Working Hard, Or Watching The NCAA Tournament? Duke University professor Charles Clotfelter heard a rumor that a law firm cut off online access to live streaming during March, because employees were watching too many basketball games. So he decided to measure the NCAA basketball tournament's effect on productivity.

Working Hard, Or Watching The NCAA Tournament?

Working Hard, Or Watching The NCAA Tournament?

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Scott Adams, better known as the creator of Dilbert, created this year's NCAA boss button. Click here to see it at full size. Scott Adams/UFS, Inc./CBS hide caption

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Scott Adams/UFS, Inc./CBS

Scott Adams, better known as the creator of Dilbert, created this year's NCAA boss button. Click here to see it at full size.

Scott Adams/UFS, Inc./CBS

Duke University professor Charles Clotfelter heard a rumor that a law firm cut off online access to live streaming during March, because employees were watching too many basketball games. So he decided to measure the NCAA basketball tournament's effect on productivity.

Clotfelter studied data from 78 research libraries in the U.S. He analyzed the number of articles viewed, Feb. - Apr., in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He discovered a drop in research in the libraries during March Madness in those three years, evidence of decreased productivity related to the tournament.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, designed the 2010 Boss Button. For students and employees covertly watching games online, the Boss Button is situated right at the top of the video screen. One click, and the "March 2010 Work Flow Diagram" takes over the screen, providing potential cover for the unproductive.


We suspect that more than the usual number of workers called in sick today. Office break rooms may be a little more crowded and bandwidth at the office a little harder to come by. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is underway and it's main symptom, anecdotally at least, is decreased productivity. But real data about the effects of March Madness is hard to come by, at least 'till now.

Charles Clotfelter, a professor at Duke University, has some data. And he joins us in a moment. But how has the start of March Madness changed your workplace? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: You can also join the conversation at our Web site. That's at, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And in a bit, we'll talk with Scott Adams, the cartoonist who brought us "Dilbert," who created this year's boss button.

But first, Charles Clotfelter, who teaches public policy, economics and law at Duke, and joins us from his office there on the campus in Durham, North Carolina. Nice to have you with us today.

Professor CHARLES CLOTFELTER (Duke University): Thanks very much.

CONAN: And I suppose you're actually not all that disturbed because the Duke game is until tomorrow night.

Prof. CLOTFELTER: You know, I really didn't know that. But I knew that it's sometime this week.

CONAN: Okay. How did you discover that less work is done during the tournament?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: I was looking for a way to measure this thing that people are talking about and that you certainly see around. And it came to me that, at universities, we use the Web for research.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. CLOTFELTER: And I thought about one of the sites there that I use a lot, and a lot of researchers do, and it's called JSTOR. And we used to go the dusty basement of the library to get journals out to read all issues. But now, you just go to the Web. And this service counts every time somebody like me looks at an article. So at the typical library, there might be a thousand or more articles looked at every day.

And through the good services of my local librarian, I got permission from 78 different libraries to gather the data on the number of articles viewed.

CONAN: And it changed noticeably during March Madness?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: What you see is that it tends to creep up a little every week throughout the semester or throughout the spring and, except for one week, and it's the week immediately following Selection Sunday. So it's the week that we're in right now. And I looked at these patterns for these 78 libraries and some of them, by the way, don't even have teams. And what we found in each of those years is that the week that we're in right now was lower. So that while it was increasing at about a rate of five percent a week, during this week, it went down by six percent. So that's a total of about 11 percent decline.

CONAN: Eleven percent decline. And obviously, this is a hard number that you can check. But do you suspect that there's a productivity drop in other areas of our industriousness?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: Well, first, I would say, I'm not sure that it translates to an overall productivity decline, because people know this is coming. And so they might plan around it and know that these few days, they're not going to do as much but they'll do more maybe later or last week or next week. But I do suspect that what I found through research libraries, would be just about exactly the same thing you'd find if you went to insurance offices or law offices.

CONAN: And this makes no particular difference as to whether your school is a basketball factory or doesn't have a team all?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: Correct. It works the same in research libraries without a division one team.

CONAN: That's - so what got you interested in this in the first place?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: I'm writing a book about how big-time sports fits into a university. And you know, if you had a Martian who came down and you told him what a university does, you'd talk about teaching, you'd talk about research. And then he'd go over to the football stadium and say, what is this? And you'd have a hard time explaining.

So I'm a higher education person and I've been studying universities for some time, so I thought I would take a shot at trying to explain the logic of having commercial sports in the middle of the university.

CONAN: And from your earlier comment, you're apparently not devoted to the career of Coach Krzyzewski.

Prof. CLOTFELTER: Oh, no. We're all - we pretty much all are devoted to him. But, you know, you can't - it's - the main thing is, this is something that you can't avoid. I tell people that if you come down to North Carolina, you could be a Clemson fan or a Wake Forest fan or a Carolina fan, but you can't be no fan, because then people will really think you're very unusual.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's interesting. So are you going to spend any time watching the tournament this year?

