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The Almighty Buck Technology

The Downside of 'Hypertasking' 269

Combuchan writes "An interesting article from AZ Central expounds upon the downside of 'hypertasking,' doing far too much at once, such as talking on the phone while doing office work at the Starbuck's has a whole host of negative side effects: irritability, impatience, sleeplessness, an overly extended workweek, and is largely unproductive. With wi-fi hotspots popping up everywhere and computing power shrinking, are we all doomed? Or, as the article indicates, it's possibily evolution of the mind at work."
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The Downside of 'Hypertasking'

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  • by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:13AM (#10156948) Homepage

    I think to some extent we've got more technology than society has learned how to put to good use yet. E-mail in the workplace, for example, can be very destructive to productivity. I personally don't get that many e-mails at work but i've heard the Finance director saying he gets 400 e-mails a week. I fail to accept that reading all these e-mail is a productive use of his time and companies ran just fine before e-mail. Only uses the technology if it helps you work more efficiently. Being connected for the sake of being connected is no good.

    I've found that when someone gets a text message in a pub it takes the priority over the guy sat across from the table. This is the technology working badly for you.. the guy who sent you the text message can wait.. the guy infront of you is more important.

    My dad is around 50 years old but he's no technophobe. He says that the trick is to make the technology work for you . Make it your slave rather than your master. He doesn't leave his mobile phone on all the time but he turns it on to make a phone-call. He doesn't want to be contactable all the time but he wants to be able to contact others at any time. That's making the technology work for him!

    Simon.

    6 gmail invites are available by sending a message to the above address with the word 'slashdot' in the body

    • by CanadianCrackPot ( 727998 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:23AM (#10156981)
      Here here, I'm in computer science and a large number of my friends wonder why I don't check my e-mail more than 2 times a day, or leave amsn on all the time.
      It's for the simple reason that I'm trying to get work done, and while socializing when doing the work can help sometimes I still prefer face to face in person communication.
    • 6 gmail invites are available by sending a message to the above address with the word 'slashdot' in the body...

      Was that moded insightful because it was really insightful or for the 6 gmail invites? :)

      modder typing an email to ckwop:
      "Dude, I just modded you up on slashdot, how about one o them gmail invites?"
    • by bconway ( 63464 ) * on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:33AM (#10157024) Homepage
      I personally don't get that many e-mails at work but i've heard the Finance director saying he gets 400 e-mails a week. I fail to accept that reading all these e-mail is a productive use of his time and companies ran just fine before e-mail. Only uses the technology if it helps you work more efficiently.

      Are you kidding? Have you ever done a paper-to-paperless conversion project of any sort? How long do you think it would take for the finance director to get the same things done if each of those 400 emails was someone knocking on his door or sending a letter from outside the company? Would that be a more productive use of his time? Every conversion project I've been involved in has led to at least 4x the productivity, that certainly sounds like technology making things move more efficiently.
      • by I Be Hatin' ( 718758 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:45AM (#10157059) Journal
        How long do you think it would take for the finance director to get the same things done if each of those 400 emails was someone knocking on his door or sending a letter from outside the company?

        I think the point is that he wouldn't have 400 people knocking on his door. Many of those emails aren't things that probably require his direct input, but email makes it (too) easy to keep people in the loop. This can have positive effects (e.g. the director sees something that needs to be fixed and thus avoids a problem) and negative effects (e.g. the director is swamped and can't give all of the emails the attention they deserve, though the senders think he has...).

        Every conversion project I've been involved in has led to at least 4x the productivity, that certainly sounds like technology making things move more efficiently.

        Initially, I can see where you would gain productivity... but I'm not sure that you can preserve those gains as people get more accustomed to the technology. It's entirely too easy to copy people on emails that they don't really need to be copied on. And the more people you send an email to, the fewer people will actually respond. It's like the amount of time spent on an email is constant, so if you copy more people, the amount of time each one will spend on the email actually decreases, and less gets done as a result.

        • My boss (IT administration) is furiously trying to get people to email him instead of coming in person. While I'm sure you are right, there'd be more mails than physical people coming in, answering a mail takes 1 minute in many cases while you rarely can deal with any person in less than one minute. There's always some sort of small talk involved.
          Furthermore, with email you deal with people's requests on your own time, and not when they want - often people come in every 5 minutes, making getting any work do
        • Many of those emails aren't things that probably require his direct input, but email makes it (too) easy to keep people in the loop. This can have positive effects (e.g. the director sees something that needs to be fixed and thus avoids a problem) and negative effects (e.g. the director is swamped and can't give all of the emails the attention they deserve, though the senders think he has...).

          Damn skippy. A lot of the people I work with are addicted to the CC: and BCC: headers. It not only makes it's far
    • He doesn't want to be contactable all the time but he wants to be able to contact others at any time.

      Am I the only who finds this...hm... selfish? paradox?
    • by aspx ( 808539 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:39AM (#10157046)
      I prefer hypershirking to hypertasking. That's where you know you have lots of work things to do, but you ignore them all in favor of more important personal tasks.

