The Cost of Multitasking: How Distractions Affect Productivity
The Cost of Multitasking: How Distractions Affect Productivity

a professor at the University of California, studies multitasking and how it affects work efficiency. Fast Company asked Gloria substantive questions: is it worth doing several tasks at the same time, and if not, why.

The Cost of Multitasking: How Distractions Affect Productivity
The Cost of Multitasking: How Distractions Affect Productivity

Why learn to multitask?

- I came to the United States from Europe in early 2000 and was amazed at how Americans approach work. We live in the age of information and technology, and people seem to set a goal to make life difficult for themselves.

Is it all about the revolution in communication? Messengers and the Internet as conditions for quick distraction?

- Interruptions and interruptions in work are not always bad. It's bad when they provoke stress that grows throughout the day.

How often is the average office worker distracted?

- We investigated this issue to the nearest second. On average, an office worker changes activities every 3 minutes 5 seconds.

Is it about the environment or the person himself?

- In the person himself. With a smartphone close at hand and a heap of online entertainment, it’s not so difficult to distract yourself from work.

Are there situations in which it is useful to be distracted?

- Yes, if the distraction is related to the same task. For example, you are working on task A and an employee approached you, giving you new information about this task. You were distracted, but you were able to benefit from it.

If the distraction is short-lived, then it's not so bad. Imagine that you are writing an article, a colleague comes up to you and says: "Hey, sign here." You sign up automatically and immediately return to writing the material - your productivity is unlikely to drop.

In what situations is distraction harmful?

- Almost always, if you get distracted from the task and switch to something else. You have to redirect cognitive resources in a different direction, and upon returning to the previous task, the level of attention drops.

How long does it take for a person to return to the task?

- 82% of respondents returned to the task on the same day. But the bad news is that it took about 23 minutes 15 seconds.

What are the psychological problems associated with multitasking?

“We found that those who do more than one thing at the same time are more stressed. They also make more mistakes. But what's interesting is that people who are often distracted get work done faster. This is due to the fact that they know they will be distracted, and compensate for this with the speed of completing the task.

Does this mean that we are increasingly thinking superficially?

- I doubt that a person who changes their activity every 10 minutes can think deeply. In this state, it is very difficult to reach the flow.

How do you achieve productivity?

- I try to work from home. I go to university only because of organizational issues. I stay at home because it is more comfortable for me to work here and no one distracts me.

Give advice to those looking to get rid of multitasking

- Limit your consumption of web content. Discipline yourself. I have limited Internet surfing to two times a day: in the morning and in the evening. To check mail, I highlight four five-minute segments throughout the day.

To be honest, how many times did you check your email during the interview?

- To be honest, a couple of times.