Or to rephrase this, how quickly would you be fired for multi-tasking at work?
A 2005 study by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London shows that people who allow themselves to be constantly interrupted by email and instant messaging perform slightly worse than those who are stoned on pot.
Researchers asked two sets of subjects to take IQ tests. One group had to check e-mail and respond to instant messages while taking the test. The second group just sat down and did the test without distractions. Surprise, surprise, the distracted group didn’t do as well on the test—10 points worse than the control group. In similar testing conditions, people intoxicated by marijuana had scores 8 points lower.
The above study tested the effects on IQ, but I’m quite sure that both activities impair judgment just as badly. How strange it is that multi-tasking is considered “good” in today’s work environment!
Apart from its effects on our IQ and judgment, multi-tasking can also waste an incredible amount of time. Every time we switch from one task to another, it can take us fifteen minutes to get up to speed on the new task. Each time we interrupt ourselves to check email, we are costing ourselves a fifteen minute delay, even if we only spend two minutes away from the original task.
How to avoid this trap:
- Turn off your email notification chime!
- Define specific times of day during which you check email, and don’t check email at any other time.
- Don’t use your inbox as a task list — this will only suck you into email every time you want to get some “proper” work done. Instead, once you have determined that a message requires work, drag it into a special folder entitled “Action”, or drag it into Outlook’s task list. You can even write it down on a piece of paper. Whichever method you choose, the main thing is to get it out of the inbox.
If you succeed in resisting the urge for constant stimulation, you will be rewarded by being able to complete solid chunks of high quality work, and you will probably benefit from a significantly lower stress level, too.