Prof. CLOTFELTER: I'm sure I will. Last year, actually, I had students -I taped the entire tournament as shown in Raleigh-Durham, 65 hours. And what we did was to count all the ads and to see who was advertising and how they're advertising. And it's quite a media event.

CONAN: Well, we'll let you get back to it, because the tournament is underway. I've got the TV on here in the studio. I swear it's on C-SPAN.

Prof. CLOTFELTER: Okay. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Charles Clotfelter directs the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Voluntarism at Duke University in Durham, and joined us from his office there on the campus.

And here's an email that we have from Michael in Tucson, Arizona: I think my coworkers and I will be much more productive this year. Usually, many people who are the in office follow the scores online and listen to some games on the radio. But for the first time in 25 years, the University of Arizona will not be at the Big Dance. Hopefully, we can go back to being less productive next year.

So what's happening in your office? 800-989-8255. Email us:

Benjamin's calling from Cincinnati.

BENJAMIN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Hi, Benjamin. Go ahead, please.

BENJAMIN: Yeah. I was wondering if I might offer an alternative hypothesis. So I find it interesting that it tracks the basketball schedule. What I'm wondering, though, is that this also coincides with many universities' spring breaks. I'm a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, and I consume JSTOR voraciously, coming up to finals week preparing final papers and such. But then as soon as spring break begins, of course, it drops off. So I just wanted to suggest that.

CONAN: So there might be an alternate explanation that we might want to put this into context.

BENJAMIN: Right. Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: All right. Well, we'll take that under advisement.

BENJAMIN: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Benjamin.

Here's an email from Julie in Kansas City: I was a new lawyer, having just graduated in December 1987, and started my first job February 1988. After a few weeks, I noticed most - all of the lawyers at the firm were gone most of the afternoon. And then there was a period of four or five days when nearly all of them were gone. At one point, it seemed to be the senior member of the firm. Come to find out, KU was progressing through March Madness, made it to the Final Four, and ended up winning the entire thing. And even after the big one, it wasn't over. I had to listen to the whole thing being relived during coffee every morning. Productivity drop doesn't even begin to describe what I saw. I suppose it goes without saying, I am not a sports lover.

Well, anyway, here's your nightmare scenario. Your at work, streaming today's game between Sam Houston and Baylor on your computer. Your boss walks by. What to do? Well, you click on the boss button, of course. The video stops, the sound is muted and a screen pops up. It's a fake Microsoft Office window. This year's NCAA boss button was created by Scott Adams, better known as the creator of "Dilbert." And he joins us now by phone from his home in California.

And, Scott, nice to have you with us today.

Mr. SCOTT ADAMS (Creator, "Dilbert"): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And when you click on the boss button, the March 2010 Workflow Diagram appears in what looks like a PowerPoint.

Mr. ADAMS: It looks like it, if you're about 10 feet away. But if you get a little closer, you can see that some of the flowcharts says stuff like useful soup and coffee to keep your internal organs from voluntarily failing, or remind yourself that finishing a project makes you dispensable.

CONAN: Continue doing nothing is one my favorites.

Mr. ADAMS: Always popular. I like to - one of my favorites is after your - everything your boss says, reply with, thank you for your leadership.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So these are the observations that stem from your comic strip, "Dilbert."

Mr. ADAMS: Well, it's about 20 years of experience, all consolidated into one workflow diagram.

CONAN: And there was an interesting moment, NBC, during the Olympics, had a boss button of their own, but it came up with an empty Excel spreadsheet. And the problem was if that came up as the boss walk by, he'd know you weren't doing anything.

Mr. ADAMS: That's horrible. You know, I like to think that bankers and CEOs have been robbing the stockholders for years and trying to help the little guy get his piece. So you need a good boss button to make that work.

CONAN: And a lot of bandwidth, if everybody in the office is going to start streaming the games.

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah. I suppose that would be a little noticeable, when every computer slows to a crawl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It would, yes. Well, a lot of complaints that, you know, all of a sudden, you're seeing it in stop motion animation.

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah, nobody wants to see basketball with the basketball just kind of hanging in the air there. But from what I've seen, they've got the technical stuff licked.

CONAN: Recruit people for a circle of excellence, organize the meeting and don't attend.

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah. Nobody wants to be at that meeting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: But if you're the organizer, then you're a mover and a shaker. You know, you make things happen.

CONAN: When anyone tries to talk during a meeting, say, settle down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: One of my other favorites was start a rumor that a coworker ate something from the garbage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: That's actually based on something I heard once. It's the sort of thing that once you hear it, you have to know who it was and what it was they ate. You can't really work for the rest of the day.

CONAN: Recharge your personal phone and laptop using company electricity. I do that, anyway.

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah. It's kind of a direct stealing. Fill your water bottle with the company water before you go home. There's lots of ways you can take a little off the top.

CONAN: Recommend cloud computing as a solution whenever you talk to people who don't know what it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: That would be most people, I think.

CONAN: That would be most people. I have to ask you, Scott Adams: How you keep up with the current office jargon when, clearly, you can goof off all day just writing comic strips?

Mr. ADAMS: Well, fortunately, people are just happy to write to me at my blog. You know, they give me ideas for stuff. I solicit ideas, and they say, well, you know, I saw my coworker doing this or that, and suddenly it's a comic.

