Focused, Aroused, but so Distractible: A Temporal Perspective on Multitasking and Communications

In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW ’15) |

Published by ACM

Publication | DOI

A common assumption in studies of interruptions is that one is focused in an activity and then distracted by other stimuli. We take the reverse perspective and examine whether one might first be in an attentional state that makes one susceptible to communications typically associated with distraction. We explore the confluence of multitasking and workplace communications from three temporal perspectives – prior to an interaction, when tasks and communications are interleaved, and at the end of the day. Using logging techniques and experience sampling, we observed 32 employees in situ for five days. We found that certain attentional states lead people to be more susceptible to particular types of interaction. Rote work is followed by more Facebook or face-to-face interaction. Focused and aroused states are followed by more email. The more time in email and face-fo-face interaction, and the more total screen switches, the less productive people feel at the day’s end. We present the notion of emotional homeostasis along with new directions for multitasking research.