      For example, shopping online and reading /. while making personal phone calls, listening to mp3s, and writing a poem for your girlfriend. Just remember to respond to work related voice-mail once a day so you don't get fired. Always complain about how much you have to do and try to look stressed. If you do that well, you can sometimes convince your coworkers to do your work. Since most spreadsheets don't have a "name" box, you get to take credit. Very effective.
    • This is the technology working badly for you.. the guy who sent you the text message can wait.. the guy infront of you is more important.

      Well now, that really depends on the content of that text message, doesn't it?

      I agree that a lot of the time text messages can wait, especially if it's just the two of you, but they can be urgent too. That said, if it's just me and one other person, I'll generally ignore my 'phone until a natural break (eg one of us goes to the bar or toilet, etc)
    • Like France and some other European countries, who mandate a 35 hour work week, maximum. No more velvet sweat shops....
    • by xA40D ( 180522 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @11:12AM (#10157440) Homepage
      > He says that the trick is to make the technology work for you

      It seems to me the human race is hopeless at putting technology to work. Indeed, we'd rather we let technology put us to work.

      An amusing anecdote to highlight the point.

      I was standing in a queue at the doctors the other day, waiting to make an appointment. Only every time the phone rang the recepionist would take the call, and the queue got larger. Ten minutes I stood there. So I pulled out my mobile (getting several dirty looks and the odd outraged whisper from others in the queue)... When I finally got through asking for seven appointments shocked the receptionist somewhat. When I explaind I was calling on behalf of the queue which was right in front of her she was more than a little annoyed with me. But at least she stopped answering the phone.

      Now. It seems to me that the receptionist was all to eager to let technology to dictate her behaviour. And in the process got stressed. A little bit of thought and she could have taken control... and been happy.
    • by wrf3 ( 314267 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @11:16AM (#10157456) Homepage
      First step: stop reading SlashDot. That would reclaim, what, about 5 hours/day?
    • > He says that the trick is to make the technology work for you

      It seems to me the human race is hopeless at putting technology to work. Indeed, we'd rather we let technology put us to work.

      An amusing anecdote to highlight the point.

      I was standing in a queue at the doctors the other day, waiting to make an appointment. Only every time the phone rang the recepionist get flustersd and would take the call, and the queue got larger. Ten minutes I stood there. So I pulled out my mobile (getting several
    • I personally don't get that many e-mails at work but i've heard the Finance director saying he gets 400 e-mails a week. I fail to accept that reading all these e-mail is a productive use of his time and companies ran just fine before e-mail.

      There are a few things going on here.

      Before e-mail, the guy would have had a secretary or administrative assistant who took his calls, opened his mail, and managed his calendar. This person would have filtered the contacts which needed his attention from those that di
  • Hypertasking (Score:5, Informative)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:15AM (#10156952)
    Driving and talking on the phone. Obviously doing too much for the brain to handle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:16AM (#10156953)
    Thank you for not posting a story that talks about Kerry vs. Bush, Republicans vs. Democrats, or US vs. Europe.
  • Misread... (Score:4, Informative)

    by xoran99 ( 745620 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:17AM (#10156959)
    With wi-fi hotspots popping up everywhere and computing power shrinking, are we all doomed?

    Anyone else misread this? If the amount of computing power were shrinking, I'd say we're all doomed...

    • He meant physically shrinking.
    • I think he meant the machines were getting smaller, more portable.

      Generally the performance of processors hasn't shrunk over the years but rather gained, unless maybe you are using certain Intel processors ;)
  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:19AM (#10156964)
    The more they stay the same. This is no different from problems that can result from any other use of productivity-enhancing technology. IM clients can result in someone being overloaded with messages from friends who just want to talk, without realizing that the person at the other end of the line is also trying to work as well, for example.

    The problem I have with all of these "doomsday" views of such technology is that they make the assumption that a person will invariably overdose themselves with connectivity, and continue to do so. In reality, just as with all things in nature, they more typically find an equilibrium, from which a beneficial balance can result. Those who do not find this equilibrium fail to keep up, and thus a form of evolution takes place as they end up being less productive than their co-workers (the 21st century version of competition among hunter-gatherers).

    In short, over the years I've seen all sorts of communications technology (email, IM, cell phones, and so on) being blamed for various social maladies. But the only thing these connecting technologies give us are options; whatever good or bad comes from their use is our decision, not an inevitable result of the existence of the technology.
    • In short, over the years I've seen all sorts of communications technology (email, IM, cell phones, and so on) being blamed for various social maladies.

      I think they do cause maladies. And they will continue to do so. Until we all develop the knack of ignoring things... and the realisation that being ignored does not imply rudeness.
  • WLAN + School (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Graga ( 696091 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:19AM (#10156965)
    I go to a school with WLAN and free use of laptops in class. I have experienced sleeplessness from the days where I was too much online, and it has been a little bit harder to remember what the teacher said.

