All entries for Monday 07 March 2005

March 07, 2005

A multitasking addict

A nice article from the Seattle Times on stress, multitasking and information overload:

Gloria Mark, a UC-Irvine professor, has been studying attention overload and multitasking among workers in a financial-services office. So far, she's found that the average employee switches tasks every three minutes, is interrupted every two minutes and has a maximum focus stretch of 12 minutes.
We get lost browsing and sinking down one rabbit hole after another, dodging pop-ups and never quite focusing. This is such a topic of study that it has sprouted a number of terms, from "online compulsive disorder" to "data smog." Two Harvard professors see evidence of what they call "pseudo-attention deficit disorder" ó shorter attention spans influenced by technology and the constant waves of information washing over us. When the brain gets excited over some rapid data and is stimulated, it releases a "dopamine squirt," they say.
"We have so many options, reward centers that we never had before," says John Ratey, who teaches at Harvard and is a psychiatrist specializing in attention deficit disorder. "I think that's why we're seeing more of this. There are more demands on our attention and less training for us to stop and take it all in. We seem to be amazing ourselves to death."

The remainder of the article can be found here

A glance at my desktop and the plethora of programs open, together with the multitude of windows open in my browser suggests that Iím one of those who doesnít pay attention to any single thing for more than a minute or two. In the workplace, distractions may be forced upon you by coworkers. Many of us at uni have no such excuse. Momentary diversions are brought about by nobody but ourselves.

Whenever anything important needs to be done, there will be no end of activities to distract you. If itís not a particularly interesting website, itís another MSN conversation window. If itís not an item you meant to look for, itíll be a folder that needs organising. And so on.

Sometimes, youíre able to do whatever needs to be done whilst engaging in another activity. Sadly, our ability to carry out tasks simultaneously and to do them well isnít great as suggested by the article. While a computerís CPU can allocate time slices to different processes, it takes a while for our brains to re-engage for work on a different task.

I found the article interesting as exams are looming round the corner. Last year, I never quite understood those who decided to hours each day working in the library. After all, I was sitting happily at my desk getting 10 mins of revision done for every hour at my desk. Howís that for efficiency.

Sure, its common sense to say you can get more done by focussing on a task for a sustained period rather than attempting to multitask, but it never hurts to be reminded.

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