My Productivity Highlights From The Last 20 Years


I’ve been thinking about my productivity a lot over the last few months, it’s struck me that for all the new innovations that have been delivered it hasn’t improved that that much.  As I look back over the last 20 years the high points are not the obvious ones, it’s not been the iPhone or iPad, it’s not been the fancy big screen I’m using now, it’s not been Facebook or the endless cycle of collaboration tools that my company has provided with great fanfare and them withdrawn a few years later.  These are the high points as I remember them.

It all starts with Windows NT 3.51 which I fought hard to introduce as the standard desktop operating system in my company nearly 20 years ago.  NT revolutionised my work experience, providing a relatively rock solid, work focused, local and internet connected working environment with seamless file sharing across the enterprise and publishing to our Intranet.  I’ve never looked back, Windows NT has been my faithful friend ever since and it’s never let me down.  We quickly adopted Windows NT 4 which provided the task bar and since then there’s not been any really significant productivity improvements that I remember that I couldn’t get through free third party utilities.

Next up was Lotus Notes 4.6 which I introduced into the same company, replacing the text based All-In-1,  Lotus Notes brought in the era of easy emailing of attachments, discussion databases and easy calendar management.  Although this was probably 18 years ago I don’t really remember any significant improvements to my deskbound email productivity since then.

Next is the best laptop I’ve ever owned, the ThinkPad A20P, which although it’s 14 years old had a higher resolution screen than the laptop I’m using today, an ultra-bay that allowed me to install a second hard drive, battery or DVD drive in seconds.  It was powerful, flexible and light enough in a backpack.  It was the first laptop that allowed me to easily run a couple of virtual machines, a task my current laptop struggles to achieve even though I now have 16 times as much memory, such is progress.

Now it’s the turn of my beloved Nokia 6310i mobile phone, which is 13 years old.  I still have it, and still use it, it’s battery still lasts days longer than my iPhone and it has better phone reception.  At the time I had a full car kit that was fully integrated.  I loved the single button dialling (press and hold 6 to call home).

Then a miracle happened, 12 years ago I got a Blackberry 5810, a device designed perfectly for my road warrior period.  It revolutionised time on the road, it was perfectly designed for processing and writing emails.  It buzzed when a new email arrived, auto-opened that email when I took it from it’s holster, email was pushed to it every few minutes, it had superb calendar integration and battery life.  It even had a phone (but no car kit).  I loved it, my email productivity peaked all those years ago and has only gone downhill from there.  My team even setup it’s own server to get the Blackberry service up and running, we loved it so much.

Then 12 years ago comes the best tablet I’ve ever owned, a HP TC1100 with a 2G GPRS data card, a stylus, hot swap battery packs and the perfect A4 like form-factor.  It had a better keyboard and docking solution than the Surface Pro 3 and a better feel in the hands.  I loved sketching and brain storming ideas on this little tablet in a way that has not yet been bettered.  A modern device that looked like the TC1100 would fly off the shelves, or at least I would buy it!  I had one of the first TC1100’s ever made!

At this point, also about 10 years ago I started to work from home and adopted a desktop with three screens, a big 27” central screen running at 1920×1080 resolution with two 19” 1280*1024 displays either side.  For high need knowledge work this was a dream setup and I’ve never been more productive sitting at a desk.

Then 10 years ago I got my first good Smartphone, the Treo 650, I’d had a 600 but I didn’t like it.  Wow what a great gadget, it wasn’t as good for email as the Blackberry, but it was an all-rounder.  It was a jack of all trades and master of one, the one thing the Treo 650 delivered for me was podcasts and it was the best podcast experience I’ve ever head because of the app Pocket Tunes and utilities like Freedom and Headset Control that provided customised double-click and triple-click controls.  Podcasts transformed my productivity because they let me get work done while walking, cycling and even swimming! 

Next up is the amazing productivity boost that came from RSS feeds and automated podcast downloading that came with FeedDemon about 10 years ago.  RSS feeds probably tripled my research productivity and FeedDemon was really fast.  I would queue up my articles to read in Firefox tabs (another great productivity boon). 

Finally, about 7 years ago, we get to a service that my company provided that had a productivity impact,  Lotus Sametime that provided presence and chat and then later web conferencing.  I’d been doing web meetings for many years using NetMeeting, and presence and chat using Windows Messenger but Sametime bought it mainstream.  I loved Sametime it made working with a distributed team practical, although of course working in distributed teams brought with it a significant productivity drop!

We are nearing the end now, a couple of web apps arrived 6-7 years ago that really made a difference.  Google as a research tool and Twitter as a discovery, social networking and diary tool.

That’s about it, a stunning condemnation of IT’s ability to deliver personal productivity improvements in recent years.  Most of the peak experiences having been delivered 10 or more years ago, most of the benefits since then having been delivered by Moore’s law. Many of the ‘improvements’ recent have just danced around the edges of innovations made many years ago, providing eye candy, distraction or all too often degradation.  Maybe I just have selective memory, or am feeling particularly nostalgic today, it would be interesting to see how others remember the same period!

I’m writing this post in Caffe Nero, using free WIFI and a ThinkPad x230, Caffe Nero is the latest of a long series of morning cafes in my life.  10 years ago I would have been sitting in the Cafe In The Park (now demolished) eating wonderful hot buttered toast, over looking the bowling green.  I would have been using my HP TC1100 Tablet, connected to the internet using my GPRS card.  As befits this nostalgic post I’m picking a photo to illustrate it from Haweswater where I was hiking at about this time last year.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

  1. Vince says:

    I’d add as the most increased productivity aspects: WIMP – as typified initially in my experience by the Mac System 6 and then 7; and connected with that is system-wide copy/cut/paste.

    Having spent some time on mainframe text editors and batch systems. The above two innovations were huge leaps.

  2. I definitely agree Vince, but they pre-date my 20 year time horizon

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