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Multitasking Harmful To Productivity

timothy posted more than 13 years ago | from the better-turn-off-the-television dept.

News 333

Greyfox writes: "According to a CNN article, a person who is multitasking several things takes a hit on his productivity. Oddly enough, it reads almost exactly like a description of the problem with multitasking on computers; context switches cost, especially if you have to swap a lot of crap out in order to fit the new process into memory. So basically, an employee who can stay focussed on one thing for long periods of time is going to have higher productivity than one who has to handle constant interrupts. Now if I could get my manager to buy into that ..."

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True (1)

SnapperHead (178050) | more than 13 years ago | (#2109652)

But, we have been aware of this forever. Unfortnanlly, companys will still try to make you do everything at once. So, in the end, you are less productive. No matter what, some managers don't have the brains to relize this ... Oh well.

I would never have believed it... (1)

mcleodnine (141832) | more than 13 years ago | (#2110501)

until CNN said it was so.

I think i can agree on this.... (1)

Quazion (237706) | more than 13 years ago | (#2111966)

But thats just cause my dual monitor setup is still to small for all my applications to be open at once,maybe i should ask my boss for 2 21" screens so i can use a higher resolution then 1024x768 =P

And lets not forget more memory cause my computer is swapping the whole time which takes away my expensive time, which i could ofcourse better use for smoking sigarets and drinking coffee instead of staring at my computer screen.

exactly (2, Insightful)

zephc (225327) | more than 13 years ago | (#2112425)

When you can sit and code for 12 hours, you are WAY more productive than if you work for 3, have to sit in a meeting for 1.5 hours, lunch with your manager, then more work, then another goddamn meeting. Eat while you code; im sure most of us do.

Re:exactly (2, Interesting)

Lunastorm (471804) | more than 13 years ago | (#2115371)

Isn't eating while you code multi-tasking? Therefore, multi-tasking does work making the article complete hogwash!

Re:exactly (1)

pjmoss (512581) | more than 13 years ago | (#2143563)

go out for lunch, take a walk - get fresh air, take an "away from vdu" break every three hours or so - thats my advice!! Keeps you fresh and I find that breaking the mind away from the task in-hand often leads to new trains of thought when returning to it. Suppose it depends on the individual though .....

Multitasking... (1)

Agent Green (231202) | more than 13 years ago | (#2112426)

...reminds me of the days of DesqView!

Seriously though, I am often amazed at the amount of stuff that people can juggle day in and day out. However, the cost of an individual's multitasking might not be a direct hit to productivity in an immediate fashion. If a heavily loaded indivdual loses the balance which allows them to efficiently task a number of projects, then that is where the productivity hit will make itself visible.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. This article doesn't tell us something we don't already know.

The study result is true (1)

Big Nothing (229456) | more than 13 years ago | (#2112469)

I never get anything done while I'm reading the Slashdot news - my multitasking just won't work.

Don't tell that to cavalry pilots (3, Funny)

HerrGlock (141750) | more than 13 years ago | (#2114443)

Four radios, talking to six people, a co-pilot, maps, weapons systems, mast mounted sight, scanning for other aircraft, while on a screenline looking for bad guys, setting up relief on station and tracking the movements of everybody.

Multi-tasking? What's that?


Old news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2115379)$ 300

Old debate (2, Interesting)

anpe (217106) | more than 13 years ago | (#2115834)

This is known since Taylor :
a worker that is specialized in a single movement is more productive than another doing different things.

But this is only true in a short term view :
The fact that workers feel less considered will bring less productivity and a bad feeling about the company.

Re:Old debate (2, Informative)

Ubi_UK (451829) | more than 13 years ago | (#2113807)

Actually no
Taylorising is making the proces as efficient as possible by analising all the steps and finding out the most efficient way to perform each step. This will also give you more effieincy, but in the computerworld that should be compared to re-examining the keyboard and placing the most-used keys in placed where they can be accessed the easiest (for windows: placing CTRL-ALT-DEL in the middle). Taylorising will get you RSI, that's for sure.

Re:Old debate (2, Interesting)

anpe (217106) | more than 13 years ago | (#2127379)

I was not just talking about RSI.
To quote this article [] :
The attempt to humanize management theory in the work of Elton Mayo and his followers, [...], focused on the environment of work and reached the conclusion that
environmental conditions and morale were as important as the behaviourist categories on which Taylor had concentrated.
My point was that scientism made Taylor consider the worker as a non-human entity.
Behaviourists as Mayo demonstrated that human factors were important too when studying productivity.

Not convinced (1)

alnapp (321260) | more than 13 years ago | (#2116054)

IMVVVVVHO this is denying the abilities of the human mind to do several things at once. Here I am typoing thos message whilst simultateously picking my nose and wondering what is for breakfast. Easy

Re:Not convinced (2)

Dr_Cheeks (110261) | more than 13 years ago | (#2127445)

IMVVVVVHO this is denying the abilities of the human mind to do several things at once. Here I am typoing thos message whilst simultateously picking my nose and wondering what is for breakfast. Easy
Yeah, you're doing a great job there. Top quality work - "typoing" has got to be the most appropriate typo I've ever seen : )

Re:Not convinced (1)

alnapp (321260) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148165)

that's why I typed it
(sheesh, try and make a joke round here)

Brain clearly not properly awake yet (2)

Dr_Cheeks (110261) | more than 13 years ago | (#2134968)

Ugh. Monday morning. Whatever part of my brain it is that spots funnies clearly needs more caffeine. Which sounds like a good excuse to leave my desk.

