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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tech-enabled multitasking: A time waste?

Bangalore: Contrary to assumptions about multi-tasking in devices like PCs, smartphones, notebooks and netbooks being useful, experts believe that it can materially damage the economy. The problem is that human multitasking involves interrupting one task with another, according to a study.

There was a time when "interruption" meant an unexpected phone call or visitor and mail was delivered only once daily, reports Lamont Wood of Computerworld. Now, employees are continually barraged with e-mail, instant messages, texts, BlackBerry traffic, blog updates, news feeds, Tweets, Web sites with enticing links and calendar reminders - and the phone still rings, people still drop by and paper mail is still delivered. Simply dealing with the deluge gives people the illusion of productivity. But statistics indicate that might be all it is - an illusion.

According to Jonathan Spira, Chief analyst at research firm Basex, about 28 percent of an office worker's time is lost to interruptions and recovery time. Taking into account the size of the U.S. knowledge worker workforce (more than 65 million) and the average knowledge worker's salary (more than $21 per hour) and other data that's proprietary, he figures interruptions cost the U.S. about $900 billion per year, out of a gross domestic product of approximately $14.5 trillion.

In particular, efficiency experts are alarmed by the effects of computer-enabled multitasking on office work and office workers. "I used to say that multitasking made a task take 15 percent longer. Now I say 50 percent," says Bary Sherman, Head of PEP Productivity Solutions, a California-based management consultancy that specializes in helping organizations become more efficient.

Efficiency experts say that the productivity issue can be countered by sometimes by turning off seemingly innocent features that serve mostly to distract us, sometimes by using overlooked features that eliminate time-wasting tasks, and sometimes by simply steeling our resolve against the siren song of endless digital distraction.

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