All over Britain – indeed all over the world – you can almost hear parents shouting “Will you turn off that Justin Bieber and get on with your homework..!” For decades parents have believed that music is a distraction, that it puts children off their homework. Your parents probably shouted at you to “turn that music down” yet for as many years as we can remember children have devised ways of listening to music without their parents knowing that they are “being distracted”.
But the children who were allegedly “distracted” from doing their homework have gone on to pass their exams, indeed to gain degrees, doctorates – heck, some of them will have even done brain surgery. Thank goodness their parents stopped them from listening to music…! The thing is – music is not the distraction to learning that some people think it is.
Nowadays, the same theory that music is a distraction appears to be applied in the workplace where the assumption is that Facebook or Twitter are a distraction to “real work”. Indeed, many businesses block such social sites because they prevent people from getting on with their job. Indeed, the other day I heard of a woman who was supposedly spending 15 hours of her working week allegedly using Facebook and therefore not working hard enough in her working role. The result? The business owner has blocked Facebook for the entire company – meaning of course he also has no idea what people are saying about his firm as he too cannot log in to social sites now. Blocking social networks may appear to improve productivity, but it also reduces a firm’s ability to monitor things.
New research, however, adds to the evidence which shows that banning Facebook or Twitter or other social sites is counter-productive. For a start if you do ban social sites, most of your staff can access them on their mobile phones. Secondly, you can’t easily monitor or maintain your corporate reputation. And thirdly, studies show that when you ban social sites productivity goes down, not up.
The new study adds to this by showing that diversion from our normal work is actually essential in helping us perform our everyday activities. It seems that in order to pay attention fully to an activity we need breaks from it. According to the researchers, even people who meditate are not completely devoid of distraction – it is how they deal with that distraction that is important. Accepting there will be distractions and disturbance appears to be key in making meditation succeed.
So, the so-called “distractions” of Facebook, personal phone calls and the random Tweet will all improve work performance by allowing staff to concentrate better on the real task in hand. Forcing people to work, work, work actually reduces their chances of being able to concentrate.
In just the same way that teenage children have found that music tends to improve their ability to do their homework, many office workers have realised that Facebook and Twitter also help them do their job better. It’s just a shame their bosses haven’t worked that out yet – perhaps they need to listen to Justin Bieber for a while to take their mind off things.
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+