Yes, your team really do need to concentrate

8 12 2009

A personal vindication for me, this one: Pop-ups and email alerts significantly slow down work by breaking our concentration.

(Source: Wales Online. Original study Cardiff University.)

I’ve often wondered why it isn’t more acceptable to simply turn off email and the Blackberry when you need to concentrate on something. You’ll get it done faster, and your ideas will probably better. You’ll certainly enjoy it more.  Yet, every time I’ve done this, I’ve felt the need to hide it (and usually to work somewhere away from my normal desk so people don’t come to find me to ask me why I’m not answering emails). In fact, can’t we turn the alert all the way off? Why not batch-process all emails every couple of hours, maximum?

Every study of cognitive psychology (i.e. of the ways we perceive and process the world) has to deal with the fact that we only have a limited amount of attention, and it is quite literally not possible for us to focus it on two things at once. Multitasking, as Henry Ford might have said had he lived this long, is bunk.

I’m going to keep on trying to change attitudes slowly with this one by taking time to concentrate when I need it, and telling people that’s what I’m doing. It’s part of a broader issue, though, I think – the fact that the work environment is often pretty much unconducive to the kinds of work that need to be done. What are the barriers to us all stopping pretending that we can do everything at once? Is it just attitude?

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