Thanks to streaming services, the internet, and an endless supply of gadgets, we’re probably on our way to totally eliminating boredom. But having so many diversions available at our fingertips might have an unintended side effect: making us mess up at work.
NPR recently spoke with University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, co-author of a recent book titled The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. According to Gazzaley, workers who habitually check email or text messages might be under the mistaken impression they’re multitasking with efficiency. Instead, they might be diluting their capability.
Gazzaley says that breaking focus to glance at personal correspondence forces the brain to distance itself from the primary task, splitting your attention. As a self-experiment, he suggests trying to compose an email while on a conference call. In most cases, you’ll have to ask people what information on the call you’ve missed.
“When a focused stream of thought is interrupted, it needs to be reset," Gazzaley said. "You can't just press a button and switch back to it. You have to re-engage those thought processes, and re-create all the elements of what you were engaged in. That takes time, and frequently one interruption leads to another.”
To try and stay on target, Gazzaley recommends having just one monitor with one tab open and to position yourself as “offline” until crucial work has been completed.