I seem to have less time than ever to get on with things and Iâ€™ve wondered how much technology has had to do with it. ITâ€™s benefits are clear, more access to more information, better quality of presentation, more communication and sharing of ideas and so on. But thereâ€™s a cost too â€“ thereâ€™s always more information to be found and one can go on and on editing and adding additional images or other ways of enriching documents such as presentations; itâ€™s also too easy to get distracted. The ruthlessly single minded cope but the rest of us struggle.
An article in New Scientist â€œHow Interruptions Can Destroy Your Dayâ€ Alison Motluk, 28 June 2006 confirms my perception. She cites a University of California at Irvine, study which found that on average information workers being studied â€˜got just three sustained minutes of work in before being divertedâ€™. And â€˜Glenn Wilson at the Institute of Psychiatry in London found that being bombarded with emails and phone calls has a greater effect on IQ than smoking marijuana (New Scientist, 30 April 2005 p 6)â€™. A psychiatrist is quoted as saying that in the last few years he is seeing an increase in people who claim to have developed attention deficit disorder in adulthood â€“ â€˜patients complain that they are distracted, forgetful, disorganised and impulsive â€“ and they canâ€™t get anything done â€¦ the symptoms mysteriously disappear when they are on holidayâ€™. Sounds familiar!
The article goes on to introduce software being developed by Microsoft. â€˜Prioritiesâ€™ is designed to examine salience and urgency of emails and phone calls to prioritise and allow interruptions only as programmed. It learns by observation and training. Eric Horovitz, a senior Microsoft researcher comments â€œIt works extremely well at discriminating the urgent from the non-urgent .. itâ€™s better than a live secretary.â€ Another project described tries to predict a personâ€™s interruptability. Related Microsoft research produced a device, Busybody, which â€œspies on you, taking note of things like head position and activity level. It then pools information to help decide whether you are in a state to receive any non-urgent communications.”
The article includes eight â€˜tips for surfing the wave of interruptionsâ€™, including
Â· â€œGet a bigger monitor (more on this in a posting to follow). A Microsoft study found it helped people to work up to 44 per cent faster â€“ one of the biggest boosts to productivity yet.â€ Having read this Iâ€™ve set up a 17â€ monitor to work as a â€˜singleâ€™ desktop in conjunction with my laptop screen (very simple to do using the screen settings). This allows my primary focus, such working on a Word document, to remain on the monitor while other programmes I might turn to briefly, such a email or browser, appear on the laptop screen; if I want to spend time on the other application it can be dragged from the laptop to the monitor. Feels like magic to begin with!
Â· â€œPut up a clear â€œdo not disturbâ€ sign, or an obvious signal that you are busy. Insist that colleagues respect it.â€
Â· â€œBe prepared: if an interruption is likely to take longer than 2 minutes, add it you your to-do list and go back to what you were already doing.â€
Â· â€œKeep a notebook open and write down what you are doing as soon as you are interrupted.â€
The theme of interruptions, productivity and technology will be continued in another posting and will refer, inter alia, to Clive Thompsonâ€™s â€œMeet the Life Hackersâ€ New York Times, 16 October 2005 which covers similar material to the New Scientist article but in more detail. Also www.43folders.com (Merlin Mannâ€™s site about â€˜personal productivity, life hacks, and simple ways to make your life a little betterâ€™)