Computer screen pop-ups may slow down your work more than you think, according to new research, reported in Science Daily. While the distraction may last only for a moment, it takes more time to get back to the original task. As a result, people lose their cognitive focus and take longer than normal to complete the next step in the task they are working on. Dr. Helen Hodgetts at Cardiff University explains,
"Our findings suggest that even seemingly brief and inconsequential on-screen pop-up messages might be impacting upon our efficiency, particularly given their frequency over the working day..."
The study also reveals that having a warning for an upcoming interruption can reduce the time we lose trying to get back to the task:
A warning sound was found to be most effective because it allows us to consolidate where we are in the current task before transferring our attention to the interruption. In contrast, a flashing warning signal on the computer screen can be just as disruptive as the interruption itself.
Here are some tips from the researchers on how to deal with online distractions:
The researchers suggest that e-mail alerts and similar pop-up messages should be as small and discrete as possible and should not obscure the original activity. Better still, any visual alert should disappear after a few seconds if not responded to, so that we can be aware that there is incoming information without having to interrupt our current task.
The researchers also point out obvious practical steps that computer users can take to minimize unscheduled pop-up notifications, particularly whilst engaging in tasks that require a lot of planning or concentration:
Instant-messenger systems should be turned off or at least set to 'busy' so that colleagues are aware that unimportant interruptions are not welcome; and e-mail alerts could be turned off or only enabled for messages that the sender tags specifically as high priority.