Apologies for my lobotomy.

pfft. 'I read an article and know how brain works' (0)

wanton (310689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2116259)

I'm not so sure this is all true. Of course it is an experiment and nothing is stated as fact. But I believe that everyone has a certain ability of true multitasking and not losing any production at the same time. Sure an interruption may delay something simply because of the time it takes, but loss in productivity is not always there. When it is, it's simply there as part of a learning curve. If we humans couldn't multitask, then we'd all be dead. I don't recall forgetting to breath or losing heart beats from replying to an icq message. They say the avg person can't multitask productively, but they also say the human doesn't use more than 10% of the brain. Studies have also shown that the brain can become efficient at multitasking but there is a learning curve. So yeh, if your not used to, interuptions could disrupt things and reduce productivity, but after being used to it (the brain becomes more efficient) and viola, it's not so much a problem anymore. It's like when you are having a conversation and someone interrupts forget what you were saying and say 'what was I saying again', totally oblivious to what you were saying. Then the person says the last 2 or 3 words you were saying and poof you remember and go on. Well, if instead you wrote down the last 3 words before the interruption and look at them, you'd remember and go on. Eventually, if your interrupted a lot you learn how to keep track of what your saying and not have to ask the other person. You ask yourself and remember and go on. Then you subconsciously learn how to perform the 'remembering' task and it doesn't reduce your ability to have a conversation if someone interrupts you. Same goes with coding, reading, running, or anything else. Anybody can do math, read or run (well...literate people). But it's hard to do all three. But on the other hand, some read or run or do math faster than others simply because they can concentrate better whether there are interruptions or not. So, to judge the brains ability to multitask by such simple experimentation I believe, has no degree of accuracy. It does show points of adding tasks to an individuals current work load. The real question is, is the decrease in productivity for the person to learn how to manage the added task worth the productivity that will be produced once the individual has experience with the added task? This does of course involve the risk of reaching a persons limitations, but if those limitations are reached, I would imagine a pay raise could change the limitations, the person will quit, the person will complain, or the person will be replaced with someone with better 'limitations'. This article as someone said is pretty much stating the obvious, but I think it's also leaving out some real good details at the same time. BTW, someone said something about ridalin. I'm not sure that stuff is worth the money to buy it. I have adhd (oh yeh, i'm another victim and have a 'deficit' - o poor me!), but i've never needed medication to concentrate. I just had to learn how to concentrate just like all the other people in the world. Don't take offense, but if you work hard enough you don't need a drug. The brain is to complex, to resorting to taking medication. Of course if it helps it helps, and i'm not knockin it too much, but you can learn how to concentrate without it. ______ []

This result is over 100 years old! (5, Interesting)

possible (123857) | more than 13 years ago | (#2120104)

Henry James, in his Principles of Psychology [] (1890 or thereabouts) described the mind's multitasking and task-switching in terms that modern-day computer folks will find quite familiar.

There's a running joe that James' century old work represents basically everything cognitive scientists know today. In other words, not much new progress in the last 100 years. :) Anyways, to quote from James' book, chapter 11 (emphasis mine):

[p. 409] If, then, by the original question, how many ideas or things can we attend to at once, be meant how many entirely disconnected systems or processes of conception can go on simultaneously, the answer is, not easily more than one, unless the processes are very habitual; but then two, or even three, without very much oscillation of the attention. Where, however, the processes are less automatic, as in the story of Julius Caesar dictating four letters whilst he writes a fifth,[9] there must be a rapid oscillation of the mind from one to the next, and no consequent gain of time. Within any one of the systems the parts may be numberless, but we attend to them collectively when we conceive the whole which they form.

When the things to be attended to are small sensations, and when the effort is to be exact in noting them, it is found that attention to one interferes a good deal with the perception of the other. A good deal of fine work has been done in this field, of which I must give some account.

It has long been noticed, when expectant attention is concentrated upon one of two sensations, that the other one is apt to be displaced from consciousness for a moment and to appear subsequent; although in reality the two may have been contemporaneous events...

Chad Loder
Rapid 7, Inc. []
The next generation of network security products

Re:This result is over 100 years old! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2110970)

LOL, some poor guy spent months on this study, only to find out that somebody studied it 100 years ago. :)

Re:This result is over 100 years old! (1)

Kalani (66189) | more than 13 years ago | (#2134969)

Hey Science is all about that kind of fault-tolerance achieved by carrying out the same process multiple times.

William James, not Henry (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2113808)

Henry was the author, William the psychologist.

No No! It was Henry FORD! (1)

jhealy (91456) | more than 13 years ago | (#2127378)

Henry FORD made the assembly line big back in the early 1900's... and isn't that the same thing? Getting all the workers to focus on one thing all day long not only brought the industrial revolution into the Golden Age, but made cars for all!

Maybe a similar focus in technology will get us onto the other side of the information revolution and into a new Golden Age, which I will now call the Platinum Age. For no reason.

