chi2004diarystudyfinal - A Diary Study of Task Switching...

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1 A Diary Study of Task Switching and Interruptions Mary Czerwinski Eric Horvitz Susan Wilhite Microsoft Research One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA USA {marycz; horvitz; [email protected] ABSTRACT We report on a diary study of the activities of information workers aimed at characterizing how people interleave multiple tasks amidst interruptions. The week-long study revealed the type and complexity of activities performed, the nature of the interruptions experienced, and the difficulty of shifting among numerous tasks. We present key findings from the diary study and discuss implications of the findings. Finally, we describe promising directions in the design of software tools for task management, motivated by the findings. Author Keywords Multitasking, diary study, task switching, interruptions, information worker, office and workplace. ACM Classification Keywords H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI). INTRODUCTION Information workers often interleave multiple projects and tasks. Although workers may switch among tasks in a self- guided manner, a significant portion of task switching is caused by external interruptions. We have sought to understand the influence of interruptions on task switching for information workers. Beyond understanding the costs of interruption, characterizing the density and nature of interruptions—and user’s experiences with recovery from interruptions—promises to provide valuable guidance for designing user interface tools that can assist users’ recovery from interruptions. We report on a diary study of task switching and interruptions over the course of a week. The study revealed that participants performed significant amounts of task switching and encountered numerous interruptions. We found that the reinstatement of complex, long-term projects is poorly supported by current software systems. To address several key problems with recovery from interruptions, we discuss several designs for supporting task switching and recovery that were motivated by the results of the study. The contributions of this research include a characterization of office workers’ multitasking behaviours over a week, and the formulation of designs for software tools that promise to enhance productivity. RELATED WORK Information workers are often governed by multiple tasks and activities that they must remember to perform, often in parallel or in rapid succession. This list of things to be done typically spans multiple media types, such as sticky notes, electronic to-do lists, calendar entries, and the like. A failure to remember a task that needs to be performed in the future has been referred to as a prospective memory failure [10]. Beyond simply remembering, successful prospective memory requires recall at the appropriate moment in time. Increasing numbers of interruptions and items to be remembered can wreak havoc with both aspects of prospective memory, and hence, can reduce an office worker’s daily productivity. A growing body of work has already shown prospective
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This note was uploaded on 09/28/2010 for the course SIS IS2300 taught by Professor Brianbutler during the Fall '10 term at Pittsburgh.

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chi2004diarystudyfinal - A Diary Study of Task Switching...

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