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Multitasking Lowers Work Quality

Update Date: Jul 14, 2014 05:47 PM EDT

Multitasking can significantly lower quality of work, according to a new study.

The modern office employee is interrupted up to six times an hour every workday. Researchers wanted to see how these ongoing interruptions influence the quality of finished products. To do this, researchers Cyrus Foroughi, Nicole Werner, Erik Nelson, and Deborah Boehm-Davis recruited participants to write essays about an assigned topic. Participants were divided into two different groups. Participants in one group were interrupted multiple times with an unrelated task during the essay project, while those in the second group experienced no interruptions.

The essays were then scored on a numbered scale by independent graders. The findings revealed that participants in the interruption group scored significantly lower in terms of essay quality compared to those who were allowed to work without any interruptions.

"People don't realize how disruptive interruptions can be," Foroughi, coauthor of "Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work?" and a PhD candidate at George Mason University's human factors and applied cognition program, said in news release. "There is value in determining whether interruptions affect the quality of the tasks that many people perform regularly, such as writing essays or reports."

"Interruption can cause a noticeable decrement in the quality of work, so it's important to take steps to reduce the number of external interruptions we encounter daily," added Foroughi. "For example, turn off your cell phone and disable notifications such as e-mail while trying to complete an important task."

Researchers noted that participants who were interrupted during the writing phase also wrote significantly fewer words than those in the control group.

The findings were published in the journal Human Factors.

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