The reality is (3, Interesting)

q-soe (466472) | more than 13 years ago | (#2122742)

Some thoughts from my workplace

I find myself more and more multitasking (and now its not just because i have to use win2k at work - but that adds to it) the fact is that we are caught by a couple of things

1. Expectations of Users - The average user has come to expect support and help in a much quciker time frame which couples with their increasing knowledge and skills (note this in general) to produce a class of user who thinks every problem is major and they then try to fix it them selves therefore ensuring it IS a major problem.

2. complexity of systems - this goes hand in handwith the above - eveyr day systems grow more and more complex - we are in the process of SAP implementation and this is a killer on the back on WIN2k, Intranet Payroll and HR and Intranet helpdesk loggin - the number of passwords grow and there is no easy way to resolve the issue and maintain security - that means the system become more complex on a daily basis and the struggle for support staff and users to keep up with the required skills and knowledge (paid training is an impossible joke in most companies - it does not happen)

3. Time and Resources - time is a valuable concept - the amount of time in a day is finite at 24 hours and you can only work so much of it - yet i spend a lot of my time waiting for things to load and dealing with FIX THIS NOW requests for low priority issues whilst trying to fix the major issues i have - it takes longer to tell them to go away than the fix would but you have to maintain a focus. Staffing resources have also decreased - in my role its down to 1 staff member for every 100 staff and sometimes less - i have a state to run with approx 200 users and there is me and one part time partly skilled staff member who gets sick 2 days a week, so you can imagine that i dont have time to relax - 18 hour days are standard and i have done more than one 20 hour.

4. Money - the pressure of technology means that companies have to stay on top of things to survive - that means upgrades, new systems, software etc. This comes at a huge cost - SAP cost us AU$20 Million and thats only year 1 - dont forget as IT we now have to look after Phones, Video Conferencing, TV's, Boardrooms, Photocopiers, Fax Machine, Building Management Systems, Security Systems, etc etc - all this with less staff than before (2 years ago to do less i had 3 staff full time working flat out) - no money = no staff (SAP again)

SO whats the multitasking point ?

Yes staff who multitask are probably less efficient but then again hiring adequate staff to fill the roles in an organisation would mean less multi tasking and more efficiency - simple maths really.

I multitask because i have to - the headaches, backachec, half done jobs and 10000 email messages i cold do without - im efficient as hell tho - i have to be to survive and stay sane.

No if you will excuse me the 5 minutes i took to write this whilst waiting for a server to reboot is up and i have to go fix SQL - god i wish i had another pair of hands as well...

what does portend for interface designs? (1)

russcoon (34224) | more than 13 years ago | (#2123399)

So we've spent 20 years designing computer interfaces that allow users to multi-task better and better, and perhaps to some extent at the expense of the task at hand. Is there merit in re-evaluating the windowing model to try to make it more single-task friendly? Since I'm working on a widget set of sorts, what would people suggest works best in helping them get through a single task? or are wizards it?


Just use cubase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2110726)

While it isn't single tasking friendly, it sure is multi-tasking hostile (thou shalt only work on one song at a time, thy computer shalt forget all its settings every time you exit the program, etc.)

So CNN has discovered division of labor... (2, Interesting)

Bob_Robertson (454888) | more than 13 years ago | (#2124028)

I find it astounding that the "division of labor" process, focusing on one things done well to increase productivity, is such a surprise to CNN.

Maybe they never read Human Action by Ludwig von Mises []

Being it doesn't have any pictures, I doubt that any CNN reporter or producer would be interested.


Multitasking has its place.... (2)

kstumpf (218897) | more than 13 years ago | (#2124855)

Multitasking is useful when you can accomplish a task while waiting for another to finish (ie, replying to email while you parse a 4GB web log on another box). If you use it to swap back and forth sporadically, then, yes, obviously it will be counter-productive.

I catch myself doing this ALOT at work. I'll code a bit, get distracted by an ICQ message, then go back to a web browser rather than my vi session, and then its all downhill for the next half hour. It's a wonder I get anything done.

Preemption is what is bad for me (2)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 13 years ago | (#2125880)

I think that it is not so much multitasking that is bad for productivity, but rather preemption.

I'm pretty sure I work best when I have three or four tasks on my queue, that I decide when to switch among. I only switch tasks when I'm stuck on one, and need to give it a chance to bounce around my subconscious for a while. This puts the context switch overhead in what would otherwise by dead time, so is efficient.

hold on.. (1)

benshutman (202482) | more than 13 years ago | (#2126246)

can someone summarize? i didnt have time to read it all while i was beginning to build a database, watch tv, eat a sandwich, and download porn. thanks

it takes its origin in neural networks saturation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2126371)

when too much activity prevents the net from regenerating/reordering itself through rest. You then bump into the wall of catastrophic oblivion: no more information is being stored inside it. The bottom line for efficiently multitasking is to have more rest than for a simple thing, and you get it.

Depends what I'm doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2126758)

If I am doing uninteresting tasks then multi-tasking helps me get through them. Otherwise I would just sit there feeling board. However, if I really get stuck into an interesting task then please keep away, or I'll growl and then you'll be sorry!

It depends totally on the type of work. (3, Interesting)

Bowie J. Poag (16898) | more than 13 years ago | (#2127663)

Tell a stock trader that he's going to be more "productive" by simply walking over to the gentleman he wishes to conduct a transaction with, and speaking quietly versus standing elbow deep in a pit with thousands of other guys screaming at the top of his lungs and flinging gestures at other traders.

