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Last updated at 12:39 BST, Monday, 07 September 2009

Multitasking harmful to productivity


31 August 2009

Scientists have found focussing on multiple media sources, such as email, phone, the internet, and television, all at once does not make you more efficient. In fact, multitaskers find it harder to concentrate.

Jon Stewart


Click to hear the report:


Researchers at Stanford University in the United States divided a group of over 250 students into light or heavy media multitaskers. Light multitaskers focus on just one or two sources at a time - listening to music while working for example. Heavy multitaskers watch online videos, surf the web, talk or text on their mobiles, and write or read, all at the same time. Lead researcher Cliff Nass wanted to see how this would affect the way their brains work.

Clifford Nass: "You would think that people who are multitasking with all these media at once would be great at ignoring irrelevant information. However we discovered they are suckers for irrelevant information, so they're much worse than low multitaskers at ignoring the irrelevant."

Not only that, but multitaskers are worse at organising and sorting information, and worse at switching from one task to another. The findings have left the scientists with something of a mystery - why do people multitask at all? They say that in an increasingly demanding work environment, expecting staff to be constantly available by email and instant message whilst doing their jobs may actually mean that productivity falls.


media multitaskers

people who use several forms of media at the same time



surf the web

spend time looking at different pages on the internet


paying no attention to

suckers for

people who are particularly fond of something (the word 'sucker' can be used to describe people who are easily manipulated and who do not think for themselves)

irrelevant information

facts which are not related to what is being discussed or considered, and therefore not important

switching from one task to another

changing from doing one piece of work to a different one

increasingly demanding work environment

where we work (offices, factories, schools etc) becoming more difficult, and jobs requiring more time and attention than before

instant message

a type of service on the internet that allows the user to exchange written messages with other people who are online at the same time

productivity falls

the amount of things or product that people make or produce decreases

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