Why You’re Not Getting Any Work Done Today

It’s not your imagination — it really is harder to focus today. Here, why you can’t stop checking Twitter or looking for adorable photos of puppies. (Hint: It has to do with daylight saving time!)

Feel like you’re more distracted than usual by Facebook? Have a sudden need to know everything about Jessica Biel’s engagement ring? Lost in a haze of cute puppy pictures and funny cat videos? It’s not just you — and it’s not your fault, according to research.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that “cyberloafing” — that is, surfing the Web for non-work-related content — is more prevalent today than on other, normal Mondays. The reason? Daylight saving time, of course.

Daylight saving time (DST) is already a known threat to our physical health — past research has linked it to increased risk of heart attacks, car accidents, and on-the-job injuries — but now experts say it could have an effect on our mental health and the health of our economy as well.

Using six years worth of data from Google, researchers from Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Singapore found that people exhibit poorer self-control on the first work day after the annual “spring forward” shift into DST, leading to high rates of cyberloafing and potentially massive losses in productivity. They blame the spike on the 40 minutes or so of lost ZZZs employees suffer as a result of Sunday’s time change, a theory that’s supported by data from the team’s recent sleep-deprivation study.

For the study, the researchers monitored participants’ sleep the night before they were required to watch a boring lecture online. The less sleep the subjects got, the more time they spent surfing the Web during the lecture the next morning. In fact, for every hour of missed or interrupted shut-eye, there was an increase of 8.4 minutes of cyberloafing. That may not seem like much, but experts say it adds up, especially given that a third of the world’s countries participate in either daylight saving time or some rough equivalent of it.

“Global productivity losses from a spike in employee cyberloafing are potentially staggering,” they warn in their paper, adding that policymakers ought to reconsider the costs and benefits of the time shift. Employers, too, they say, should think about making adjustments to ease their workers’ considerable burdens — not just for the sake of the individuals’ health but also for the success of their companies.

“In the push for high productivity, managers and organizations may cut into the sleep of employees by requiring longer work hours,” the researchers write. “This may promote vicious cycles of lost sleep, resulting in less time spent working, which could result in more frantic pushes for extended work time. Managers may find that by avoiding infringement on employee sleep, they will get more productivity out of their employees.”

By Allison Takeda