It all comes down to the work environment. For some things, like engineering, QA, R&D, a quiet distraction-free environment is ideal. For other things, where transaction speed matters more than quality of execution, multitasking is the only way to go.

Sad but true (3, Funny)

Robotech_Master (14247) | more than 13 years ago | (#2128204)

I find myself trying to multitask a lot of the time during my free time...and usually what I'm trying to do suffers for it. Roleplay online, read net news, read Slashdot, read email, read net comics, watch a DVD movie...I guess I'm easily distracted by things.

Oooh! Bright shiny object, sorry gotta go!

Re:Sad but true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2115375)

  • ROT13 ENCRYPTED: Vs lbh pna ernq guvf, lbh unir whfg ivbyngrq gur QZPN
Well, if you tell me how it's encrypted, I don't really think you're protecting it.

No surprise there.... (3, Insightful)

neoshmeng (467015) | more than 13 years ago | (#2128205)

Well, duh.

As if computers have made people any more efficient in the first place. How often do I work on a paper for school only to check my email, run my TV Card in a window or listen to MP3's at the same time. Computers are more for entertainment these days than actual productivity. Although they can do that too....

Re:No surprise there.... (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#2112225)

Hrm... I know I listen to mp3s a lot when I'm at home on my computer, but oddly enough, it seems to help my productivity. Maybe because I need some sort of 'background noise'. Or maybe I just work faster/better when listening to music.

Well, faster definitely.... better... I know I spend a lot of time debugging stuff that I shouldn't have had to, but that might be more based on the fact that I tend to code stuff/work on web pages on little sleep. But then, what is caffeine for?


Talk about stating the obvious... (1)

Mascot (120795) | more than 13 years ago | (#2128273)

To anybody with worthwhile brainfunctions this is rather blatantly obvious. That they've done research on it so you can back it up is nice. But honestly, if your boss believes getting interrupted all the time *doesn't* degrade your productivity....Get a new job cause a nobrain boss can only be bad for you in the long run.

It can make you go nuts.... (0)

Rinswind (472564) | more than 13 years ago | (#2128899)

It depends on what you're doing ofcource. When it involves switching between entirely different things it basicaly can make you go nuts!
Multytasking sux when it comes to programming. At work I ususally have 2-3 entirely different things to program wich often includes reading tons specifications too. All the time someone bugs me about this and that crashing and why and the worst thing is that these are not things programed by me but by someone else. I basycaly define my job as a "Quality Assurance programmer". AKA I read specs, and write "test case" programs all the time and try to determine why the test casees I've writen before happen to fail now and then. Now 'xcuse me but the SNMP test case just failed and they whine on my had to explain why :P

Task Loading (2, Interesting)

tm2b (42473) | more than 13 years ago | (#2129660)

This is no surprise for anybody who participates in certain sports.

For example - in SCUBA diving, especially technical diving such as cave diving or deep diving, task loading is known as a huge problem that the diver has to overcome. Not only is there the time cost of changing contexts, there is an additional cost in stress - and stressed divers make mistakes and die.

A diver will spend a lot of time training so that his or her attention isn't taken up by performing regular tasks - which is to say, so that their conscious attention doesn't have to including those tasks in its scheduler.

Re:Task Loading (3, Insightful)

Phroggy (441) | more than 13 years ago | (#2119616)

That basic concept also applies to driving a car. With new drivers, many of the basic decisions are handled consciously - and there are a lot of them. As you gain experience, your subconscious can take over a lot of the work, so you no longer have to concentrate on so many different things.

New driver:
OK, the light in front of us is turning red, so we have to stop. We need to shift into first, so first we step on the clutch, shift, release the clutch. Now we also need to step on the brake, slowly, paying close attention to where the car in front of us is so we get reasonably close without hitting it. OK, there, we're stopped, I can relax now.

Experienced driver:
Damn, I knew we should have taken the freeway.

Re:Task Loading (1)

pjmoss (512581) | more than 13 years ago | (#2123452)

Likewise I dont reccommend coding whilst operating as moving vehicle - very dangerous ...

Re:Task Loading (1)

pjmoss (512581) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150330)

I agree - which is why I dont often code whilst underwater ... I find that coral really fsck's up my mouse cable as well

XP and pair programming (5, Insightful)

phr1 (211689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131489)

Reduction of multitasking may be one of the big wins of pair programming in XP. Unless you're very absorbed in the task, just about everyone gets distracted while programming, even when there aren't random interrupts (phone calls etc.) coming in. The win of pair programming may have little to do with splitting the task into abstract and concrete components or anything like that. A big part may simply be that having another person next to you absorbed in the exact same task and working closely with you will keep you focused better.

I haven't done any formal XP projects but I've certainly had the experience of developing code alongside another person, and found it works very well.

Re:XP and pair programming (1)

bentini (161979) | more than 13 years ago | (#2147889)

Perhaps I'm missing it, but why is programming in Microsoft's new operating system so important? Does Visual Studio.NET offer a better debugger or somesuch?

I'm lost...

