Many of us herald our abilities to multitask these days, citing our computers, smartphones and the like as the tools that help us get things done. Our constant access to email and the internet allow us to always stay connected and receive updates regarding important information every moment of our day.
I love my iPhone and laptop and admit that I would be lost without them. In fact our entire team heavily utilizes our phones and emails, but I’m noticing more and more how the tools I use to organize my life can also be a huge distraction for me and research suggests that I’m not alone. In fact, research tells us that when we are performing tasks that require language processing or decision making, we are not actually multitasking at all but simply “task switching” and that doing this task switching causes us to experience stress and poor performance as we constantly have to ask ourselves at some level, “now where was I?” In the words of Joanne Cantor, author of Conquering CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress, “when you are multitasking, you’re dimming your bulb, depowering your brain.”
Unfortunately those constant emails popping up in the lower right hand corner of our screen, text messages and social media updates also cause us to task switch as we are forced to respond to these interruptions (even if it’s just a moment’s attention). As our access to constant information increases, so do our interruptions and this very well could affect the quality of our work and that of our employees if we don’t learn to use the tools at our disposal consciously and effectively.
I believe our computers, smartphones and the like have the power to enhance the speed, efficiency and quality of our work when used wisely, but doing so requires some attention. I predict that weighing the positive and negative effects of “information overload” and staying constantly connected will become an issue of much debate for businesses in the near future. Fortunately there are practical things we can do to help us get the most out of our tools without losing productivity. One example is to switch your email from synching with your server every minute to every 15 minutes or longer if you can so that you are not constantly bombarded with email notifications, or scheduling times throughout the day to check your email, leaving the program closed otherwise.
For more information and tools on how to effectively use technology and media check out Joanne Cantor’s blog on Psychology Today. I have found it to be a great resource!
-Heather Remer, MA