higher-ups and say "hey I can't find enough for my direct employee to do, can you cut some of his/her hours please, thereby making me look like a slacker as a manager & taking money out of my budget."
posted by citron at 12:23 AM on July 17, 2009

Apparently, small amounts (less than 20% of your day) of browsing can help you recharge and become more productive. I'd say if you're starting to hit 4 hours it's a good idea to ask around for additional projects or see if anyone needs help, but an hour or so a day of "checking out" is probably nothing to worry about, at least in your current situation.
posted by stefanie at 12:31 AM on July 17, 2009

I want to give a little fresh input. I see people saying, ask for more work. That's a fine approach.

I also want to suggest some proactivity:

+You know your job, look around. Are there things that can be improved? Is a certain process inefficient? Is your desk unorganized? Is something lacking documentation? Take it on yourself to go do it. Document what you do so you can whip it out at the next performance review.
+Where do you want to go within the organization? Find someone who's in that area, befriend him or her, and ask if they have some short tasks they'd delegate to you.
+Invest in yourself with knowledge. Instead of using social websites, try to find and experiment with work-relevant information.

After re-reading your question, it seems like you're most interested in risk avoidance. I'd encourage you to instead ask the question, "what kind of behavior would maximize my long-term outcome?"
posted by dualityofmind at 12:39 AM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

My answer is probably not relevant to your situation, but it does answer your question.

I work an 8 or 12 hour shift, depending on the day of the week, and definitely spend at least 6 hours per shift "goofing off" (for lack of a better word). HOWEVER, I work overnight and am the only person on staff in this office at that time. Not a lot goes on, but someone has to be here for when something DOES happen.

On the other hand, management is aware of this fact, and I don't have to "hide" anything I do here, so, like I said, this probably doesn't apply to you.
posted by srrh at 1:05 AM on July 17, 2009

RescueTime allows you to track exactly how much time you spend on what. It tells me that I spent 28 hours out of 151 in June wasting time on the internets - and also that this puts me in the 30% most productive users of their software. By my company's metrics, I'm the most productive employee in my team.

The way I see this, there are 2 important points:
* I'm a knowledge worker, my work consists in knowing things and processing information. A lot of the time I spend in Google Reader is actually very relevant for this.
* If your work consists at least in part in providing low latency responses to some input (customers, colleagues) that can come up any time, there are good mathematical reasons why you should be idle a good part of the time. So don't feel bad about it.
posted by dhoe at 1:17 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depends on the job. I've gone through most of the examples listed above. No time to goof off, occasional long stretches of goofing time (but no computers) and project based work where there is little to do between work.

As long as you are not content with the way things are now (both in your career and within the current position) and are taking steps to address that, you're fine. I know people who fill up their day because they feel it necessary to have something to do constantly. A lot of these people do not actually contribute anything positive but actually generate more work and useless processes as 'busywork'. When work comes in they end up doing less actual, what-whe-are-paid-for-work because they are so busy with everything they have created. The slack between between work should be used to make the time when work comes in easier and less complicated, not harder and more muddled with unnecessary processes. I think dhoe's idea of 'low latency response' is very true, at least for myself. If I'm juggling tasks that have little to no actual relevance, I can't give 100% to my primary task when it comes in.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:25 AM on July 17, 2009

I allow myself the last 5-10 minutes of every hour (and lunch time) to decompress and space out on the internet for a minute. This is not a hard and fast rule - if I have work to do, I do my work - but I am in the camp that believes that taking this time out to let my brain rest will allow me to be more productive.

That said, I've never used rescuetime before. I'll have to check it out.
posted by orville sash at 5:27 AM on July 17, 2009

I'm getting my work done, and have the highest ratings on my performance reviews.

If that's what you're getting paid to do, I fail to see the problem here.

Tip: often I feel guilty about wasting time in general--whether at work or at home--because I know I could be doing something better with that time. If you're already getting your work done, maybe find something else you can do in that free time that you'll feel better about. Learn a new programming language, experiment with graphic design--something easily done at work. Perhaps you'll feel less guilty about the time "wasted" then.
posted by jgunsch at 6:40 AM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with jgunsch on this one. If you are getting your work done, and consistently have high performance ratings,.. then whats the problem? Are their ways that you could push for more work, or creatively suggest ways to improve the workplace?.. Probably, and if you feel inclined you should definitely do those things, But I'm not sure you should feel guilty about slacking off.

I've struggled with that question for years. As a freelance IT consultant, lets say I hypothetically charge $95/hour to come fix your computer. If I'm really good at my job, and I spot the problem right away and come up with a creative way to fix it in 10minutes, most customers are going to balk at paying the full $95 since I wasnt there for an hour. (So basically I'm getting penalized for being skilled.) In the corporate workplace, I also think performance metrics are a silly way to evaluate employees. If my coworker and I both are given a equal number of helpdesk tickets to work, and by my better skills I get them all completed in 2 days, but it takes him 8 (because he keeps making mistakes or is slow to troubleshoot)... then who is the better/worse employee?... Should I feel bad for rocking my tickets out each morning and spending the afternoon "coasting" because everything is working smoothly in my building? Or, as the better employee, should I be unfairly given a larger and larger workload until I burnout? (which has happened to me on several occasions, where I end up doing the workload of 3 or 4 people)
posted by jmnugent at 7:14 AM on July 17, 2009

@ jmnugent,

like most jobs, i imagine the OP was hired to do the best work they could: for themselves and for their company. most profitable, most efficient, most conscientious. while a tiny bit of 'decompression' time may actually make the OP /more/ effective, justifying slackness and distractions is patently inconsiderate, and more than a little dishonest. there are plenty of people who are out of work, or behind the OP and bucking for promotion, who would be happy to do the work w/out recourse to 'coasting.'
posted by mr. remy at 7:37 AM on July 17, 2009

I think these comments are rather harsh. The best person for a job might be a person who sprints and then recoups, or it might be a person who works at a steady slow pace. I think it is wrong to suggest that the former person is inferior, or being dishonest.

