Multitasking Mayhem

The New York Times (NYT) has some advice for multitaskers: Don’t! Citing several recent studies, the NYT says multitasking is detrimental to work, studying, and just downright dangerous when driving. According to the story, here is the advice by experts:

1) Check e-mail messages once an hour.
2) Listening to songs with lyrics is a distraction when trying to read, study or perform other complex tasks.
3) The same goes for instant messaging, text messaging and television shows.
4) Using a cell phone while driving—even a hands-free cell phone—increases accident risk.

Bottom line, the experts say the key is you managing the technology rather than the technology managing you.

The article states: “In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites. ‘I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,’ said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist.”

Basex, a research company, estimates the loss of productivity caused by multitasking costs the U.S. economy almost $650 billion per year.

Media multitasking is also a challenge for marketers. How do you get your message across when people are trying to interact with multiple media technologies at the same time? The problem is most acute with younger people. A 2005 Generation M Report by the Kaiser Family Foundation came to the following conclusions regarding young people ages 8 to 18:

• They are exposed to over 8 hours of media per day. On average 25% of that time is using two media sources at once.
• About half of all households with kids in this age group have no rules limiting media use.
• If a young person has access to all the different media options in their own room, the usage goes up considerably more.
• Too often, other media options usurp reading time, and the study shows there is a direct correlation between the time spent reading and grades.
• There is a pronounced negative correlation between time spent playing video games and grades.

In all, this group spends fully a quarter of each day interacting with media and those numbers keep rising. The statistics for the 2005 Generation M Report were gathered before social networking hit full stride. YouTube and other new Web 2.0 sites were just coming online, so it is safe to assume media usage, at least on the Internet, has risen even more.

As we all learn to live with technology that allows for 24/7 connectivity, we will also need to learn to use it judiciously to keep productive.

 

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