Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers, a maker of organizational products based in East Texas, Penn.
The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.
"Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it's slowed everything down, paradoxically," said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
"We never concentrate on one task anymore. You take a little chip out of it, and then you're on to the next thing," Challenger said on Wednesday. "It's harder to feel like you're accomplishing something."
Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voice mails and the like, research showed.
The average time spent on a computer at work was almost 16 hours a week last year, compared with 9.5 hours a decade ago, according to the Day-Timer research released this week.
Workers typically get 46 e-mails a day, nearly half of which are unsolicited, it said.
Sixty percent of workers say they always or frequently feel rushed, but those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994, the research showed.
Put another way, in 1994, 82 percent said they accomplished at least half their daily planned work but that number fell to 50 percent last year. A decade ago, 40 percent of workers called themselves very or extremely successful, but that number fell to just 28 percent.
"We think we're faster, smarter, better with all this technology at our side and in the end, we still feel rushed and our feeling of productivity is down," said Maria Woytek, marketing communications manager for Day-Timers, a unit of ACCO Brands.
The latest study was conducted among a random sample of about 1,000 people who work at least part time. The earlier study surveyed some 1,300 workers.
Expectations that technology would save time and money largely haven't been borne out in the workplace, said Ronald Downey, professor of psychology who specializes in industrial organization at Kansas State University.
"It just increases the expectations that people have for your production," Downey said.
Even if productivity increases, it's constantly outpaced by those expectations, said Don Grimme of GHR Training Solutions, a workplace training company in Coral Springs, Fla.
"The irony is the very expectation of getting more done is getting in the way of getting more done," he said. "People are stressed out."
Companies that are flexible with workers' time and give workers the most control over their tasks tend to fare better against the sea of rising expectations, experts said.
Businesses that have moved to 24-hour operations, bosses who micromanage and longer commutes add to the problem, they said, while downsizing leaves fewer workers doing the work of those who left.
Finally, there's a trend among companies to measure job performance like never before, said Challenger. "There's a sense that no matter how much I do, it's never enough," he said.