Meet the life hackersPosted: October 16, 2005
Great article in New York Times Magazine this morning about research and thoughts concerning life in an interruption driven world. They touch on work being done at Microsoft Research (Mary Czerwinski), 43Folders, Life Hacks, David Allen and more. I just finished reading Getting Things Done so the article reinforced a lot of challenges I’ve personally been fighting in time management.
One excerpt that I found particularly interesting was how large monitors could help productivity:
When Czerwinski walked around the Microsoft campus, she noticed that many people had attached two or three monitors to their computers. They placed their applications on different screens – the e-mail far off on the right side, a Web browser on the left and their main work project right in the middle – so that each application was “glanceable.” When the ding on their e-mail program went off, they could quickly peek over at their in-boxes to see what had arrived.
The workers swore that this arrangement made them feel calmer. But did more screen area actually help with cognition? To find out, Czerwinski’s team conducted another experiment. The researchers took 15 volunteers, sat each one in front of a regular-size 15-inch monitor and had them complete a variety of tasks designed to challenge their powers of concentration – like a Web search, some cutting and pasting and memorizing a seven-digit phone number. Then the volunteers repeated these same tasks, this time using a computer with a massive 42-inch screen, as big as a plasma TV.
The results? On the bigger screen, people completed the tasks at least 10 percent more quickly – and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember the seven-digit number, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains. Some of the volunteers were so enthralled with the huge screen that they begged to take it home. In two decades of research, Czerwinski had never seen a single tweak to a computer system so significantly improve a user’s productivity. The clearer your screen, she found, the calmer your mind. So her group began devising tools that maximized screen space by grouping documents and programs together – making it possible to easily spy them out of the corner of your eye, ensuring that you would never forget them in the fog of your interruptions.