Do you ever feel like your workday has been hijacked by constant interruptions?
In his 2010 TED Talk, tech entrepreneur and author Jason Fried described the problem: “People go to work, and they’re basically trading in their day for a series of ‘work moments.’ That’s what happens at the office. You don’t have a work day anymore. It’s like the front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits … and before you know it, it’s 5 p.m., and you look back on the day, and you realize that you didn’t get anything done.”
The trend of interruptions at work has only intensified in the past decade. According to research by UC Berkeley neuroscientists Dr. Sahar Yousef and Lucas Miller, our 24/7 approach to communications and back-to-back meetings have created a hyper-fragmented work environment.
Both Dr. Yousef and Miller (who will speak at our annual conference, FutureComms 2019, on April 24 in New York City) have helped teams at such companies as Google, Adobe, and Evernote eliminate fragmentation to become more productive, efficient, and happy. They say working in an environment plagued by continual interruptions is fundamentally opposed to how our brains and bodies work best.
Distraction Culture Kills Productivity among Employees
Dr. Yousef has conducted research on brain plasticity, human performance enhancement, and cognitive training; she says a study of cognitive capacity and smartphones at the University of Texas at Austin illustrates how just the presence of your phone reduces brain power—even when your phone is off.
For the experiment, researchers studied 800 smartphone users. In one of the tests, participants took a series of tests on a computer that required full concentration. These tests were used to measure the participants’ available cognitive capacity, or the brain’s ability to process information at any given time. Then some participants were randomly instructed to put their muted smartphones in another room, face down on their desk, or inside a bag or pocket.
Researchers found participants who had their phones in another room performed significantly better than those who had their phones on the desk, and slightly better than participants who kept phones in their bag or pocket. The study suggests just the presence of your smartphone reduces your cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though you may feel like you’re giving your full attention and focus to the task at hand.
Multitasking is Physically Impossible
Dr. Yousef and Miller also highlight a fascinating multitasking and task-switching study from the University of Michigan. While many people may believe they can perform multiple of tasks at the same time (such as talking on the phone while driving) this research found the brain is actually switching between the tasks. And the multitasker must reorient herself each time she switches tasks, which takes time and additional cognitive resources.
If you want to test this theory yourself, here’s a simple test. Take a piece and draw two horizontal lines. Write, “I am a great multitasker” on one line, and on the next line, write out the numbers 1 to 20.
Then on another piece of paper, draw the two horizontal lines again. This time, alternate what you wrote on the first piece of paper like the slide below.
As you try to write out the letters and numbers this time, you’ll find you are roughly 50% slower than with the first test. You really feel the cost of switching between the tasks.
This simple experiment illustrates the cost of multitasking—like checking email constantly while working on other assignments. It actually slows you down and saps your energy during the workday.
To learn more about you can address problems related to constant interruptions during the workday, register for our February 20 webinar, Get More Done in the Age of Distraction, featuring Dr. Yousef and Miller as expert speakers.
You can also hear Dr. Yousef and Miller live at FutureComms 2019 on April 24, where they’ll explain how you can better serve your employees to be more productive, healthy, and happy at work. Register now before this event sells out.
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