Keep Wasting Time Online at Work: It's Better for Productivity

A new study yet again shows that Internet procrastination has its benefits

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Everyone wastes time online at their jobs. Can you really blame working folk for taking a moment out of their long boring days to online shop, or watch a funny YouTube video, or read their favorite Tumblr? For those feeling guilty for their online procrastination habits, a new study has proven that spending time, say, reading your favorite news site makes workers even better at their jobs, reports The Wall Street Journal's Rachel Emma Silverman. "Web browsing can actually refresh tired workers and enhance their productivity, compared to other activities such as making personal calls, texts or emails, let alone working straight through with no rest at all." But don't rejoice just yet by clicking over to check your Facebook account for the third time this morning, because for every study that finds the benefits of surfing the Web there's another that says it's a wasteful time suck.

Taking a minute to relieve your brain from boring work duty has its benefits, argues a study out of the National University of Singapore. Don J.Q. Chen and Vivien K.G Lim write in their paper, "Browsing the Internet serves an important restorative function." For you econ folks, it works like diminishing marginal returns: the more you work, the worse your end product--at some point you need to pause and refresh. Screwing around online has that power, explain the authors. When browsing the Internet, people "usually choose to visit only the sites that they like—it's like going for a coffee or snack break. Breaks of such nature are pleasurable, rejuvenating the Web surfer," researcher Dr. Lim told Silverman in an email.

According to a 2009 study out of the University of Melbourne, while workers might spend paid minutes watching a YouTube video of a panda sneezing, or what have you, they more than make up for that time later in the day. "People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration," researcher Dr. Brent Coker told Ars Technica's Jacqui Cheng. "Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity." The research found that those who spent less than 20 percent of their time perusing the Internet's silly offerings were 9 percent more productive than those who resist going online.

Not only does a brain reset help you get through the day, but resisting the urge to go online negatively impacts your work, according a Harvard Business School study. The researchers suggested that energy spent resisting the Internet's allure takes attention away from other tasks.

But for all the studies urging you to click over to Facebook, others have found that your leisure time is costing companies. "Internet misuse in the workplace costs American corporations more than $178 billion annually in lost productivity. This translates into a loss of more than $5,000 per employee per year," reported Reuters in 2007. A 2002 BBC report found similar numbers. "A company that makes £700,000 profit on a turnover of £10-12m could be losing 15% of its profits because of abuse of net and e-mail abuse."

But maybe people have gotten better at Web multitasking since the aughts. Sure, when the Internet was a shiny new toy, workers spent too much time cruising the web, but now we're all web surfing pros who need a mind break every so often. At least this Internet procrastinator would like to think so.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.