    On the other hand, I have found that my laptop is great for taking notes on, and that it makes my classes a lots easier.
  • My experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by chewy_2000 ( 618148 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:20AM (#10156969)
    This is only anecdotal evidence, of course, but I have a lot of trouble concentrating on tasks other that coding or the like using a computer - essays spring to mind.
    I actually cranked out a typewriter the other day to cut down on distractions, and I found it did work.
    With no instant distractions - /. springs to mind - I was able to concentrate on the task at hand much more effectively.
    • Same thing accomplished if you unplug the Ethernet or, in the case of wireless, put on your tinfoil hat. ;)
    • I actually cranked out a typewriter the other day to cut down on distractions, and I found it did work. With no instant distractions - /. springs to mind - I was able to concentrate on the task at hand much more effectively.

      Until you proofread your work and find out that you need to add a paragraph on page 3 of 100, changing the pagination for every subsequent page.

  • IMHO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:21AM (#10156970)
    Maybe it just means we have lots of power to do things differently, and manage time effectively, but we never learned how.

    Just because we can work at the Starbucks doesn't necessarily mean we should, but on the other hand, because we can, we can pick it as a regular place of work, and decide save an employer some dollars in office space, increasing our employee value.

    There are lots of new disruptive technologies out there that can benefit both employers and employees, but only if the employees embrace them, as ways to get themselves more flexibility and other advantages. That means good things, provided we're all willing to become entrepreneurs of a sort, last I checked it was a minority that was ok with being responsible of all their own work conditions. (Lots of people are ok with being responsible for the benefits, but not of the tradeoffs.)

    The proportion of it going on is however, likely to increase. The biggest problem we are facing will be effective management of people, we have effective clone management down to an art, and effective management of sheep too, but much more rarely of individuals. A good place to study this, for the researchers reading, would be to poll those successful game company managers, finding out how those who not only make games that rock the players, but mostly, finding the rare few, who make games on time, by feeding and stroking the egos of designers and creators, to get them to overaccomplish themselves instead of being at cross-purposes.
  • It's more fun (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bheer ( 633842 ) <rbheer@gma i l .com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:21AM (#10156971)
    I'm not sure hypertaskers get stuff done faster. However they probably do have more fun doing several things at the same time. (How many of you are on IRC when you write code?)

    [old fogey] It was 'more fun' to use a timesharing system, even though it was slower than an equivalently powered batch processing system. On those you had to wait for days before your turn came.[/old fogey]

    Today's instant-gratification culture means it's more satisfying if your family/SO can contact you and communicate even when at work. Of course, some jobs (emergency medical respond teams etc) demand a high level of focus, but given the kind of desk jobs that abound today, it isn't surprising even technophobic folk are choosing to value connectedness over undistracted work.
    • I've done that plenty of times. Nothing like looking up from code every few minutes to see people hounding you over IRC, and trying to juggle the function you're writing along with their silly demands for your help at the same time.

      Most of the time I have to quit one to do the other successfully, or neither gets done well.
  • The flip side (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:24AM (#10156984)
    is that the technology gives some people give the appearance the are doing huge amounts of work, bombarding you with phone/email questions and updates, producing meaningless charts to indicate something or other, when really they are negatively impacting your productivity by increasing the noise to signal ratio.

    I often find the only way I can get some solid work done is to get in early before the morning email rounds kick off. I have also found it benificial on occasion to switch off my phone and physically disconnect my machine from the network. It pisses the some of the PHBs off but I am paid to produce results not provide running commentary and endless reports.
    • On the one hand, I find it amusing that a couple of term windows running irssi and tcpdump makes me look extremely busy on otherwise slow days.

      On the other hand, I have a very narrow, very easily broken attention span. You might call it a "one track mind", whereby I can only give one thing my full attention at once. Can't background processes. One of the reasons why I fucking HATE the telephone- not only am I talking, I have to figure out how to manage a banana-shaped hunk of plastic.... and I can't fuc
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:25AM (#10156988)
    wait, my cell phone's ringing ...

    "Hello, er, hold on, my crackberry is buzzing"

    [Check's ema, ...] "You've got mail!"

  • Info Overload (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadMacSkillz ( 648319 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:25AM (#10156990) Homepage
    Reminds me of the last school I worked at (as Network Admin.) Various support departments were e-mailing teachers a kabillion times a week, and as a result the teachers stopped reading the e-mails - there were too many. I told each department, "Hey, why don't we set up a web page, and each of you can have one paragraph on it. Then we just tell the teachers to check the web page once a day!" They would not consent to it - they said they had "too much information to share." When I pointed out that no one was reading their e-mails anyway at this point in time, they just looked at me. I'm pretty sure they were thinking "Don't confuse us with the facts!"
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) <michaelmtrippNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:25AM (#10156991) Homepage
    In my not so humble opinion, people that don't know when it makes sense to use technology and when it doesn't aren't the type that are going to be the most productive anyways.
  • by mosel-saar-ruwer ( 732341 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:26AM (#10156992)

    Research suggests that people with IBS seem to have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than usual to a variety of things, including certain foods and stress...

    The colon responds strongly to stimuli (for example, foods or stress) that would not bother most people...

    In people with IBS, stress and emotions can strongly affect the colon...

