The Twitter Generation's Delusions Of Productivity

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One of my Twitter buddies tweeted a link to an article on Social Media Today titled How Social Media Actually Improves Your Productivity At Work. My bullshit detector immediately went into the red. The author of the article writes:

“Without a doubt, the “Twitter Generation” has excellent practice at the art of multitasking. While adults in their 40′s or 50′s can easily manage three to five tasks at once, the teens and twenty-somethings are effectively managing between ten and twenty tasks and interactions at any given moment. Young adults’ involvement with social media has required them to develop astounding multitasking abilities. Monitoring Twitter updates, replying quickly to a Facebook message, checking blogs, and sending email is all managed simultaneously. The young adult is able to compartmentalize these different outlets, managing several tasks at once – an ability translates well to the workplace. Younger adults can handle a variety of tasks and a greater workload, increasing productivity.”

My take: What a load of bullshit. And by the way, if the author was really that good at compartmentalizing and managing several tasks at once, he might have noticed that the second to last sentence should have said “…an ability that translates well to the workplace.”

What utterly ticks me off about these claims is that they’re based on absolutely no research, theory, or facts. What in the world makes the author think that teens and twenty-somethings are “effectively” managing 10 to 20 tasks and interactions at any given moment?

I’ve seen absolutely no evidence in the workplace that 20-somethings are producing four to five times the level of sales or output than their older colleagues. That is the definition of “productivity.”

If teens and 20-somethings are tweeting, updating their FB status, talking on their phone to their friends, surfing the Web, and watching TV while working or doing their homework, then they’re hardly being “more productive.” They’re simply not prioritizing their time and efforts very well.

In fact, that I’m actually writing this during my lunch hour means I’m not writing another section of the report I’m working on, or writing that proposal to the prospect I talked to this morning (this is not some hypothetical example).

I imagine that if you side with the author of the SMT post, you’d dismiss any research that I might offer up as evidence that he’s wrong. So you probably wouldn’t be interested in a study from Stanford University:

“A series of experiments addressed whether there are systematic differences in information processing styles between chronically heavy and light media multitaskers. Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set. These results demonstrate that media multitasking, a rapidly growing societal trend, is associated with a distinct approach to fundamental information processing.”

Another study, reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology, found that it took students far longer to solve complicated maths problems when they had to switch to other tasks – in fact, they were up to 40% slower. And as report by the Daily Mail,  “studies by Gloria Mark, an ‘interruption scientist’ at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster, but produce less. After 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.”

I could cite more studies that counter and disprove the claims of “more effective multi-tasking” on the part of the “Twitter generation.” But you’re probably too busy multi-tasking to read those studies, or retain the key findings from them.

Bottom line: The next time you’re inclined to claim that you’re more “productive” because you’re a teen or 20-something who can multi-task because of your age, shut the hell up and get back to work. That’s what I’m going to do.

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