Neurotics Can't Focus: An in situ Study of Online Multitasking in the Workplace

May 7, 2016


Gloria Mark, Shamsi T. Iqbal, Mary Czerwinski, Paul Johns, Akane Sano


In HCI research, attention has focused on understanding external influences on workplace multitasking. We explore instead how multitasking might be influenced by individual factors: personality, stress, and sleep. Forty information workers' online activity was tracked over two work weeks. The median duration of online screen focus was 40 seconds. The personality trait of Neuroticism was associated with shorter online focus duration and Impulsivity-Urgency was associated with longer online focus duration. Stress and sleep duration showed trends to be inversely associated with online focus. Shorter focus duration was associated with lower assessed productivity at day's end. Factor analysis revealed a factor of lack of control which significantly predicts multitasking. Our results suggest that there could be a trait for distractibility where some individuals are susceptible to online attention shifting in the workplace. Our results have implications for information systems (e.g. educational systems, game design) where attention focus is key.

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