Seth Godin had an excellent recent post
about the addictive nature of email.
The Digital Age has had some benefits in productivity and communication. However, focused blocks of time have been replaced by the concept of multi-tasking. In fact, many job postings include the requirement that applicants “be able to multi-task.”
I’ve often gotten looks of disbelief when I state that I don’t believe there is any such beast as multi-tasking. At any given moment, you are only actually doing one thing. But we tend to take a behavior pattern that skips from task to task, sometimes devoting only seconds to each one before moving on in the pattern, and glorify it as the transcendent ability to multi-task. We’ve adopted the “keeping all the balls up in the air” philosophy towards our work as though we have some ongoing duel with a constant force like gravity and to ‘win’ we must never let a ball touch the ground. Perhaps the next super heroes for Marvel should be Multi-Task Man and Multi-Task Woman?
Most people feel they are more productive when multi-tasking (I know there is no such thing, but the phrase has meaning in our acquired-attention-deficit culture). Notice the word FEEL. We’ve generally developed an emotional attachment with this approach to our work, and as such many of us have developed a behavior pattern that is somewhat addictive in nature. In the same way past generations felt the need to answer the phone whenever it rang because it ‘might’ be important, today we wait for that familiar sound from our desktop, laptop, or cell phone that announces (in various formats) - “You’ve Got Mail!”
Oh the rush of joy we feel when that notification window rises from the bottom of our screen or we hear that special ring tone we’ve programmed for our email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc., etc.. Maybe this email will be good news? Maybe this message will be something special? Someone loves me...someone cares...they sent me an email. I must stop everything to investigate the affirming life-changing message that surely awaits me.
PBS recently had a Frontline program, Digital Nation, that took a close look at our addiction to multi-tasking. They went to MIT, no ignorant bunch, and tested students there. All of the students believed they were more productive as they used their plethora of digital devices to multi-task. But the research showed the opposite effect. You can view the program here
Essentially, we are losing our ability to focus for blocks of time and in so doing we are losing the creativity and productivity that can only be generated when we are focused. We’re considering turning off our email clients, TweetDecks, and Facebook walls for blocks of time here at our offices so we can focus on important work and not be enslaved by that which seems urgent.
Of course, we are first going to all take a group 12-Step program to limit the traumatic effects of withdrawal symptoms and emotions.
I did close my email client so I could concentrate long enough to write this post. Sorry if I did not respond to your email in real time.
PS. Phil Cooke recently did a poll at his blog on how many people had checked email while using a toilet or urinal. At last look over 60% had answered affirmatively.