The Knowledge Worker’s Day: Our Findings

To successfully manage in the knowledge economy, there are key differences in how knowledge workers work that we must recognize.

Is it time for thought and reflection yet?

For all intents and purposes, knowledge workers “own” the means of production and take it home with them every day, along with invaluable knowledge they develop as they perform their tasks.  Their work is generally not tied to a physical or specific location.  They also have rather different expectations about work and tools, often more demanding than those of industrial workers.

In the course of their jobs, knowledge workers perform tasks that can be grouped under a few overarching categories.  The tasks include searching, creating content (sometimes re-creating), thought and reflection, sharing knowledge, and networking.  All of these areas can be accomplished in more traditional ways, i.e. through direct contact with people, or increasingly, aided by technology.

In early 2010, Basex conducted a survey asking knowledge workers to describe their workday.  The questions included topics such as how long the typical workday was, how much time was devoted to various information sources, and how knowledge workers were impacted by Information Overload.

What we found was striking, compared to the last research we published on the knowledge worker’s day back in 2008 when we found that the typical knowledge worker was only able to devote 12% of the day to thought and reflection.

Here are some of the final findings:

  • 66% of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
  • Over 50% of knowledge workers feel that the amount of information they are presented with on daily basis is detrimental to getting their work done.
  • 94% of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacity.
  • 30% of knowledge workers have no time at all for thought and reflection during their day, and 58% had only between 15 and 30 minutes.

A typical day in the life of the knowledge worker is comprised less of traditional work and more of a frenetic pace that intermingles people and technology interruptions with attempts to create content, find things, and attend meetings.

The Knowledge Worker’s Day:
25% – Information Overload
19% – Content creation
19% – Reading content
17% – Meetings/Phone Calls/Social Interaction
10% – Search and Research
5% – Personal time
5% – Thought and reflection

For our purposes, we define content to include e-mail related tasks, so e-mail time is essentially split between the content creation and reading content percentages.  It is interesting to note as well that the vast majority of knowledge workers spend between 30 minutes and no time at all managing their inboxes.

Since the underpinnings of knowledge work are thought and reflection, it’s ironic that these activities take up a mere 5% of the day, and Information Overload, the thing that holds the knowledge work back, occupies the greatest part of the day.

Knowledge workers are nowhere near as productive, efficient, or effective as they could be – and this is in part due to the problem of Information Overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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