iPhone therefore iAm?

Feb 16 2011 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Researchers at the University of Kent in the UK have confirmed what many of us have long guessed to be the case. Far from helping us become more productive, the constant interruption of technology – be it an incoming email on a PC or Blackberry, a text message or voicemail – is damaging to our concentration and makes us less efficient at our daily tasks.

According to the Guardian, the research was inspired by the experience of psychology lecturer, Ulrich Weger, who found that constant daily disruptions meant he "often wasn't making any progress with what I was originally working on – and in the end felt quite breathless and exhausted. I thought I couldn't be the only person struggling with this."

So Wenger set up an experiment using an eyeball-tracking camera and asked testers to read a passage of text on a computer screen, before interrupting the participants with one-minute messages – like phone calls.

What he found was that each interruption caused an average 17% increase in the total time it took to read the whole passage.

What's more, when participants were exposed to simultaneous background speech while reading a text, it also took them significantly longer to get through it.

Quite apart from the message this gives about the effectiveness or otherwise of open-plan offices, it provides yet another compelling reason to pay heed to those who suggest antidotes to email addiction.

Monica Seeley, author of the book "Brilliant Email: how to win back time and increase your productivity" isn't surprised by the findings.

"Other researchers have also found that each interrupt adds about 15 minutes to the time needed to complete a task," she said. "For example Hewlett Packard found that constantly checking your emails can reduce your IQ by up to 10 points - the same as taking hard drugs.

"The way to be most effective and productive is to stay focused on the task in hand but that's easier said than done."

In the case of email, her suggestions ought to be common sense (and there are plenty of them at www.brilliant-email.com). But as we all know, taming the email monster is easier said than done.

First, she advises that you turn off all new email notifications and stay focused if only for twenty minutes, then take a break and re-check your emails.

Then, if you need longer periods of uninterrupted time (eg to write a report or a presentation) use the Out-Of Office message to manage people's expectations.

And remember the wise words of Robert Croker, chair of the Human Resource Training and Development department at Idaho State University.

"It's a common misconception is that a brain is like a computer," Croker says. "A computer is designed to multitask. A human brain is not designed to function optimally in a multitask environment."