As I have mentioned in this blog before, I am very easily distracted. Especially when it comes to the working day, during which I will probably check my emails a thousand times, and Twitter twice as often (see my old personal circle of distraction here). I am by no means alone in this, around the world at any one time millions of people are on Twitter and Facebook [how old fashioned] as they try to distract themselves from the tedium of work. But rather than making their working hours more enjoyable, is it actually making the day less enjoyable? Probably.
Last week I was reading Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality, an enjoyable behavioural economics book (albeit not quite as enjoyable as his earlier Predictably Irrational). In it Dan spends some time talking about adaption; how we can get used to our personal situation over time. For instance, if we win the lottery, we may initially be thrilled, but we quickly get used to it over time.
The process of adaption is equally true for dealing with less pleasant experiences, such as work. If we have a large piece of work to complete that is not particularly interesting, if we work on it solidly we will adapt to it over time, but if we constantly break off from the work we will never fully adapt to the situation and will actually make the work harder for ourselves.
Today we find ourselves in a situation where many of us are constantly breaking off from our jobs, momentary boredom sees us instantly firing up the browser window and surfing the web. Whilst I can hardly imagine a world where I wouldn’t have that opportunity to do so, I’m not convinced that it’s made the my working day any better, especially when I have specific tasks to do. Before the heady days of academia I had some of the world’s worst jobs – 12 hour shifts taking the shells off of hard-boiled eggs being a particular highlight – and whilst the task of writing an academic paper is far more enjoyable than that of trussing chickens (another of my many jobs), the fact that I constantly break off from the task means it doesn’t always feel like it.