Thanks to the web and social media, interruptions have become not just a way of life, but a way to work according to data out from Cisco. We’re conducting more work in smaller increments, but why are we still using the billable hour?


Thanks to the web and social media, interruptions have become not just a way of life, but a way to work according to survey data out from Cisco. The networking giant found that among college students and young professionals, 24 percent experience three to five interruptions in a given hour, while 84 percent get interrupted at least once while trying to complete a project.

What’s stunning about this isn’t that college students and young professionals (defined by Cisco as folks in their first job out of college) are being interrupted, it’s Dave Evans’ assessment that these interruptions are now part of the way of corporate life. Evans, who is Cisco’s chief futurist, conveniently points to more survey data showing that seven out of 10 respondents friend managers and coworkers on Facebook as well as follow them on Twitter. Evans says that they work there. Given that young people are conducting work online via social media sites, and that they are both multi-tasking and being interrupted, I wonder if we need to rethink the billable hour?

For lawyers, contractors, accountants and many other professionals, following, responding to and interacting with clients and coworkers via social media isn’t the type of work that can be broken down into hour-long chunks. Plus, as we tote smartphones and fire off quick emails on the fly, that does take a toll on our family lives and intrudes on the mental break we may need from our work. These two-minute tasks are no longer a side element to work, but make up a considerable chunk of it. The nature of work is changing, and perhaps the way contractors and other professionals charge people for it should change as well.

Other data worth noting from the survey includes:

  • Two out of three surveyed would choose the Internet over a car.
  • Two of five college students surveyed globally said the Internet is more important to them than dating, going out with friends, or listening to music.
  • More than one in four college students globally (27 percent) said staying updated on Facebook was more important than partying, dating, listening to music, or hanging out with friends.
  • One of every three college students and employees surveyed globally believes the Internet is a fundamental resource for the human race – as important as air, water, food and shelter. About half believe the Internet is “pretty close” to that level of importance.
  • Two-thirds of students and more than half of young employees cite a mobile device (laptop, smartphone, tablet) as “the most important technology in their lives.”
  • Smartphones are poised to surpass desktops as the most common tool from a global perspective, as 19 percent of college students consider smartphones as their “most important” device used on a daily basis, compared to 20 percent for desktops.

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  1. This is a misrepresentation of real Social Media as you talk largely about “students” not working professionals. In the real world of Social Media you will want to please your clients thus far too busy or focussed on meeting your “multi-tasking” goals to be distracted. Social Media whether SEO, PPC, content writing, blogging, tweeting, networking or other from Linkedin, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Bing, Stumbleupon, Technorati, Twitter etc, etc then track, update, create and email clients you will be lucky you get lunch or to bed by midnight daily.

  2. I feel sorry for those who feel the internet is more important than true social interaction. Those folks are doomed in the long run.

  3. What have we done to our kids? Seriously, internet more important than engaging 1:1 with real people or listening to Mozart? We’re doomed.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Lynne Wednesday, September 21, 2011

      I think one could listen to Mozart on the Internet as well as interact one-to-one will real people. I’m not as hardcore that I’d forgo a face-to-face conversation with a friend, but to help a true Internet friend, I’d pass on a face-to-face meeting with an acquaintance. I think there is a generational divide in terms of “friends” on the web.

  4. C.A Advert Solutions Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    First of all, I’m definitely concerned about people who think the Internet and its various media are more important than being with real people.
    Secondly, at least for social media professionals, it seems to me that we are the ones who are up late every night, working on things for ourselves or clients. The work day line has been blurred. I would say the billable hour is dying–but mostly because of over working, rather than under working.

    1. So, when do YOU get to be with real people?

  5. I don’t believe 7 in 10 friend their managers on Facebook. Very unrealistic. I would never do such a thing. Facebook is your social life. Why let your manager inside your social life? Unless of course you keep 2 accounts. I can see on G+ because you can separate with Circles. I can see on Twitter. But when you mix work with your social life on social networks you are not the real you online. And of course then that means all those influence and marketing seminars toss out the window because how can you sell or market to a lie?

  6. These are some surprising revelation. With this level of interruption it seems one can get nothing done. How can we manage these interruptions better?

    1. How can we get anything done and equally important how can we get anything done that is really valuable? I worry about the quality of what we’re producing if we’re being interrupted all the time. I’ve heard that Jonathan Franzen writes his novels in a room without any distractions: no Internet, no pictures on the wall, no windows, nothing.

  7. Create a workspace for each client, then bill social media minutes in Hamster. Done.

    1. By the way, I’m talking about Linux workspaces, if that wasn’t clear.

  8. global student and employee surveys, really? can you denote the actual ## of responses and from what countries say that the Internet is as important as water and air? If these are valid…its much less expensive to implement broadband across a nation than provide clean water supply…hmmm.

  9. I was surprised when I came across some stats showing that a worker gets an interruption every 8 minutes on the average! Obviously, there are interruptions of different kinds – say, getting an unexpected urgent call is a more serious excuse to get distracted from writing your monthly report, than checking out some new photos posted by a friend. Managing time would go much smoother, if we could eliminate those unproductive interruptions. Better the save the fun of checking out those friend’s photos in the free time :)

  10. Thanks Stacey for posting this. I’m also noticing “interruptions” with many work peers. So decided to take a fun perspective of the whole work vs social networking balance, or lack there of:



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