dealing with information fatigue and too much multitasking

11 05 2007

Have you ever heard of IFS — Information Fatigue Syndrome?  I hadn’t, but it makes sense to me.  It’s a condition that happens when you’re overloaded with information to the point that you lose your effectiveness.  It mainly affects people whose jobs involve dealing with and processing much information.  I read about it in this article : Want results? Frame your work.

I work at a company that processes more information than perhaps any other company in the public sector, and even though I work on only a small part of it, it can still be overwhelming.  But to me, it’s not just the vast quantity of information that’s tiring, but the number of different directions my job sometimes pulls me in.  When I’m trying to write programs in Visual C++ that require quite a bit of concentration, it’s extremely tiring to have my concentration broken every few minutes to answer the phone or reply to an e-mail about something totally different.  It greatly decreases my productivity when that happens a lot.

The author of that article suggests a technique called “Framing” to prevent this.  I’ve had to do that sometimes, which may mean not answering the phone and e-mails, or sometimes working after-hours when my coworkers aren’t here.  My most productive times of programming are when I can set aside a few hours without disruption.

This is something companies ought to consider.  Instead of trying to make their associates be involved in so many different, unrelated things at the same time, it might be more productive to have them focus on just one or two particular tasks at a time.  I know a lot of value is placed on multitasking on the corporate world, and it has its place, but it’s less efficient.

Here’s a couple of quotes along these lines :

[Multitasking is] costing a company as much as 20 to 40 percent in terms of potential efficiency lost. ~ David Meyer, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, University of Michigan

With multitasking we feel so busy that we fool ourselves into thinking we’re getting more done, but so much time is lost switching between activities. ~ from engtech.wordpress.com

I think this applies to our life outside of work also.  We may be involved in a lot of different projects, which makes us extremely busy, but are we doing any of them really well?  Just because we’re busy it doesn’t mean we’re being very productive and fruitful with our time.  We might be “spreading ourselves too thin”.  It’s something to think about…

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