October 4, 2016

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Contact tracing and COVID-19 director’s briefing

Men can’t multi-task – and that’s good news for the security control room

It is easy to assume that multi-tasking, plate spinning and keeping balls in the air is the harder challenge.

multi-tasking

This is perceived as being especially true for men. In fact, ask any man and chances are he will tell you that he cannot multi-task, or testify that his wife/girlfriend claims that men at large lack the ability.

Humour aside, we are all living in what has been recently referred to as the ‘attention economy’, where we are bombarded with constant distractions. As humans we are hugely adaptable and until recently it has been considered that we (men and women) would evolve and become a race of accomplished multi-taskers. Yet, recent studies now show that this is itself a myth.

Experiments at Stanford University showed that people who regularly multi-task are a lot worse at basic tests of spatial perception, memory and selective attention than people who don’t

Multi-tasking is unproductive.

That’s right, I called multi-tasking unproductive.

A recent blog by my colleague Udi Segall mentions the classic 2007 study of Microsoft workers, which found that when they responded to email or instant messaging alerts, it took them another 10-15 minutes to really get back into their original tasks.

A series of experiments at Stanford University in California showed that people who regularly multi-task are a lot worse at basic tests of spatial perception, memory and selective attention than people who don’t.

Antony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford, provides a possible explanation on what is slowing down multi-taskers: “When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal. That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

Wagner’s comments will resonate with anyone working in, or responsible for a modern control room, where there are multiple screens, pushing masses of information from dozens of systems (connected to thousands of sensors) to the operator.

In such a ‘noisy’ environment it is very difficult to focus on the situation at hand without being distracted by irrelevant data coming from other data sources. What is more, it can be a challenge to prioritise what needs to be done and when.

Technology is the problem and the solution

This ever increasing data overload that operators experience has been created by technology and it is therefore fitting that technology also provides a solution. The reason we still have operators in control rooms is that there are still things that humans do far better than machines.

The key is to enable people to do what they do best (mono-task) and let technology do what it does best (multi-task). This is exactly the point of situation management systems.

Situation management systems are adept at ‘absorbing’ all of the information that is entering the control room, filtering it and presenting the operator with only the relevant information relating to the incident that he or she is currently managing. Here an example of what happens when a smoke detector alert is raised and how the operator and the system work together…

qognify-situation-management-systems-workflow

This laser focus approach which provides the operator only with the information he or she needs and guides his actions with best practices, results based on our experience, in 70% faster resolution time.

Multi-tasking and shifting from one task to another depletes our brain power resources, so we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. On the other hand, mono-tasking – ie focusing on the situations at hand – engages the central executive mode and staying in that state uses less brain energy than multi-tasking and yields productive results.

So, lets lay to rest the debate over which sex is better and multi-tasking, because the computer will win out every time! Embrace your ability to mono-task.

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Tony Hoang
Tony Hoang
February 8, 2017 6:43 am

yeah right

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