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Saturday, March 6, 2010

E-mail is Making You Stupid

Constant e-mail interruptions make you less productive, less creative and – if you’re e-mailing when you’re doing something else – just plain dumb.

Within the heart of your company, saboteurs lurk. Disguised as instruments of productivity, they are subverting your staff’s most precious resource: attention. Incessant e-mail alerts, instant messages, buzzing BlackBerrys and cell phones are decimating workplace concentration. The average information worker – basically anyone at a desk – loses 2.1 hours of productivity every day to interruptions and distractions, according to an IT research and consulting firm.

That time is money. Computer chip giant Intel, for one, has estimated that e-mail overload can cost large companies plenty of lost profits a year in lost employee productivity. The intrusions are constant: each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 10 times and uses instant messaging 20 times. Such interruptions don’t just sidetrack workers from their jobs, they also undermine their attention spans, increase stress and annoyance and decrease job satisfaction and creativity.

The interruption epidemic is reaching a crisis point at some companies and shows no sign of slowing. E-mail volume is growing at a rate of 50 percent a year (that is faster than 90% of any company or congloremate), according to some researchers. More people are texting. And increasingly more are using Facebook or Twitter for work.

“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” remarks a complainant who feel pounded by the avalanche of messaging. “It’s so hard to stay focused. Everything bings and bongs and tweets at you, and you don’t think. You just can't improve on whatever you are doing".

As workers’ attention spans are whipsawed by interruptions, something insidious happens in the brain: Interruptions erode an area called effortful control and with it the ability to regulate attention. In other words, the more you check your messages, the more you feel the need to check them–an urge familiar to BlackBerry or iPhone users.

“Technology is an addiction,” says a personnel manager who has studied e-compulsion. “If someone can’t turn their BlackBerry off, there’s a problem.”

The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously.

Say a salesman is trying to read a new e-mail while on the phone with a client. Those are both language tasks that have to go through the same cognitive channel. Trying to do both forces his brain to switch back and forth between tasks, which results in a “switching cost,” forcing him to slow down.

Researchers found that productivity dropped as much as 40 percent when subjects tried to do two or more things at once. The switching exacts other costs too – mistakes and burnout. Bluntly put, quality work and multitasking are incompatible.

Here’s how the brain behaves when your attention slips away from a task: The hippocampus, which manages demanding cognitive tasks and creates long-term memories, kicks the job down to the striatum, which handles rote tasks. So the gum-chewing part of the brain is now replying to the boss’s e-mail. This is why you wind up addressing e-mails to people who weren’t supposed to get them. Or sending messages rife with typos.

The striatum is the brain’s autopilot. And no part of your business should be allowed to run on autopilot.

Email has also become an excuse for weak managers to sit in their office under the self-deceptive impression that they are busy getting a lot of work done, when in fact they are just blowing smoke by dumping a lot of junk on others.

Some people actually get promoted for answering a lot of emails. Forget about actually executing tangible work activities.

Coming from an engineering perspective this article is something I realized 10 years ago. Good decisions take concentration and productive work takes all the effort of the person doing the work. Again we have been led astray by some people who had very little business knowledge and wanted two days work for the price of one.

The sad part is that our children are learning this method and not learning what they are supposed to in school. Isn’t technology wonderful?

OK u can go check your email now dummy :P

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