Productivity: People are like hard disks

I just read a fairly common sense article from HP’s latest Technology at Work newsletter.

It prompted me into writing down some thoughts on human productivity that I’ve had for a while that are nicely relevant from an IT Pro’s perspective: that humans are like (mechanical) hard disks.

The gist of HP’s article is that productivity decreases as multitasking increases: try to switch from one task to another too frequently and you become increasingly “busy” but your productivity drops right off.

Now think about how fast you can get data into or out of a hard disk if you’re streaming to/from a single large file – it’s actually not so bad. But make that disk start trying to read and write from multiple files (or a single fragmented file) and the seek time kills the data throughput. The time the read/write heads spend being moved from one place to another becomes so significant that the disk spends a higher proportion of its time moving the heads around than it does actually reading/writing data.

To help improve the efficiency of a disk it is accessed via a controller that buffers the requests, and can even re-order and prioritise them. The human equivalent of this is (should be!) your manager.

Continuing this analogy, we could start to consider the different ways that teams of people operate as RAID levels, but perhaps that’s going a little too far!

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