Monday, February 26, 2007

IT Multitasking and Productivity

Kathleen Melymuka, Computerworld, reports how IT multitasking affects individual productivity. She describes a five-year study where the researchers (Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson, Marshall Van Alstyne) analyzed 1,300 projects and 125,000 e-mails. Heavy IT users multitask, working on projects in parallel. Lower IT users work on projects serially. The researchers found that heavy IT users were associated with slower productivity speed in short term periods because multitasking slows project completion in the short run. However, because heavy IT users took on more projects, overall they had greater productivity, thus bringing in more money to firms over time.

They also studied communications within social networks (social networks may have been defined email communications—this is not entirely clear in the Computerworld article). The researchers measured “betweenness” which is an indicator of being in the “thick of the information flow”. They also measured the “reach” an individual had by counting the number of people an individual talked to and the number of people they “talked” to (subtracting for duplications), and then counting the number of hops. The researchers’ assertion is the more people one "reaches" the more diverse the information is.

Their suggestion is to "invest in IT skills” because those who are capable of multitasking can complete more over time. The researchers also suggest that individuals should create information diversity by making their social networks diverse. In other words, don't build social networks by talking to people only like yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Anne,

Thanks for your blog post and your interest in this research. I wanted to give you an update on where we are in the research now...

In a subsequent study, we analyzed the *content* of the email messages and found that in fact employees with more diverse social networks did have access to more diverse information (as measured across the content of their email). We also found that this link - between network diversity and information diversity - explained productivity and performance differences: Wokers with access to diverse information through diverse social networks generated more revenue, completed more projects and completed projects faster, controlling for a host of traditional demographic and human capital variables such as age, gender, education, industry experience etc.

The paper can be found here:

Aral, Sinan and Van Alstyne, Marshall W., "Network Structure & Information Advantage: Structural Determinants of Access to Novel Information and Their Performance Implications" (January 18, 2007). Available at SSRN:


Sinan Aral
NYu Stern School of Business & MIT Sloan School of Management