Most of us switch tasks because we are either interrupted by other people or we self-interrupt. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics studying digital distraction notes that studies found that office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes by digital and human interruption. While 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day, the downside is that it can take about 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task. Susan Weinschenk adds that each task switch can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.
Psychological costs of switch-tasking
Gloria Mark describes a laboratory experiment where people performed the typical office task of answering email. In one condition, participants were not interrupted. In another condition, the participants were interrupted with phone calls and IM. The findings showed that people scored significantly higher when interrupted. They also had higher levels of:
- mental effort
- feelings of time pressure, and
- mental workload.
Injury and life and death costs of switch-tasking
While texting and walking might seem like an innocuous and low-level form of “multitasking,” an Ohio State University study of the increase in injuries sustained by pedestrians talking on their phones proves otherwise. You may even be surprised to learn that texting while walking causes more accidents than texting and driving.
Developers have created ingenious “type and walk” apps that provide a transparent view of what is directly in front of you to avoid walking into a lamppost while texting. That said, if you have a history of walking into things, you should probably not walk and text at the same time.
Productivity tips for overcoming switch-tasking
- Prioritize a goal for each day and focus on tasks that help you reach that goal.
- Identify blocks of time to focus on and perform single tasks.
- Don’t let other people interrupt and distract you. Turn off text messaging for the duration of a task that requires focused attention. In an office setting, you could put on headphones to indicate you don’t want to be interrupted.
- Minimize self-interruption.
[Switch-tasking or task-switching? I did various tangential searches on the Internet and unable to find a difference between task-switching and switch-tasking (the terminology preferred by author Pang in The Distraction Addiction). If you know this not to be correct, please let me know and I will update this post.]
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