    The following have been associated with a worsening of IBS symptoms... drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, or colas; stress, conflict, or emotional upsets

    http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/ #whatcauses [nih.gov]

    PS: As most of you know, you can't get any real work done in an atmosphere of "hypertasking," i.e. if you're trying to do physics, math, or symbolic logic, then get yourself a cabin in the mountains.

    • if you're trying to do physics, math, or symbolic logic, then get yourself a cabin in the mountains.

      Yeah, it worked for Ted Kaczynski! Harvard, Berkeley, PhD mathematics! Isolation isn't the cure - Technology is like any other aspect of your life. It needs balance.

      • No, I disagree. Isolation IS the cure. Set aside part of the day to be uninterrupted, and the rest to "do email." Need to plow through a difficult paper? Take a seat in the bottom floor of the library, where nobody goes and there's no WiFi. Maybe I'm the only one who's too easily distracted, but I doubt it.
    • I don't know about a cabin in the mountains, thats kind of expensive. For ~$7 US you can make a 24 oz Red Bull and Pepto Bismol shake (2 cans of red bull, 1 bottle of Pepto Bismol, vodka to taste)* and sip it all day while sitting on the toilet in a public restroom (free!) and working on your Wi-Fi enabled laptop (sadly, not free).

      *this milkshake is not recommended for consumption by children under 10, adults, dogs, cats, gerbils, pre-teens, or teenagers. May cause unspecified cramping, swelling or acute A
  • by CGP314 ( 672613 ) <CGP.ColinGregoryPalmer@net> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:27AM (#10156999) Homepage
    You can hypertask fine as long as you're on internet time.
  • I hate to not discuss the article, but is anyone else having problems getting the page to render correctly in IE 6? Right now, it looks like two narrow columns superimposed over each other. Must be an excercise to hypertasking by reading two articles at once.
  • Just when I was starting to become confortable with the idea that extreme technological transhumanism is a kook philosophy, something like this comes around and points out a very real demand for computational implants and other data processing aids. Johnny Mnemonic here we come.
  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:30AM (#10157012) Homepage
    Over the years I recall studies of rats subjected to stressful circumstances, and by stressful I mean things such as excessive noise. Inevitably the rats suffered for it -- it took a toll, and why not? Isn't that what you would expect? How would you like, to use an extreme example, to work right next to a construction worker using a pile driver? Might make you irritable too.

    Now there is the factor of adaptation. The MTV effect and all whereby we all learn to accept sub-second images in our commercials and music videos, lots of jump cuts, and so on. The brain does adapt, no question. So it wouldn't surprise me a bit to hear anecdotally of people who love this sort of hypertasking, and prove to be very productive at it. Good for them. But if you find yourself feeling stressed as you continually do three things at once, keep in mind that the brain is the brain and there is a limit to how far you can push it and still be productive and happy. We are all just rats in the corporate maze of life and sometimes we get irritated by the stresses.

    When that happens, remember that many of you have the option to step back a bit. OK, so don't read the company email while sitting at Starbucks with an iPod blaring in your ear while you text your buddies on your cell phone. Makes you jumpy? Then pull out the ear plugs, sit in a quiet area instead of Starbucks, whatever you need to do. Leave the cell phone behind now and again. You are in control of your world, right, not the other way around?

    Now I said "many of you" have that option so that I don't get flamed by the "you insensitive clod" types who feel trapped in a job that forces them into stressful circumstances. Do what you can. But remember, you do not have to feel like an experiment in evolution to see how far your brain can be stretched to cope with stress. Step back now and then and enjoy life.

    • by EXTomar ( 78739 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:49AM (#10157073)
      This may sound like an odd thing to say but realizing one has options is a prerequist to taking the option. If one doesn't realize they have the option of just sitting in Starbucks without doing work then how are they supposed to stop hypertasking?

      This isn't as simple as it sounds especially in a sectors of the economy that put the emphisis on "a lot is less is a lot more!" Like IT, if one person can manage 5 machines is there a way to make one person manage 10? Off the bat I would usually say "Yes, make them work twice as much". This is how you start down the path of hypertasking. You load up workers with abnormal but do able amounts of work. You find yourself having to do things at every possible moment of your day. It becomes habitial that you must be busy else you are doing something wrong. And once it becomes habitual it becomes harder to think "should I be doing this?" Worse yet is that your boss starts behaving and expecting high workloads as the norm. Your boss doesn't see any good reason why he should have people maintain five machines when they can maintain ten.

      So sure you can say "just back off" but there are behavioral and monetary reasons they can't just back off. Striving to make operational units do more work with less reason is a good thing. However if they are already as efficient as possible, the only way to boost productivity is to make them hypertask. As the article points out this productivity really isn't an improvement since it costs the "sanity" of your workers.
      • You find yourself having to do things at every possible moment of your day. It becomes habitial that you must be busy else you are doing something wrong.

        Exactly right. I woke up this morning, rolled over to check my email on my laptop by my bed, and discovered no pressing issues. I was struck with a sense of panic that I must be forgetting something.