CONAN: And I wonder: During the basketball tournament, what do you do? You don't need a boss button, do you?

Mr. ADAMS: Well, I've been doing interviews. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah, I can watch it at my leisure. That's the good thing. I've got a big TV right behind my computer.

CONAN: And like mine, I'm sure it's always tuned to C-SPAN.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: Or March Madness.

CONAN: One or the other. Scott Adams, thanks very much for the call. Good luck with the boss button this year.

Mr. ADAMS: All right. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Scott Adams, the creator of "Dilbert" and the 2010 NCAA boss button for CBS Sports. And he joined us by phone from his home in California. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

So we wonder, how has your office work situation changed with March Madness underway? Ted's on the line, calling us from Denver.

TED (Caller): Good afternoon, Neal. I just returned from lunch with a client where we were at one of our favorite sports bars watching the games. But tomorrow, in our office, as many of my company's offices will do across the nation, we bring in TVs. We bring in tables and chairs and cater a long, extended lunch for our clients and business partners and invite those folks to come and join us to watch the games.

CONAN: So you network during the network coverage.

TED: Absolutely. I'm a sales guy. I'm always networking. So any excuse that I can come up with to do some more, it's just a great opportunity. And we like to do it especially because we find that our clients, during the holiday season, they're too, you know - that tends to be overwhelming for them and this comes at a great time.

CONAN: All right, Ted. Have a good time.

TED: We will. Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Michael, and Michael's with us from East Lansing.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi. I'm a systems administrator. And through a software called OpenDNS, I'm actually able to block a lot of the streaming media and sports sites. So about a week and a half beforehand, I go ahead and do that.

CONAN: And you're the - have you been voted the most popular man in the company?

MICHAEL: Well, this - I work for a couple of companies, and this is for a rather small one. So other than the boss, no one knows I'm actually doing it.

CONAN: I see. So you can furtively go by and watch people gnashing their teeth that they're not able to watch, you know, the Spartans play. I'm not sure when they're playing, but I know that they're in the tournament.

MICHAEL: You know, I'm not sure, either. But I know they're on the tournament. I actually have a custom Web page that comes up and basically says the activities being reported to blah, blah, blah. So people a little bit wary about going to the wrong sites.

CONAN: Well, I...

MICHAEL: This is also for eBay and other things, too. But...

CONAN: So they can't go network with their Facebook pals.

MICHAEL: Exactly.

CONAN: All right, Michael. Thanks very much.


CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Patrick, Patrick with us from Boston.

PATRICK (Caller): Yeah. Hi, there.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

PATRICK: Yes. Sure. I also keep a close eye on my company's Internet access activity, and I can see on some of my charts a significant spike in incoming data transfers.

CONAN: Pretty significant spike in incoming data transfers that you suspect are from CBS Sports?

PATRICK: Absolutely. This is like a - probably on the level of once a year. So I can't imagine what else it would be.

CONAN: And could you block it if you wanted to?

PATRICK: Sure. Yeah.

CONAN: And do you?


CONAN: Why not?

PATRICK: I guess I haven't been asked to, and I guess most of the senior management at the company is fans of college basketball.

CONAN: Well, I guess we heard that, but your cell phone is deserting you there, Patrick. But we appreciate the comment. And keep up the good work.

Let's see if we can go next to - this is Pam, and Pam calling from Kalamazoo.

PAM (Caller): Hi, Neal. I just got out of a staff meeting, and somebody had downloaded the NCAA tournament app on their iPhone, and we were getting updates during the staff meeting.

CONAN: Oh, really? And who's doing well?

PAM: Actually, we all pulled our brackets - because, of course, we all filled out brackets on Monday - and we were bemoaning who we thought was going to be doing well and wasn't. But there was a whole plethora of them. I can't even recall them all.

CONAN: So we're not even halfway through the first day, and your bracket's busted already?

PAM: That's exactly right.

CONAN: So who do you have - who do you pick in the Final Four?

PAM: I picked - I believe it was Kentucky and Kansas.

CONAN: As - to play off in the...

PAM: Actually as the playoffs, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. And...

PAM: (unintelligible)

CONAN: So that's daring and bold, there: the number-one and two-rated teams in the country.

PAM: Yeah. I'm sure everybody picked them.

CONAN: I'm sure everybody did pick them. So who's going to win the pool, do you think, Pam?

PAM: I hope I do. But I never win. So, I'm not holding out any hope.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you. It's - so how do you make your selections? Do you follow the game all year, or do you just pick on the basis of who you like?

PAM: I pick on the basis of who's won the most games, of course. But then I always go for the home team or the team nearest to their home, because I think that gives them a little more incentive to go for it.

CONAN: Well, that's about as rational a system as any. Good luck to you.

PAM: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We spoke - thanks to everybody who called and emailed with their changes of how basketball tournaments change their office procedures.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, the future of 3D: coming soon to a television near you. Yeah, they're talking about the Masters now. I'll be back on Monday with a look at the genius in all of us. Have a great weekend, everybody.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

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