REFLECTION: Ever watch a teen or twenty text and twitter? If so, you might envy their finely tuned ability to coordinate thumbs and ideas, communicating with abandon. These folks respond to friends and colleagues at top speed while appearing to tend to other tasks at hand with ease. However, the youthful advantage may not be as rosy as it seems.
The Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity and the Institute for the Future of the Mind recently conducted joint research, asking: What kind of impact does communication technology have on our ability to accomplish a challenging task?
Two groups were assigned a timed task that required a high level of concentration. They were asked to use a code to translate images into numbers in 90 seconds. As they worked on the task, volunteers were interrupted with either a telephone call, a text message via phone, or an instant message via desktop computer.
Members of one test group were 18 to 21 years of age. The other test group members were 35 to 39 years of age. The young ‘uns, having grown up with technology in their hands and lives, were expected to outperform the older group who had learned their way around the techno tools as adults.
The results? With no interruptions, the younger group performed ten percent better at the task than the older test group. However, when the interruptions were introduced, the 18-21 year olds lost their advantage.
Meanwhile, the performance of the older age group changed very little with the introduction of the interruptions. The 35-39 year olds were more easily able to accommodate switching attention from task to interruption and back again with minimal decline in performance.
The ‘elders’ may think more slowly, but were better able to block interruptions and choose their focus. Granted, they weren’t quite as fast as the younger set in the first place. However, it appears that the constant connectedness and reactivity of the millenials can take a toll on performance.
ACTION: What’s the take away message? Practise maintaining your focus in the midst of external demands on your attention. Cultivate your ability to assess the importance of a new call for attention relative to the track you are on when it arrives. Become more discerning and you’ll be far more focused and effective – no matter what your age!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Interruptions can be viewed as sources of irritation or opportunities for service, as moments lost or experience gained, as time wasted or horizons widened. They can annoy us or enrich us, get under our skin or give us a shot in the arm. Monopolize our minutes or spice our schedules, depending on our attitude toward them.” – William Arthur Ward