Multitaskers beware: On-screen notification pop-ups and visual alerts designed to increase productivity can actually end up costing you time in the long run, according to a new study.
"Email notifications and instant messages all cause a break in focus of the task in hand, even if they are attended to only very briefly," said study author Helen Hodgetts of the University of Cardiff in the UK.
"We might find ourselves needing a few moments to re-gather our thoughts, and remember what it was that we were about to do before we switched our attention to the interrupting on-screen notification."
Hodgetts and co-author Dylan Jones found that even a five second interruption caused people to take longer than normal to complete the next step in a simple seven-step computer task.
The pair did not estimate how much time might be lost to on-screen notifications in a real-world setting, but one recent study found that it takes users an average of 64 seconds to return to a normal work rate after reading an email.
Hodgetts recommends setting an auditory warning sound for messages and alerts instead of a flashing visual signal, which tends to divert the gaze.
"Auditory stimuli tend to be processed relatively automatically, allowing the worker to continue and consolidate [their] place in the current activity before switching to the interrupting task," she told TopTenREVIEWS.
If you have to use a visual notification, then keep it as small and discreet and possible, Hodgetts added. And if possible, set it to disappear after a few seconds if you don't respond to it.
Google's Gmail Notifier for Windows and Mac is an example of a program that does this. Additionally, a Mac application called Growl allows users to set notifications for other programs and customize their style and duration.TopTenREVIEWS.