Stop emailing me, I'm trying to think
As someone who spends his entire work day online, I agree that online distractions make for poor thinking conditions. I have several online chats ongoing throughout the day, and I can't count the number of times I've entered text in the wrong chat and told my co-worker I loved him by mistake.
Loblaw, Intel and other companies are declaring e-mail free days, setting aside thinking time and waging war on BlackBerry addiction. The crazy idea: doing less = getting more done.
We all know how BlackBerrys, e-mail and cellphones allow work to intrude and distract us from our personal lives. The brief BlackBerry outage last week reminded many workers just how much they rely on constant communication.
But now there's a growing awareness that these technological tools can distract us from our work, filling our days with interruptions that, while work-related, prevent us from thinking carefully for any unbroken stretch of time.
Others set aside time for creative thinking: Google Inc.'s 20-per-cent rule allows engineers to spend one day a week working on ideas that aren't in their job description. Gmail and Google News both grew out of ideas conceived during 20-per-cent time.
Such structured programs acknowledge that something's missing from the status quo for most office workers - time for creativity and strategy, uninterrupted by a smaller tasks and electronic communications.
Of course, e-mail only intrudes on our workday to the extent we allow it. Many workers are secret accomplices in their own distraction. After all, it's much easier to fire off 10 e-mails than to sit down for an hour and think hard about how to turn around your division's performance.
The problem with constant interruptions throughout the workday is that multitasking doesn't really work. A landmark 2001 study found that the "time cost" of switching tasks, say from writing an article to checking e-mail, are more significant than previously thought. In 2006, University of California at Los Angeles researchers used MRI brain-mapping technology to determine that multitasking hurts one's ability to learn and remember information. So trying to get more done by constantly cycling through different screens on your computer will actually hurt your productivity.