Life Hackers and Shaving a Yak

by Marianne Richmond on October 17, 2005

Courtesy of a 43 Folders post I learned some interesting facts regarding some of the reasons that it seems to becoming more and more difficult to GED*, Get Enough Done which is a step down from Getting Things Done on the personal productivity hierarchy.  The source of this information was a really interesting NYT article, Meet the Life Hackers by Clive Thompson which I probably would not have read since one of my newest GTD inspired strategies is to delete the daily NYT email without reading. I might have found it, however on Thompson’s own blog, Collision Detection. So, here are the facts, stats, and accompanying jargon that I learned from Clive Thompson via Merlin Mann:

  • There are actually scientists of "human-computer interactions" who study how high-tech devices affect our behavior.
  • A study of "cubical dwellers" revealed that they spent 11 minutes on a given project before being interrupted to move onto something else…the 11 minutes included answering emails and viewing web sites….then the REAL kicker: after the distraction, it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task. ouch!
  • The "science of interruptions" began with telegraph operators 100 years ago…the original high stress high tech information worker job. The discovery was that if someone spoke to a telegraph operator while they were keying a message, the distraction caused errors…"switching channels". For workers monitoring data, it was found that the presentation of the information aided focus. Hence, pilot’s cockpit were configured so that the instruments could be read at a quick glance.
  • Continuous partial interruption, so dubbed by Linda Stone is the overload of too much information and too many interruptions that sabatouge our productivity and sometimes our sanity. Brad Feld who also noted "Meet the Life Hackers" on his blog writes that research into pci, personal computing infrastructure ,will help us manage the enormous amount of trivial things that keep us from taking our pci to the next level.
    • Yes, I do remember the days when the phone and the mail were our only two communication interruptions and they were both very manageable….hold my calls? Now, we may have to decide between opening the email that our notifier just interrupted us about and the phone call that we are on…well we can always do both. Hmmm? I didn’t catch what you said..or wrote, or both…
  • Now back to that 25 minutes to return to the task….well, we can’t remember what we were working on! Yes, 40% never make it back to the original task. What short term memory? I have no idea what I was doing!
  • Well, the researchers found that the bigger the computer screen, the easier it was to complete multi-tasks; in fact 10-40% were able to complete multitasks faster, the bigger the screen. Presentation once again helps attention.
  • People who sit next to each other in cubicles are "co-located"…they are referred to as "distributed" when they are connected online but working from different locations.

 

 And all of this does seem somehow related to Seth Godin’s recent post on Settting The Record Straight On Yak Shaving, which is all about low tech interruptions: You decide to wash your car but the hose is broken so you need to go to Home Depot….A Home Depot trip requires a toll and your EZPass is lost, you can borrow your neighbors but you can’t borrow it until you return the pillow you borrowed which needs to be stuffed with yak hair so you first need to go to the zoo to shave a yak…day gone, nothing done; don’t go to Home Depot.

So to recap: There are scientists of "human-computer interactions"
recording the "science of interruptions"…the interruptions occur
every 11 minutes and it takes 25 minutes to return to the original
task,,,if we can remember what that was; 40% of us don’t ever make it back…..from email to washing yor car there are an ever increasing number of interruptions. Even if you are not sitting in a "co-located" cubicle next to Milton and have a vast arsenal for winning the distraction war you still can find yourself on the way to a yak party by deciding that you need a certain color index card but your car is out of gas…..

I do owe a certain personal debt to Merlin Mann….You see, I have never owned a Palm Pilot, but when he tossed his and invented the Hipster PDA I was able to more graciously and more succinctly subdue the Palm Heads who have trouble accepting my paper preference.

 

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