Yet new research in the area of neuroscience belies that assumption: while the human brain will try to respond to constant communications, it is not, in fact, wired to stay focused on two things at once.
According to a survey conducted by Charlotte-based Apex Performance, workers are almost constantly bombarded with distractions that interfere with their ability to concentrate on a single task. Yet they are not taught any techniques or given any tools to help them cope with the daily interruptions – and disruptions – from emails, phone calls and text messages.
In this survey titled, “Attention in the 21st Century,” conducted November, 2012, of more than 300 full time American workers, 70% reported receiving 21 or more emails a day. More than half said they check their email more than 11 times a day, and one-third said they check it every time they receive notification of an incoming message.
“That equates to opening your inbox once every 20 minutes,” explains Louis S. Csoka, PhD, Apex Performance President and Founder. “Prolonged focus on one thing at a time is required to efficiently accomplish a task. However, two-thirds of respondents are distracted at least every 20 minutes – and sometimes as little as 10 – by an email,” he adds.
A survey done a few years ago by Eric Horvitz, an internal research scientist at Microsoft explored how people dealt with everyday distractions such as email notifications. He found that it took the average Microsoft employee 15 minutes to return to their previous task after being distracted by an email, phone call, or instant message.
Thus by viewing the results of the Apex survey through the lens of Horvitz’s findings, it appears that the typical 21st century employee seems to only be focusing on any one task for approximately 15 minutes an hour, at most.
Yet 70% of the Apex survey respondents contend their productivity has stayed the same or increased since the adoption of smartphone and tablet technology.
“No one has taught them how to stay focused, so they don’t realize what they are sacrificing. Employees need to learn how to get back on task and stay productive despite the inevitable bell, pop-up window or phone call,” says Dr. Csoka.