Multitasking for programmers (5, Interesting)

DevTopics (150455) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131524)

A discussion of "multitasking for programmers" and why it hurts is at Distraction: the one big obstacle [] . This is written for programmers, but it is true for everbyody who works with knowledge.

oh come on... (1)

Kalani (66189) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148624)

That's hardly a scientific study. It's a mind-dump of an angry guy forced to do phone support while he's programming. While I'll agree that I feel less productive in general when I'm in a chaotic environment, I'd rather see something from a professional psychologist or neurologist. To get published they'll have to adhere to some modicum of proper analysis.

Thanks. ;)

that reminds me of the days in IBM (3, Interesting)

jsse (254124) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131737)

We didn't have computerized timesheet system at that time(I got to write one later) because CPU time was costy. We had given a stack of palm-size timesheet cards, each slot is a 15-minute interval.(I think newer IBMers could find this timecards in storage room, they've printed quite a lot of them)

It wasn't so bad when one day our new manager introducing 'time-slicing' time-management technique, that we had to fill in different tasks in each time slot, to prove that you've 'used your time efficiently'.

Time-slicing was a new buzzwords that days. Obviously he didn't quite catch the meaning of it.

Clueless managers can be found everywhere.

I can testify... but... (1)

James Foster (226728) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131898)

I've noticed that with myself... I would have thought it was kinda obvious though?
If within the period of 1 minute... Someone switches between two applications, obviously it will take them a second or two to adjust between the two (depending on the complexity of what they're doing).
IM programs also are a huge source of distraction for me... people come online, people go offline and messages are sent and recieved. I think IM programs will be the downfall of any productivity that exists whilst working unless they are removed from a work environment. I have started getting into the habit of closing them before starting any work.

Re:I can testify... but... (1)

Silver222 (452093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2115728)

Exactly right! There is nothing that derails my train of thought like an IM. You're plugging away on something, and suddenly a window pops up. If it's a business thing, I'd rather just have people call me, because most of them seem to get to the point quicker when they can hear the tension in your voice :)

That can be hard to get across with an IM.

Re:I can testify... but... (1)

Phroggy (441) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148166)

If you get a lot of IMs from people you don't know or people you don't normally want to chat with, set your privacy settings to only allow IMs from people on your buddy list.

If you get a lot of IMs from people you want to keep on your buddy list but just don't want bugging you all the time, there's an option to only allow IMs from certain people, and block anyone else.

Note that if you do this, you will appear offline to anyone who you aren't allowing to contact you, and they will appear offline to you.

That is so true... (1)

hkon (46756) | more than 13 years ago | (#2136149)

I got just so much more done back in the days when i used MS-DOS than with this fancy-schmancy linux-thingy.

Re:That is so true... (2, Insightful)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#2116053)

Funny, I got so much more done back in the days when I used a command line than with this BSOD showing up all the time.

IMAO, one of the biggest hits to productivity is /. itself. How many times a day do you check for new articles and post comments? I have no doubt that it helps as well, providing links to patches or warnings about the latest l337 h4xx0r virii, but it has to cause a hit to productivity at some point. (Unless you're a marketing weenie, of course, they're not productive to begin with.)


Re:That is so true... (0)

wanton (310689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2122509)

I would agree with that and furthemore believe Microsoft is one of the most expensive hits to productivity there is. Vulnerability here, exploit there, patch here, reboot there...

Home working (3, Insightful)

TarpaKungs (466496) | more than 13 years ago | (#2136699)

Guess I'm lucky - but...
When I'm going insane with soem development I simply announce that I'll be at home till it's fixed. This works because:
  1. Because my boss understands the *real* issue - our systems working is higher priority that company policies/management fads etc.
  2. I'm reasonable - I wouldn't do it if there's no other staff around or there is some pressing reason I *should* be in.
  3. I already have unmetered net and enough equipment at home to do my job.

This works for me. I can do helpdesk duties because I'm not trying to do anything long term most of the time. Just trying help users. But when I'm programming any interrupt withing a 3-4 hour time span destroys all my concentration.

Curiously - a great many comapnies in the UK don't encourage home working. They don't have a "policy" in place(!).

Come on UK management: why are so many people taking up expensive office space, polluting the planet, wasting their lives on the train, in the car or bus and stressing themselves to death when they *could* be at home 60+% of the time and actually do *more* work?

That's mainly for thinking tasks.. (2, Interesting)

General8 (470466) | more than 13 years ago | (#2137344)

.. i think. I've found that when it's something that requires brain work (umm, like coding) it's good to get long periods of continuous work. It takes some time to get into the "mood" where you just start hitting code. Also, of course, every time you start over you gotta think and "reorganize" your thoughts to the problem at hand. It takes some time too.

Re:That's mainly for thinking tasks.. (-1)

GaylordFucker (465080) | more than 13 years ago | (#2112776)

nazi fuck... die!!!

Re:That's mainly for thinking tasks.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2115378)

you stupid fuckwit... you make no sense... and the retarded moderator doesn't what the fuck he's doing... go fuck a goat you flaming faggot homosexual

in response to your gay comment.... (-1)

GaylordFucker (465080) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150479)

you must be a Visual Basic programmer? unlike idiots, like you, coding requires little or no brain work... it's common sense.. you wannabe programmers try and be like the pros... but you know shit... i've programmed in COBOL, FORTRAN, Pascal, C, Java and Python... i've been round the block quite a lot... so shut the fuck up before you say anything stupid you retarded nazi ape...