        I have to say, though, that I really enjoy hypertasking. It's a lot of fun figuring out how to prioritize a large set of tasks, or how to optimize them i

  • big deal (Score:3, Funny)

    by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) <michaelmtrippNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:31AM (#10157017) Homepage
    While I agree with the article overall, their results are over-stated because, in my experience, the people foolish enough to do office work in a Starbucks while talking on their cellphones are also the type that have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time as well.
  • apples/oranges (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chron ( 96048 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:32AM (#10157018)
    The story quotes someone from MIT who did a study on something fairly simple; timing one's recognition response to colors and letters. The article tries to sensationalize it into a broad swath of "multitasking is inefficient.". Just what this means is totally unclear.

    Be wary of anyone trying to simplify how humans think and work. No one understands the mind to any substantive degree--we have a hard time just figuring out how an ant's neurons fire when it walks.
    • No one understands the mind to any substantive degree--we have a hard time just figuring out how an ant's neurons fire when it walks.

      Irrelevant. We don't have to "understand the mind to any substantive degree" to "understand how the mind is performing".

      (Common mistake. Same reason people still were mechanical engineers before we even had the theory of the atom, and many modern mechanical engineers still only understand outdated theories. You don't have to "understand matter to any substantiave degree" to
  • by ewg ( 158266 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:34AM (#10157029)
    I use mobile communications to implement responsiveness rather than hypertasking. It's great to be able to check work email and get back to people quickly, either with an answer or at least a courtesy response.

    Just yesterday I handled two minor issues while waiting at the automobile dealership service department. Two people got answers within minutes rather than waiting over a (USA) holiday weekend, and I cleared two tasks from next week's to-do list. Abosuletly joyful.

    So I use the task-switching capability of mobile communications rather than the hypertasking capability, to the benefit of my coworkers and hopefully my career.
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:42AM (#10157049) Homepage Journal
    I've said this before, but I feel it bears repeating.

    There is a difference between "being busy" and "being productive", and too damn many people don't know the difference.

    I work with a guy who cannot go five minutes without being on the phone. He will be on business trips and call me to tell me how well a demo went. If there were no problems I really DON'T need to be interrupted in my work - it can wait until you get back, Rob. He will call me as he is driving in to work (a 10 minute drive) to tell me he wants to talk to me when he gets in.

    He is the sort of person who feels that, if he is not talking to someone, writing a proposal, reading a proposal, etc., that he is not being productive.

    Now, when he and I travel, I use the time waiting in the airport to review in my mind the things that will need to happen when we get to the customer, or long-range design plans, or just plain relax - so that when I need to work, I can do so at 100%.

    All these people "hypertasking" - driving down the road making business calls that they have to "follow up on" because they cannot make proper notes, or don't have access to their information - in other words, wasting time. Wait until you can make the call, and resolve the issue with one call.

    In short, be smart-lazy. Go read Heinlein's "The man who was too lazy to fail" in Time Enough For Love and be like him. When you do something, do it so as to spend as little work as possible to achive as much gain as possible. Sometimes, putting something off till tomorrow is better than doing it today (if putting it off will allow you to solve it once and for all, and trying to do it today means revisiting it tomorrow anyway).

    People bitch about not having any "free time", yet every study done shows that we actually do have more "leasure time", but we fill it with so much crap that we have no "free time" left. If you feel overworked, if you feel like you have no free time, then examine all the things you do, and ask yourself "Do I *really* need to be doing this now, or am I just trying to be busy?"
    • I think this raises a good point. As an example, I teach at a Community College and I'm required to hold a certain number of office hours/week for students to meet me in person. Do they do that? Of course not. I mostly sit around and surf the Internet. However, when I sit down to check e-mails in the evening (at home, of course), I have bunches from students demanding an immediate response from them on occasion.

      Frankly, what takes us several e-mail communiques later, could have been solved if they'd
    • My dad gave me that story to read when I was a young, unproductive slacker. Now I'm an older, wiser, and productive slacker. Go figure.

      Re: your coworker- I have the dubious joy of suffering two of those, both prone to mood swings and verbal ejaculation at me of shit that has nothing whatsoever to do with me... because I'm THERE. I have another "friend" who has anxiety attacks and psychotic episodes if he's alone for more than a few hours- his deal is if he doesn't have anybody to hang out with, then NOB
  • by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:45AM (#10157057)
    Hundreds of emails, floods of text messages, loads of IM buddies, PDA bulging with contacts, etc. Self importance and self worth are the order of the day. Kind of pathetic really.
    • Some people might consider a full inbox, answering machine, PDA, etceteras to be bragging rights. Good for them- I put it in the same category as the hundreds of people I overhear in Pittsburgh whining "I'M SOOOO TIRED...." on the street, on the bus, etceteras. I don't fucking care. You're tired? DRINK SOME COFFEE. STOP WHINING.

      It's a "look at me!" sort of thing. If they were in my office and doped up on coffee, they'd be whining about how much spam they have in their inbox.

      Me, I get too much email
  • I've always kind of felt like there wasn't any such thing; that the human mind really can only do one thing at a time, and the issue of multi-/hyper-tasking has to do with how quickly and efficiently you can switch between things.

