Coronavirus productivity data: How the pandemic is changing the way we use digital devices, apps, and tools

The spread of the coronavirus is having an extreme impact on how we live, work, and interact with each other. But amongst all the current uncertainty, one truth has emerged: With less in-person social interaction, we’re spending more time than ever on our devices.

At RescueTime, we’re in a unique position to see the real-time impact coronavirus is having on how people use their devices.

After analyzing anonymized datasets from more than 14,000 users across the U.S. we found some unexpected changes to how people are using digital devices during coronavirus.

We’ll keep updating this post as we analyze new data sets:

  1. Total time: How much more time are we spending on our devices during coronavirus (and how are we spending it)?
  2. Productivity: The surprising way productivity has changed as more people work from home.
  3. [Coming soon] Workday time stats: How people are spending their time online during coronavirus: More communication, news, and shopping
  4. [Coming soon] Video calls: The impact of all those Zoom hangouts: Data on the increase in video chat usage during Coronavirus
  5. [Coming soon] Weekend device time: Screen-free Saturdays? I don’t think so. How weekend device usage has changed.

Coronavirus screen time stats: Daily device time jumps 16% (almost one extra hour a day)

As tech reporter Nellie Bowles wrote in The New York Times: Coronavirus ended the screen-time debate. Screens won.

The question is no longer whether people are spending more time on their devices (they are), it’s how much our behaviors have already changed.

According to our research, people in the U.S. are spending 56 minutes more a day on their digital devices compared to a month ago.

Prior to March 11th (the date when the WHO declared the spread of Covid-19 a pandemic and the US imposed strict travel restrictions), people in the US were averaging 5 hours and 58 minutes of device time a day.

But just a month later, that number jumped to 6 hours and 54 minutes a day and continues to climb.

And while 56 minutes a day might not seem like much, if this average increase held up across the population of US knowledge workers, we’re talking about 5.6 million hours of extra screen time a day.

These numbers aren’t likely to change any time soon (according to countries who got hit earlier)

While the US has had stay-at-home orders since early to mid-March, the coronavirus hit other countries much earlier. This gives us an idea of what might happen in the coming weeks.

According to our data, in countries like China and Italy who were hit early and hard by the virus, device time has remained at its peak.

In China, where the first cases were reported at the start of the year, total device time went from 6 hours and 36 minutes a day to 7 hours and 14 minutes and has mostly stayed that way.

While in Italy, daily device time has jumped 21% in a matter of weeks (and hasn’t come down.)

How are people spending their time online during coronavirus?

It only makes sense that we’re using our devices more when we’re at home. But how are people spending that time?

The chart below shows the percentage of people who use specific apps and sites the most during the day.

While we’re going to analyze this data more in-depth in the coming weeks, there’s a clear trend in how we’re spending our time online: More people using communication and entertainment. Fewer people using everything else.

Top CategoryBefore March 11thAfter March 11thIncrease/Decrease
Communication35.5%49%+ 13.5%
Entertainment9%11.3%+ 2.3%
Software development15.5%11.5%– 4%
Business12.2%9.1%– 3.1%
Design11.2%7.4%– 3.8%

Productivity during the pandemic: Daily productive time dipped and then quickly recovered

One of the biggest impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is in the number of people working from home for the first time. In a recent study, we found that people who work from home are, on average, more productive than those in an office.

However, there’s nothing “normal” about our current situation.

As people transitioned to working from home, the average productive time in the US dropped and then quickly rebounded.

As of mid-April, people in the U.S. are spending around 20 minutes a day more on productive work than before the pandemic. Across the 60 million knowledge workers in the U.S., that’s an additional 20 million hours of productive time taking place during the pandemic!

Again, we saw this same pattern in Italy around the week of March 11th (when all businesses except grocery stores were ordered shut). Although it took two weeks for their average productive time to rebound.

Coming Next: Workday time stats: How people are spending their time online during coronavirus: More communication, news, and shopping

Where this data came from: RescueTime is a time tracking and personal productivity tool used by millions of people around the world. Occasionally, we analyze our aggregated and anonymized data to look for trends and changes in the way people work. Read more of our data studies here.

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

2 comments

  1. Today, I was just thinking and sharing about this with some friends: how much the time I spent on screens has increased and especially, how it affects my sight, in a negative way. The last couple of days I have felt my eyes very tired, and sometimes, I have even felt nauseous. I know that I need to take breaks, and I try to do it, but the thing is that taking breaks feels like such a waste of productive time because everything now happens on a computer or a cellphone screen (work, research, communication, training, reading, email, videocalls, everything). It seems like you can´t do anything productive or get in touch with people without a screen. The screens are now our way to communicate with the world, more than ever. It is not like before when you took a break at work and went chatting with a work mate. Now to do that you also need a screen most of the times, so it´s harder to stay away from them. And then I stumbled upon this article, which seems to confirm what I was thinking. This it not going to be easy for our eyes, definitely.

    1. That’s a great point Ali and one that not a lot of people are talking about. There’s a physical toll that comes from our increased screen time. What I’ve been trying to do the last few weeks is work in sprints of 50 minutes and then take a break to take a quick walk or do a few push-ups and squats. Not only does it help me avoid sitting for hours on end, but it also means I’m not staring at a screen when I take a break (even if it’s only for a few minutes). Even if I don’t always keep up with it, the hourly reminder is a great way to not get sucked into a full-on day of screen time.

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