by Vijay Ramachandran

From the Editor-in-Chief: Task Master

Mar 11, 20142 mins
CIOCollaboration SoftwareEmail Clients

By reducing attention span, multi-tasking leads to lower productivity and bad decisions.

Vijay Ramachandran is the Editor-in-Chief of IDG Media. A few months ago, I tracked each time I was interrupted at work. I did this not for a day or a week; I maintained a record over an entire month. I clocked in a text or a phone or a colleague walking into my cabin or an e-mail alert or a post alert on our collaboration platform once every 13 minutes!  Each time I was disturbed it got progressively difficult to regain my chain of thought and go right back to what I was doing. On one particular day, my attempts to write an editorial like this one were frustrated so often, that I gave up and wrote it out late at night once home.  In an era when multi-tasking is seen as a highly productive trait, this whine of mine might seem anachronistic. However, research reveals that ‘multi-tasking’ not only reduces productivity but it also helps to reduce attention spans thus actually reducing the quality of output and leading to bad decisions.  A study, conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, found that “workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ”. Big deal, right? Then consider that the study found that interruptions at work lowered IQ by as much as 10 points, while smoking marijuana regularly, caused only a four point drop in intelligence!Another study found knowledge workers in a mental state of continuous stress and distraction caused by the combination of queued messaging overload and incessant interruptions. In one organization, the authors found that staff  “averaged 11 minutes on any one “working sphere” before switching to another altogether.”   This extreme fragmentation of work resulted in a severe cumulative time loss, with some estimates as high as 25 percent of the workday. Their research found employees in a chronic state of mental overload in practically every company and organization in the industrialized world.  One way out is for senior executives to actually take some ‘me’ time off—go walkabout, grab a cappuccino outside office, lock yourself into a conference room or your home with the mobile switched off—anything to take a mental step back and revel in the silence of your own thoughts. What do you think about this? Mail me.What do you think about this? Mail me.