    In fact, my understanding (small though it be) of Zen philosophy says that we should concentrate excluseivly on one thing at a time, thus the value of meditation. Always seemed like it might actualy make for better multi-tsking, but I've never been able to find the time to do it.

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:26AM (#10157235)
      I am now going to make a lame computer analogy, so bear with me :)

      People "multitask" the same way as a uniprocessor computer - by context switching. I'm with you, people might think they're doing 2 things at once, but mainly they're just context switching. Part of scheduler design is deciding how often to context switch - too little and the system isn't responsive, but too much and throughput is decreased due to all the context switch overhead.

      So I think it's important to be aware of each context switch you make, and remember that each one is potentially wasted time.

  • Ok (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone ( 681598 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @09:50AM (#10157078)
    irritability, impatience, sleeplessness, an overly extended workweek, and is largely unproductive

    In other words, the modern workplace.

    It probably wouldn't be a problem if it weren't expected. Well, expected up to the point where everyone is laid off, the company is loaded into trucks and the office building is bulldozed.

    A lot of it also has to do with attention span. People, for the most part, simply cannot focus on one idea for more than about the interval between commercials in a sitcom. The whole "eyes glaze over" metaphor is nothing but a built-in excuse for everyone to be intellectually lazy. In the commercial culture, people who take the time to say anything remotely well-thought-out are ALWAYS looked at with some combination of alarm and revulsion by people around them.

    Basically, as far as advertisers are concerned, life is a theme park. Commercials want people to just start running through the park and not stop to look at all the distractions. Oh, and spend money. LOTS of money.

    Technology isn't the only factor driving the need to do more things at once. The workplace is demanding it.

    Well, the workplace is full of shit.

    Employers don't want to hire anyone who doesn't want to multitask, says Deborah Keary of the Society for Human Resource Management.

    Well boo-fuckin-hoo.

    They want people who can juggle multiple jobs, prioritize and handle multiple media, she says.

    Yeah? I want a convertible. So what?

    "That's how business is conducted these days, and there's no going back."

    Well, maybe business is full of shit too.

    "Society is kind of in meltdown," she says.

    And management moves on to the bread course.
    • irritability: Well, the workplace is full of shit.

      irritability: Well boo-fuckin-hoo.

      irritability: Yeah? I want a convertible. So what?

      LOL, this post is hilarious, especially coming from someone who chose to call themselves "cubicledrone."

      Seriously, though, I agree with you completely. Maybe over time, humanity will adjust, but I'm old and cranky and tired. Four more years to retirement, and I can't wait.

    • by solios ( 53048 )
      They want all that shit, and they don't want to pay for it.

      I'm a sysadmin, video editor, subtitler, web bitch, mac tech support and DVD/multimedia author. All one job. Pays less than 25 a year.

      Of course, the local economy sucks a rancid, pus-filled testicle. I'm happy I have a job. Happier still I have one that keeps me more or less too busy to spend the pitiful amount of cash I'm making. (I priced it out and anyone who does ONE of those things on my little list gets at LEAST 10k more a year than I do
  • "Prof Marois said that a VSTM capacity of four was probably not much of a problem in the relatively slower-paced lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Not so today, however. The fast pace of modern life is stretching our Stone Age brains to the limit." The article is here. [telegraph.co.uk]
  • Are we doomed? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:04AM (#10157137)
    No. All devices have an off switch somewhere; learn to use it from time to time.
  • by TimTheFoolMan ( 656432 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:12AM (#10157167) Homepage Journal
    It's interesting to think of this as an opportunity for the "survival of the fittest" to apply. I have a co-worker who simply cannot focus without having several sensory inputs going on at once. By doing so, he can focus without distraction for long periods of time. He regularly works on 2-3 projects at once, and seems able to juggle an incredible number of simultaneous tasks. He's been diagnosed as ADHD.

    Similarly, a good friend of mine (also diagnosed adult ADD/ADHD) who telecommutes by editing/publishing online comments keeps music blaring, and rarely has fewer than 10 windows open at a given time. She is constantly waiting for the computer (primarily the web server on the far side and/or her high-speed connection) to render results pages, and [Alt][Tab]s back and forth so fast it's almost impossible to keep up with what she's doing. If she's had caffiene... you'll get tired just watching her.

    Perhaps we'll see people who have been labled "hyperactive" or "lacking focus" as the ones who will be magically productive in such environments. We may find that they're not distracted by such sensory overload--they may even be empowered by it.

    If so, this will surely be a satisfying development for a large segment of the population that has traditionally been medicated toward being "normal." It may be that by allowing their brains to function the way they do without medication, they'll leave the rest of us in the technological dust.

    Tim
    • by maximilln ( 654768 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:35AM (#10157270) Homepage Journal
      Perhaps we'll see people who have been labled "hyperactive" or "lacking focus" as the ones who will be magically productive in such environments

      I don't know about magically, but I do agree with the hypothesis that there's more wrong with the medical/pharmaceutical industry than there is with their purported patients.

