Multitasking, online tools, and focus: your mileage may vary

Cynthia CloskeyGeneral

Gina Trapani of Lifehacker muses on whether and how much the Web, email, and the like help or hurt personal productivity:

Over the few years this site’s been in existence, studies have shown that email kills concentration more than smoking pot does, that you’ve got 11 minutes before the next interruption, that dual monitors increase productivity, that no one understands the intended tone of your email, that email overload costs the American economy more than $700 billion a year, and that multitasking kills your ability to focus and get things done.

The longer I do this, the more I suspect that a good part of the
“information overload” story is a myth cooked up by folks who don’t
know how to use the internet well in order to demonize something they
don’t understand. I get more done via email and surfing the web than my
parents ever did using phones and libraries, even when I’m having a bad
day and switch to my email application the moment I see a new message
notification.

I debate this a lot for myself. I’ve recently stopped using Twitter, but around the same time I started using instant messaging (IM) to send quick notes (mostly with coworkers). Twitter was definitely draining my attention, and not using it has freed up both time and brain cycles. But IM has been a wonderful tool, particularly for communicating quickly with team members — even when they’re sitting just a few feet away from me (it’s a terrific way to send a link).

So there are no easy answers, and everyone must use these tools differently. Still, I can’t imagine a world without the Web. And even if there weren’t a Web, I’d still have found other ways to multitask.