Common knowledge? (2)

Painelf (29492) | more than 13 years ago | (#2138387)

Isn't this common knowledge? I usually try to do stuff in continous timespans, instead of switching contexts all the time.

Ritalin (-1, Troll)

mackermacker (250587) | more than 13 years ago | (#2139644)

I say give everyone Ritalin, crush it, and rail it up the nose..... then you'll see some multi-tasking....

Ugh.. Stupid logic, again. (0, Flamebait)

Bowie J. Poag (16898) | more than 13 years ago | (#2139645)

Timothy, people like you would have rejected the invention of the wheel because "it takes so much time to chip one out of stone that you can just drag it along the ground in half the time!"

Smarten up. Please.

Re:Ugh.. Stupid logic, again. (2)

Emil Brink (69213) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131899)

Smarten up. Please.
Um, you do realize that timothy didn't add any editorial to this posting at all, right? That thing about "my manager" was said by Greyfox, the submittor of this bit of news. ;^)

Re:Ugh.. Stupid logic, again. (1)

Bowie J. Poag (16898) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150596)

Yup. Timothy is the one who agreed with the bonehead, and wasted both yours and my time with it.

This reminds me Knuth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2143565)

This reminds me Donald Knuth who doesn't use email because he claims it ruines communication efficiency by forcing multitasking: "My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every three months." ml

I multitask for a reason (4, Insightful)

Muggins the Mad (27719) | more than 13 years ago | (#2147947)

I often have half a dozen (or more) things going on at once, switching between screens, applications,
and even computers regularly.


Because I'm *waiting* for things to happen. Waiting for that 3 minute web page to load,
waiting for that 10 minute compile, waiting for a reply to an ICQ, or whatever.

If I couldn't multitask, I'd be sitting dumbly staring at the screen waiting for whatever task I'm doing to
become ready for my input again.

Sure, a lot of time/energy goes in the context switch. But it's time that's wasted *anyway*.

- Muggins

Re:I multitask for a reason (3, Funny)

Zico (14255) | more than 13 years ago | (#2114533)

You got that right. I've got 18 freakin' browser windows open right now, forget about all the other stuff that's open, too. I'm impatient, and some of us can actually handle multitasking, thank you. Sure, there are some times when it slows me down, like I won't read a book while listening to something like the Phil Hendrie Show because that my brain doesn't handle very well. Then again, knowing the simps that work at CNN, it wouldn't suprise me in the least if they have one browser window open at a time, spending 50% of their time just watching that little blue ball spin 'round and 'round...

Re:I multitask for a reason (1)

ratbag (65209) | more than 13 years ago | (#2126247)

Just a thought, but we're told we should take 15 minutes break an hour from VDU tasks - maybe you should just chill away from the screen, rather than flip to another task?


Re:I multitask for a reason (1)

eod (125910) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148167)

I wouldn't call that multitasking but more suspending jobs from my brain.

I'm in almost the same situation, when a (complete) simulation takes some hours, I just can't sit and wait for it to finish. Then I suspend the job until the simulation is finished and do something else (there are always something else to do).

The reason I call it suspend is because I don't think about anything new when I wait for the simulation. And that is because I couldn't think of anything to do except start a simulation and see if the thing works or not...

Re:I multitask for a reason (5, Interesting)

s390 (33540) | more than 13 years ago | (#2149151)

Because I'm *waiting* for things to happen. Waiting for that 3 minute web page to load, waiting for that 10 minute compile, waiting for a reply to an ICQ, or whatever.

Right on. However, the researchers here seem to have a rather simplistic, one-dimensional view of multitasking.

(OK, sound research starts by validating a few simple concepts, then building more complex structures later. But seriously, eight years of research, for merely this? I guess they've got to keep some ideas in their back pockets, ready for a next round of grants.)

There are two ways multitasking can happen: chosen swapout of tasks (you mention waiting for something to finish, but it might be waiting for anything - email reply, phone callback, etc.), and imposed interruptions (phone, instant-message, chatty boss/coworker, and so on). Swapouts are like enqueue-wait swaps on a mainframe - you know it's going to be awhile before you can resume that task, so you turn to something else. Interruptions are like, well... I/O interrupts - they demand immediate attention, whether or not its convenient at the moment. Swapouts tend to _improve_ efficiency generally, and so does minimal servicing of trivial I/O interrupts. Continuing the mainframe analogy, a first-level I/O interrupt handler merely fills a buffer and posts an ACK, then exits; these don't seriously degrade scheduling. What hurts productivity are interrupts that are forced as untimely swapouts of important, hard tasks.

A long time ago, I did some applications programming in COBOL for a S&L. (Yeah, I know COBOL sucks, but it paid the mortgage and I also taught myself IBM S/360 ASM during the same period.) Anyway, I was easily the most productive programmer in the shop, because I always had at least three and sometimes half a dozen projects ongoing at once. This was back when you were lucky to get two compilations of any one program per day. So, I'd code in one program, submit it for compile, and go on to coding in another program. It was quite effective, swapping tasks that way. Of course, it also helped that the programs were usually related.

As with many things, the real issue here is empowerment. Workers who can choose when to swap out tasks and turn to other ones will always be more productive (and happier) than those who are constantly interrupt-driven and never get to take anything to a "stopping point." This seems obvious: it's why you don't have the Help Desk do any network engineering or complex programming.