      I've never agreed with medicating for attention deficit disorders. I think,"If I grew up today, I wouldn't be able to pay attention in class either because it's all such juvenile drivel that's pouring out of the approved curriculum!"
  • There is one notable point in the article that actually persons are more productive when they perform one task. I could say that from the experience this is a fact which I would easily admit. And also would say that the way to resolve is better planning of activity and here - where most people would fail - just because they are not about to be self controlled and self motivated, and rather most are driven by outer stimulus. And taking the last fact for truth it is logical that to organize one person there

  • by DaoudaW ( 533025 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:19AM (#10157203)
    Lots of research [umich.edu] has been done in the area of multitasking. One of the more insightful results is that much of what passes as "multitasking" is in fact task-switching. Each switch exacts a cost as we reorient ourselves to the new/old task. If you are really interested heres enough info [umich.edu] to write your own thesis on the topic.
    • by Poeir ( 637508 ) <poeir.geo@OOOyahoo.com minus threevowels> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @12:02PM (#10157665) Journal
      In operating systems, it's called a context switch. A processor doesn't actually run a bunch of programs simultaneously; rather, it runs one program for a few nano- (or micro-, or other small fraction of a) second, then stores the data for future reference, loads another program (and its data), runs that one for a fraction of a second, and repeats this many times over the course of a second. If the programs never wait (for user input, or sleep for no particular reason), this is wasteful; a program which had the entire processor to itself would use it, but having to share with others means cycles get spent on changing tasks.

      It would be more efficient to do batch processing, where the processor finishes one task (with 100% CPU utilization), then does a second task, then a third, and so on. For most programs, there is user I/O which takes much longer than that fraction of a second spent on any given program. This is also why you, the user, can't tell this is happening. For a computer, a context switch should take on the order of nanoseconds.

      For a human, it's different. It has often been said that the human brain is like a computer, and this is a useful starting point here. This computer, though, takes much, much longer to do a context switch. For example, if I decide to call the Bobs, it's going to take me about about half a second to pick up the phone, a few seconds to find them in my address book (or dial the number), a few more seconds to let it ring, possibly up to 60 seconds for a voice mail greeting, and then I can start talking to them. The only task is to talk to the Bobs. If they're across the hall from me, it will take a few seconds to get over there. If they're in the same room, calling has a higher cost than talking directly to them. (Of course, interrupting them will cause them to do a context switch to talking to me, costing their productivity.)

      Doing a task all at once prevents having to context switch to or from it. If I got up, make myself a sandwich, and eat it, I have used less time on the sandwich than I would if I got up, went to the refrigerator, took out some sandwich meat, put it on the counter, came back to the computer, read some Slashdot, went to the cupboard, got bread out, came back to the computer, wrote some of a program, went to the counter, made the sandwich, turned on the television, went back to the counter, picked up the sandwich, and ate it. The time in going to the refrigerator, coming back to the computer, going to the cupboard, coming back to the computer, went to the counter, turned on the television, and going back to the counter is all wasted. It would be much more efficient to make the sandwich, eat it, read Slashdot, write the program, then watch television (not necessarily in that order).

      Even if I am already where I need to be (for example, changing from IRC to Slashdot to OpenOffice), there is an overhead cost in switching. There is also an overhead cost in changing my frame of mind; how I think like when programming is nothing like how I think when talking to friends.
  • by TakaIta ( 791097 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:21AM (#10157214) Journal
    Just do a search on +multitasking +productivity You'll find articles like this one: Study: Multitasking is counterproductive [cnn.com]. (published in 2001)
    Also Zen Buddhists have known this for a long time. In fact they claim that spending every day some time doing nothing (meditating) increases your productivity. See: Zen and the Art of Corporate Productivity [businessweek.com]
    • From the article:

      [R]esearch [...] determined that for all types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another.

      I agree with you that the above observation is not new. Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations [gutenberg.net] commented on the very same phenomenon. In fact, his observation appears in the very first chapter of the book:

      A man commonly saunters a little in turning his hand from one sort of employment to another. When he first begins the new work he is seldom very keen and

  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @10:43AM (#10157298) Journal
    I don't really think so.. See, I can't exactly see the evolutionary advantage in being able perform lots of work tasks at the same time. There isn't such a strong link between work performance and survival anymore.

    Now.. a mutation enabling you to work, talk on the phone, and have sex at the same time, that would be an evolutionary advantage!

    But I'll agree it'd be nice knowing these stress problems were only temporary.. solving themselves in a million years or so.

  • get productive (Score:4, Informative)

    by shokk ( 187512 ) <ernieoporto@@@yahoo...com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @11:03AM (#10157390) Homepage Journal
    Hotspots and computing power have nothing to do with how unproductive people are. It's always been true that people with a task list need to organize it and focus on the current task at hand. The coming tasks will get their focus in turn, and worrying about them while working on something else causes you to forget steps, rush things out, and rush other people that might be associated with it (causing irritation ripples through time). The trick is getting other people who are unorganized and rushed into recognizing that you don't have time for their issue at this exact moment but they are in the queue. Realistic priorities must be respected: making everything priority 1 means nothing has priority over anything else, defeating the system. If things really were priority 1, that's a sure sign that things around you have broken down due to lack of resources and it's time to get out of that situation.

