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Distraction is a constant these days; supplying it is the business model of some of the world’s most powerful firms.As economists search for explanations for sagging productivity, some are asking whether the inability to focus for longer than a minute is to blame.That itch you feel to reach for your pocket every time a phone buzzes or chirps is very real—and very damaging to our ability to pay attention to what we should be doing.
The louder the din, the greater the distraction—and the harder to tune it out for fear of missing important information.
Distractions clearly affect performance on the job.
Could this explain the rich world’s productivity slowdown?
In a paper published in 2007, Sinan Aral and Erik Brynjolfsson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Marshall Van Alstyne, of Boston University, analysed firms’ use of information technology and its effects on labour productivity and revenue growth.
In a recent essay, Dan Nixon of the Bank of England pointed to a mass of compelling evidence that they could also be eating into productivity growth.
Depending on the study you pick, smartphone-users touch their device somewhere between twice a minute to once every seven minutes.A feeling of regret is quickly displaced by the urge to see what has happened on Twitter in the past 15 seconds.Some time after the deadline, the editor asks when exactly to expect the promised copy.Fixed-line desk phones were an intrusion in their day, before the mobile phone brought work interruptions into the home.But the web is different, with its unending news cycle, social networks humming with constant conversation, and news feeds algorithmically structured to keep users scrolling and sharing.They found an inverted U-shape pattern associated with multitasking and productivity.An initial increase in multitasking from the increased use of IT seems to raise productivity.Best practices urge drivers to wait to answer messages.However, this suggests even knowing there’s a message could be significantly distracting. The very reason that a notification is so distracting—that the call might be an emergency—makes people reluctant to shut off their phones entirely.FOR many it is a reflex as unconscious as breathing.Hit a stumbling-block during an important task (like, say, writing a column)?