Re:I multitask for a reason (1)

jacoplane (78110) | more than 13 years ago | (#2149186)

I agree with you that Multitasking can increase productivity. When I'm coding (mainly java) i like to run nedit [] , mozilla on the Java 2 Documentation [] , and ICQ to discuss problems with people. Don't tell me I'd be more productive without multitasking.

Goldfish.. (1, Funny)

marcushnk (90744) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148971)

Is it just me or is this story kinda like say we're just like Goldfish??
Ohh look a rock
ohh look a rock
ohh look a rock
ad-infinitum (or something to the effect) Marcus

multitasking & productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2149184)

Peter Drucker had this concept down years ago.... Some of the best reading for ANYONE is "The Effective Executive".

Long runs better than context switches (1)

roie_m (260122) | more than 13 years ago | (#2149776)

I guess that means I should do all my slashdot reading in one strech, without stopping to do other tasks in the middle, like coding.

Productivity sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2150328)

I think people are afraid of being productive of being focused. That's why I listen to music while doing whatever, and I like the lessened consciousness induced by alcohol and other drugs. I don't know why, but people seem to be afraid of being too focused themselves.

Nothing new (1, Redundant)

Ubi_UK (451829) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150329)

Ford discover this a long time ago while setting up the production line: If the task you perform is as simple as possible (i.e. the same thing all of the time) the efficiency is the highest.

Re:Nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2136698)

Maybe the more they are sick of it, the faster they try to finish it.

Nothing new (2, Interesting)

51M02 (165179) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150597)

This is old news. In the car industry back to the Ford T model each employees are working on a specific task and not each one working on all parts of the car making process. When you focus on one task you gain in productivity. Nothing new here...

Re:Nothing new (2, Insightful)

alainygr (512586) | more than 13 years ago | (#2136463)

Exactly, and it is not for more productivity that we quit the Ford working-style... but for a big social advance.
I don't want to do the same thing all day long, I think the point here is more about "I don't want to be bugged at work" than " I don't want to work multitasking"
And it would defenitely be a regression to go back to the Ford style, but yeah, bosses would really like it.

Don't I know it. (2, Insightful)

Apache (14188) | more than 13 years ago | (#2150599)

I've noticed this from my experience working as the sysadmin for a tiny ISP. For example, I'd often get calls about tough win9x/nt problems that our tech support people (both of them) couldn't solve while I'm at my desk hacking away at Perl code. In order to wrap my mind around the win9x problem (remember, it's something that two tier 2 quality tech support people couldn't fix), I had to dump all of my cached data about the code I was working on from my short term memory to make room. When I got back to the code, I would have to rebuild my problem solving information cache back close to the state it was before the call, because I'd need that information again to continue where I left off. This would usually take 1-15 minutes depending on the complexity of the call and the familiarity of the program. Given that lots of people would call me about lots of stuff, I figure that sometimes I lost at least 1-2 hours of working time per day.

If only I wasn't pulling triple duty as a sysadmin, programer, and tier 3 support... but that's another story.

Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2150844)

I wonder what they controlled for in this study. i remember seeing a TV show where some researchers discovered that in general women are much better at multitasking then men. That study had limitations as well (the tasks were quite specific: frying an egg, doing a crossword, ironing a shirt. God knows I can't iron a shirt), but i wouldn't be too surprised if the result were accurate.

Re:Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (2, Funny)

Zico (14255) | more than 13 years ago | (#2130632)

Yeah, you tell yourself that women are good at multitasking the next time you let your girlfriend drive and when she's looking for a particular street sign, she starts screaming at you to turn the radio down. Come on! :)

Re:Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2136465)

Hey I'm a girl and perfectly capable of multitasking when necessary. Can I point out that asking you to turning the radio down was probably a sensible course of action. May I also point out the well known fact that almost all girls are capable of thinking of several things simultaneously, whereas very few men are able to do this. Conclusion: girls _can_ multitask, they're renowned for it!

Re:Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (1)

Jotham (89116) | more than 13 years ago | (#2122587)

Can I point out that asking you to turning the radio down was probably a sensible course of action.

That an interesting point... I know of one study where they played two conversations back at the same time. It was found that in general women were better able to give a general idea of what each conversation was about while men could give a detailed explaination of one and next to nothing on the other.

To a man (ie. me) turning down the radio doesn't make sense because if I need to focus on looking for a street sign I don't need to ignore the radio, its just naturally tuned out. To a woman turning down the radio makes sense because she's paying attention to both and doesn't naturally ignore one over the other, so to concentrate more she needs one input (the radio) removed.

Conversely, if a woman wants to talk to her boyfriend, she doesn't see it as problem to talk to him while he's watching the football, she can quite easily pay attention to both. To the man as soon as he focuses one one the other loses focus, so if he hears the crowd roar he's probably going to miss your next sentence completely while his focus flips to the TV.

So basically women, in general, are better multi-taskers while men are better at focusing on one task at a time.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages and neither are really limiting just require different environments.

Re:Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (3, Insightful)

keithdowsett (260998) | more than 13 years ago | (#2156909)

Women are great at multi-tasking. They can iron, watch tv, mind the kids and still find time to tell you all the things you have done wrong in the last two weeks.

