We live in a world full of digital tools. There is an app for almost everything. All the way back in 2009 Apple used the phrase in their iPhone 3g marketing “There’s an app for that”, which was even trademarked.
At some point I think people, especially at work started to feel overwhelmed with the amount of information, tools, applications they have to relate to on a daily basis. More and more applications provide their specific functionality, but for users there is a constant need to switch between applications. We see most offices are provided with a dual-screen setup as a minimum, while some advanced users have three or more monitors to facilitate all applications they use. Almost!
I am willing to claim that most office workers use at least 5 different applications simultaneously, and often more. It’s a given that two monitors cannot accommodate everything at once. And on top of this, you are being interrupted by colleagues, phone calls, emails and other types of ad-hoc inputs. What you end up with is context switching.
Context switching and multi-tasking is undeniable negative when it comes to task completion, but it’s still contradicted by a continuously increased productivity (The multi-tasking paradox: perceptions, problems and strategies, Applebaum et al., 2008). The relation between the two and implications of other factors remain to be understood.
And business owners may be interested in the cost of context switching; Of all your available time (100%), you cannot split your time in half and dedicate 50% of your time on two simultaneous activities. In this situation, approximately 20% of your time goes to waste in context switching, and your left with only 40% of time available for each activity.
So just introducing a second parallel task reduce your overall efficiency from 100% to 80%.