Allowing yourself to be interrupted all the time reduces your effectiveness as much as an all-nighter, says Boston University’s Marshall Van Alstyne. The solution is to batch your time on task and step away from the social media.
The downside of social media is the same as the downside to collaborative culture and open offices: Interruptions. Lots of interruptions.
“I like the technologies that give me control, and I’m cautious allowing interrupt-driven communication,” said Marshall Van Alstyne, associate professor at Boston University and a visiting professor at MIT, in a recent interview with MIT Sloan Management Review.
“If you allow some of these social technologies like Twitter or Facebook or others to interrupt you constantly, it can dramatically reduce your productivity,” Van Alstyne said.
He cited laboratory experiments conducted by researchers in England with Hewlett-Packard which examined interrupt-driven communications, giving people problems to solve with distractions along the way.
What they found, said Van Alstyne, is that “allowing yourself to be interrupted all the time, as opposed to focusing on the task and barring interruption, was roughly equivalent to pulling an all-nighter. It’s almost as if you didn’t get any sleep at all that represents the relative loss of effectiveness.”
Van Alstyne made his comments in the article “Why Strong Ties Matter More in a Fast-Changing Environment.”
Reader Darakhshan Saeed, in a comment about the article on Facebook, concurred. “The wrong, untamed use of multi-tasking is becoming an epidemic,” she wrote. Educators “should start offering a class or coaching in middle/high schools on how to effectively manage multi-tasking, how to organize and discipline yourself for blocks of uninterrupted time in their work day.” This is, she added, “fast becoming a skill the new generation will need in order to manage their success and well-being in the adult world.”
True. It’s one thing to deal with people who interrupt you; it’s another thing to deal with your own tendency to interrupt yourself.
Managing that tendency is critical. As one blogger put it in a post at 37signals.com several years ago: “Being productive isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just sit down and be productive. Real productivity takes time. It’s a process. You make your way into it. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes or a half hour or an hour or more to really get in that zone. And when you’re in that zone you are actually getting real work done. But once you get knocked out of that zone it takes a real toll on you.”
Van Alstyne’s solution? Batch your time on task. And step away from the social media. “You really need a focused hour to two hours uninterrupted by instant messaging and phones and texts and Twitter feeds.”