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Beware all you multi-taskers, you may not be as productive as you thought. According to new research compiled by David E. Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, productivity is actually hindered when people try to accomplish two things (or more) at once. Mr. Meyer reports that people who switch back and forth between tasks, like working on a project and answering the phone or emails, may spend up to 50% more time on those tasks than if they work on them separately, completing one before starting the other.
There has been little research into the habit of multitasking but Mr. Meyer theorizes that some workers may feel more productive or it provides a show of accomplishment for coworkers. Increasingly, however, researchers are questioning whether the constant flow of data is part of the problem.
“It’s magnetic,” said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard. “It’s like a tar baby: the more you touch it, the more you have to.”
Dr. Hallowell and John Ratey, an associate professor at Harvard, join a growing number of physicians that are concerned about the effects of technology on creativity, thinking processes and productivity. Increasingly, they have observed workers who are compulsively drawn to the constant stimulation provided by incoming data.
They have coined their own term for the apparent addiction that some have for the constant flow of data and jumping from one task to another: pseudo-attention deficit disorder. Its sufferers are influenced by the fast pace of modern life and the constant use of technology to the point that they have developed shorter attention spans. They become frustrated with long term projects or activities that require intense concentration.
“It’s like a dopamine squirt to be connected,” said Dr. Ratey, who describes a narcotic like effect of being constantly wired. “It’s an addiction,” he said, “Some people cannot deal with down time or quiet moments.”
The data speed demons worry they will fall behind if they disconnect and are compulsively drawn to fast moving data. Duped O.C.D.-online compulsive disorder, by researchers studying the syndrome, there are actual symptoms of withdrawal for folks when they unplug and seek quieter moments.
Some clues that you may have a problem: