Is multitasking really a good thing? Ask a woman and she’ll tell you that females are brilliant at it, while men are, well, just rubbish at doing more than one thing at a time. Ask someone aged less than 25, male or female, and they’ll tell you they are also brilliant multitaskers – updating Facebook with one hand, sending text messages with another while listening to their latest illegal download.
But, new research from Stanford University confirms what middle-aged men have known for decades. Anyone who reckons they can multitask is deluding themselves; frankly, it simply does not work. The study revealed that the people who think they can multitask are actually not completing the tasks very well. Instead, what is really happening is they are being easily distracted from the main task in hand.
The more people rated themselves as multitaskers, the worse they were at completing a task, this study also showed, because they were more open to being distracted. And this finding has significant implications for anyone with a website or who runs an online business.
Most websites are full of distractions – menus here, links there, pictures, videos, things to download – you name it, websites have it. Which means that websites become very attractive to the “heavy multitaskers” – not people who actually multitask well at all, but people who love distractions. The result, this study would suggest, is that none of them actually complete the task required by the website at all well. For instance, they may not read to the end of the article, or may not click on the “buy now” button because something else has distracted them.
Because the Internet is so full of sites that have loads of distractions, there is the chance that websites appeal most to the “heavy multitaskers” – the people easily distracted. In other words, the online population is biased towards people who are distracted from the main task in hand. Which for any online business means you are already fighting a losing battle in trying to achieve sales targets, simply because your online audience is too easily distracted from clicking on that “buy now” button.
All the while, these people are claiming they are multitasking, when in fact they are just easily distracted. So, how do you therefore get people to complete your tasks – to read your article or to click on the “buy now” button? Easy. Don’t distract them. Forget all those “nice to have” features of websites – like moving pictures, fancy menus and various “extras”. Instead, give your visitors just one task to complete. The people who think they are multitaskers are less likely to be distracted and should therefore more easily – or more accurately – complete the task, such as reading your article. The single-taskers will also be happier as it will be clearer as to what you want them to do.
Once again, this new study is a reminder that clarity and simplicity are essential components of online success. For your website it means letting people know the one task you want them to do, rather than presenting them with multiple options. People may think they can read the article while watching your accompanying video or listening to the podcast and read the comments – but they can’t. They can only successfully do one thing at a time – women included…!
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+