In fact if I was an employer I would prefer an employee who can cover normal work with some time and intellectual energy to spare, because they then have additional capacity when work demands increase.

My job unpredictably requires very fast response. The 'price' of having a person like me (or the questioner) on the books, who can work faster than average when required, is that they won't be fully stretched all the time. (of course the alternative is to take on so much work that you work at super-fast pace all day every day, but I think very few people can sustain that for years without breakdown - I know some can)
posted by communicator at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

People who go 100% all the time burn out.
posted by smackfu at 9:19 AM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're not alone; lots of people spend time on the Web at work. However, in this economy, it could seriously lead to being unemployed. Set yourself some goals to get certified, or gain skills in some work-related area. Use that spare 2 hours a day to benefit yourself and your employer.
posted by theora55 at 9:26 AM on July 17, 2009

dhoe: Can you explain further what queueing theory has to say about the necessity of idle time? Or point me to a link? I checked out the Wikipedia article, but it wasn't immediately apparent to me what portion of queueing theory suggests that. But it sounds interesting (and potentially useful to the OP), so I'd love to know more!
posted by limeonaire at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2009

I definitely used to spend that much time online at my previous job, during slow periods. I would ask and ask and ask for more work, but no one would give me any. There WAS plenty of work; I just wasn't given it, I think because the people in charge didn't have the time to spend explaining what they needed.

Eventually, they figured out that spending 15 minutes teaching me something was faster than spending 4 hours doing it themselves, and my workload increased significantly to the point where I always had something I could do, though not necessarily something I needed to do. At that point, I would spent the majority of the time working, but spent an average of probably 10 minutes per hour either online or chatting with co-workers, which I think is pretty normal.

Of course, if I had something urgent, I would work the full 8-hr day with only a couple (1-3) 5 minute email checks.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2009

@ mr. remy:
I understand what you are saying, but (without you knowing me personally) I dont think my behavior is inconsiderate or dishonest, I just havent been able to find a better solution. ( I'm probably one of the hardest working people anyone around me knows (last year I spent 6 months working 2 full time jobs with no days off and averaging only about 4hours of sleep a day) ... The job before that I literally worked myself into a mental breakdown). Work always comes first.

Every task I'm asked to do, I focus on finding the very best solution. However lets say I'm twice as good as my coworker, and I'm able to solve 16hours of work in an 8 hour day. I don't get paid twice as much - I still get paid the same as my coworker. So I have two choices, I can slow down to "average"... (which would mean "coasting" part of the day) ... or I can continually ask my boss for more work (which annoys him greatly, OR he wont give me any because its projects I'm not allowed to work on)... and work myself into burnout. I'm not sure what other options there are. The performance metrics my field uses are worthless (they only show how fast we solve trouble tickets, they dont reflect the quality or depth of our work).
posted by jmnugent at 11:37 AM on July 17, 2009

"I had nothing to do for six hours yesterday" is the right way to fix the problem get singled out for the next round of layoffs.

FTFY, rokusan.

Regardless of performance reviews. Bosses generally hate the sound of that.

Think of it this way... Which would make you happier, someone who charged you $8 for a salad, or someone who charged you $2 for a salad, but stole $6 from your pocket while you ate? OK, it's not a perfect analogy, but the feeling is still there.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:18 PM on July 17, 2009

Regardless of performance reviews. Bosses generally hate the sound of that.

No. Asking for more work shows drive.

If you don't like the tone of my flippant version, think of it as "I've gotten so good at this that I'm ready for the next challenge." It's asking for more work and more responsibility. It's a good thing.

That doesn't get you fired in any sane workplace.

(But then again, a workplace where someone and their manager spend all day futzing around on social websites instead of working might not be wound quite right to begin with.)
posted by rokusan at 9:13 PM on July 17, 2009

@limeonaire: See this article for a bit more details about that idea. It links to a graph here showing how the queue length increases very quickly with resource utilization. Note that it's not relevant if we're talking about database or CPUs or some sort of call center - queuing theory will apply in any case.
posted by dhoe at 12:43 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

@dhoe: Someone needs to do some studies running those numbers on people, considering how queue-based a lot of "information work" has become, and how fast that sector of the economy has grown. Although those articles are about hardware, they do really well to explain the way I queue work on a daily basis, and why latencies sometimes crop up. Reminds me of "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work," which I find myself returning to again and again.

Sometimes I just want to tell people, "Look, this is how it works: I can either get everything done on time as scheduled, or try to get everything done at once and get nothing done on time. It doesn't matter to me either way, as long as you're able to be fairly understanding should the latter situation arise; those are just the options. That's how queues function. Your choice."
posted by limeonaire at 8:29 PM on August 4, 2009

« Older What are the best places to talk about China...   |   Can a Male have Multiple Orgasms? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.