    Technology like PDAs, most of which is now built into cell phones, can help by making a todo list, even if it is just a text file that you edit with a priority number. The rest is up to you to coordinate with fellow humans, and has nothing to do with technology. Most of us seem to lack those skills because you just don't get that sort of training in school.
  • Very true (Score:2, Funny)

    by erenq ( 613506 )
    As anyone who has played Starcraft while trying to keep your Mom thinking you're actually talking to her at the same time will testify, both tasks suffer.
  • The value of pervasive connectiveity, IMO, is that it permits you to do work at times when circumstances require you to be away from your desktop. The only way I stay atop my 300 email a week inbox and still stay productive is by using my laptop in cabs, on planes, even in the subway. I recently decided to invest in a PDA because it will permit me to at least read my email when I not able use a laptop (like when I am waiting in an airplane boarding queue, when the flight is taxing, while waiting for a cab/
  • I understand this. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ONU CS Geek ( 323473 ) * <ian.m.wilson@NOspAM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2004 @11:15AM (#10157450) Homepage
    I currently work anywhere from 60 to 90 hours every week. This is on-the-clock time, not including time I spend doing paperwork, reading and studying for certifications, and answering calls from technicians that are in the field that have questions.

    The first month it was hard getting myself into that schedule and way of life...now, if I take a day off in the week, my body wants to go and do things....

    It's really sad...at one point in time, I worked to relieve stress....and now my secondary stress reliever is stressing me out.

  • WiFi at Coffee Shops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cyliax ( 715835 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @11:16AM (#10157454)
    I used to go to coffee shops to do productive work away from my email, etc... however, nowadays almost all of the coffee shops offer WiFi. Especially, the non-corporate shops seem to use free WiFi to draw people away from Starbucks. I guess now I have to rely on my "will-power" to prevent myself to get on the 'net, check Slashdot, read my email etc..., while "forcing" myself to relax and enjoy a Mocha. -ingo
  • by lux55 ( 532736 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @12:00PM (#10157656) Homepage Journal
    Go to small, local diners. Sit by yourself. Bring a laptop, notebook, pen, etc. Have lunch. Have coffee. Take your time. Work at your leisure, but _do_ do work. Talk to the staff. Don't worry about distractions -- they're far fewer than, for example, the distractions of working at home (TV, games, family, hobbies like a guitar, etc.), and they're a LOT less likely to offer free WiFi access, which is a GOOD thing.

    Also, the distractions caused by other human beings doing things around you are good. Embrace them, and it'll mean you're actually interacting with other _real_ human beings. That what life's about anyway. Community, family. Starbucks et al don't have that.

    I go to work at the diner down the street every chance I get. It costs me lunch every time, and I'm sure it's not the healthiest food, but I accomplish far more that way, and I know when it's time to call it quits when my laptop battery is just about up. Then when I get home, I check my email, answer questions, and then my work day is done. Before I go, I check my email also. You don't have to have your email on all the time. You also don't need to work all the time. The amazing thing is that I used to work like crazy, because that's what small business owners do. Since I decided to stop that, because the lifestyle isn't sustainable, nor enjoyable, I'm much happier, and I get more done than I was before, both work-wise and in my personal life. I read again. I talk to my family. I see my friends. A world of difference.

    Not to say I'm perfect or anything like that, or that I've got all the answers (yeah right! the only thing I know for sure is I ain't got a clue!), but it came down to the choice of living to work or working to live. And as much as I enjoy what I do, I don't live for it.
  • by Banner ( 17158 ) on Saturday September 04, 2004 @03:31PM (#10158556) Journal
    One of the hard truths I've learned over the years is that if you work more then 40 hours a week (on average, occasional OT is fine), you accomplish LESS then if you had worked say 35.

    People who regularly work long days and weekends aren't working harder than the guys working regular hours, they're usually working poorly, or are just plan incompetant.

    The fact is most of us really only do about 4 to 6 hours of work in a day, and unless you let yourself get put in a job that should be done by two people, you should be able to get your work done in that amount of time.

    The problems arise from bad work habits, too many pointless meetings, and phone meetings (which are almost always worthless).

    As a professional with 20 years in technology under my belt I almost NEVER work OT anymore. I could care less about 'Face time' and 30 to 35 hours a week is often all I will come into the office for. And I still outperform most 50 to 60 hour guys. Managers who are more concerned with hours than production should be fired, along with people who plan so poorly that all hell always breaks loose at the end of the production cycle.

    Having actually worked in jobs that meant the life or death of people, I find it hard to get terribly excited or worried about 'end of the world' claims and other excess hype from upper managers when some little widget breaks. Running around like your head is on fire never solves anything.

    When I manage I compt time all my workers, sometimes telling them to stay out of the office for a few days and go have some fun. Oddly enough my groups always get more work done, are more relaxed and happier, then those groups led by those 'hard working' managers who never go home.

    Go figure.

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