Re:Multitasking Efficiency Dependent on Sex? (1)

Phroggy (441) | more than 13 years ago | (#2137448)

My mom plays orchestral percussion, and used to be quite good at knitting and reading a book while counting 60 measures of rests. I don't knit or anything, and I don't think I'd be able to handle all of that if I did, but I can count rests while reading a book or having a conversation or whatever. It takes practice, and you have to count on your fingers.

Those of you who don't play percussion probably have no idea what I'm talking about...

Multitasking==Good CPU (2)

Soko (17987) | more than 13 years ago | (#2151018)

Being forced to multitask means you are in demand. I mean, right now I'm:

- thinking about the 4 projects at work I have to juggle
- writing PHP code for a side project
- checking my Apache logs for Code Red II virus attacks (399 since Sunady midnight)
- checking any IIS machines on the LAN at work to make sure they stay un-infected
- waiting for my co-league in the UK to respond via ICQ about Code Red
- Listening to my lovely wife complain, since I'm supposed to be on vacation
- Draining the Segrams VO bottle as quickly as my brain will allow

It's called being punished for being good at what you do. Get used to it - truly smart people are a valuable resource, and in demand.


Re:Multitasking==Good CPU (-1, Flamebait)

wanton (310689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2135345)

Even more reason Microsoft can lead to decreased productivity.

Multitasking is ... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2152034)

Trying to think of something profound, while going for First Post.

Re:Multitasking is ... (5, Funny)

csbruce (39509) | more than 13 years ago | (#2115615)

Trying to think of something profound, while going for First Post.

That'd be real-time multitasking.

I guess it depends on.. (2, Insightful)

BiggestPOS (139071) | more than 13 years ago | (#2153451)

The level of multi-tasking. Sure, context switches cost, but if one thing you are doing is an insanrely LIGHT load on the CPU (Phone Technical Support for Consumers) and the other is a rather HIGH load on the CPU in comparison (reading a new Dave Barry book) then really some productivity is gained. Who can't spit out the name of your ISPs mail server while some dolt fills on the Email wizard in Outlook Express while they do something else? Its easy. Now, if the work I was doing actually required thought, then I wouldn't get so much reading done.

Re:I guess it depends on.. (0)

wanton (310689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2127128)

I don't see how you can compare the brain to a processor. If you can, then tell me, if a processor uses 0's and 1's, what does the brain use and why?

_ []

Re:I guess it depends on.. (5, Interesting)

dadragon (177695) | more than 13 years ago | (#2136150)

Who can't spit out the name of your ISPs mail server while some dolt fills on the Email wizard in Outlook Express while they do something else?

I can't. I have CAPD(Central Audiotory Processing Disorder). I could spit it out, if I knew what he was asking, but that's what I can't do, make sense of what I hear. If I'm doing ANYTHING else, I don't understand what somebody is saying to me, be it hitting something with a hammer, reading a book, coding, looking at a wall, if my attention is even remotely used for something else, I can't hear people.

That includes thinking of what to say when they're done talking, or if they get me thinking of something else. It's really annoying, actually. That's why I can't do the phone-monkey thing.

It does have its advantages, though. I'm not easily interrupted when doing work, I don't hear people talking to me when I don't want to, it's not ignoring, it's involentary, but convenient at times. I have not trouble visiting my own little world.

Re:I guess it depends on.. (3, Interesting)

Phroggy (441) | more than 13 years ago | (#2111068)

Hmm, that's interesting. For me, I can't use a form of languages on two tracks simultaneously. I can't talk and listen, or talk and write, or listen and write, or read and listen, or read and talk (unless I'm reading aloud) at the same time. I can jump back and forth between two tracks with no problem, and a little bit of overlap is fine, but I can't maintain two tracks of language usage for more than a few seconds.

Doing tech support, this means I can't listen to a customer while taking notes - I have to wait for a pause in the conversation before I can take my notes (or put them on hold, or whatever). If I try to take notes, I can only get a few seconds before I can no longer hear the customer - needless to say, this is rather embarassing, so I try not to do it. Fortunately my boss was somewhat understanding, so I never got in serious trouble for having a low call volume.

I wonder if I have a milder version of what you describe? I've never talked to a doctor about it; this is all just from my own personal observation of myself.

Re:I guess it depends on.. (5, Funny)

jcarley (53604) | more than 13 years ago | (#2148164)

I think I have the same problem although it sounds less acute. When my wife talks to me I can't hear her. The disorder seems to be hereditary because my kids can't seem to watch tv and hear their parents either...

Re:I guess it depends on.. (1)

sporkraper (465743) | more than 13 years ago | (#2136464)

Time to get off the helldesk...

Multitasking doesn't bother me at all.... (1)

themaddone (180841) | more than 13 years ago | (#2163395)

Did we really need a whole research group to figure this... uhhh, hold on. (/me picks up the phone) Hello? Yeah, speaking. No, I don't want to subscribe to your newspaper. I get my news from Slashdot and CNN. Stop calling here! (/me slams down the phone) Sorry about that. Uhhhh, what was I talking about?

New government studies show: (5, Funny)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#2131902)

  • Sky indeed blue, research study concludes.

Re:New government studies show: (1)

toriver (11308) | more than 13 years ago | (#2116055)

Sky indeed blue, research study concludes.

Sky is colorless, but appears blue due to absorption or refraction or whatever it was called.

Re:New government studies show: (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 13 years ago | (#2135782)

air is colorless. The sky is (usually) blue.
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