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Even a 3-second interruption can double your error-rate

New study shows direct correlation between interruptions and error rate.


January 14, 2013 11:02 by

Multi-tasking is a much loved myth of our times. Even though it has been proven that multitasking is not possible, we still convince ourselves of our super human abilities to cheat the clock as we try to bite off more than we can chew. But the question is: are we really cheating the clock? Does multitasking help us get more done in a shorter time?

A recent study conducted by Michigan State University found that interruptions and disruptions are more likely to increase the error rate of a particular person. According to the study, even a three second interruption is likely to double the error rate of a person doing a sequence based procedure.

So why did the error rate double? Erik Altmann, lead researcher on the study said: “The answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought.”

The correlation between interruptions and errors may seem obvious, but the specifics of this study are particularly instructive. You need to be cautious of disruptions—no matter how small it may seem. You may think a notification of an update from Twitter or a small window pops up at the corner of your screen informing you have one new email, is harmless—but you are wrong. Even a small notification alert which you chose to ignore can derail your attention so severely.

While not everyone can have the luxury of responding to emails in 24 hours or more or working in a noise-proof terminal away from civilization, what you can do is follow the distraction-free-first-hour-of-your-working-day rule: motivational speaker Tony Robbins, David Karp of Tumblr and Fast Company owner Brian Tracy, swear by it.

Switch off your email; silence your phone and tackle the toughest stuff for the first hour of your working day.

Not only will spending some time away from other help provide you with a sense of calm before you dive into your work, but it will also help you get your work done with fewer errors.


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