Distractions are everywhere in our world. We can be distracted while driving, while working, or while doing any number of routine tasks. In the work place, incident investigations reveal that tens of thousands of injuries each year occur when people are not focused on the task at hand.
Most everyone recognizes the dangers associated with being distracted while driving a motor vehicle. Distracted driving is a leading contributor to automobile crashes. For example, here are just a few statistics from an organization dedicated to stopping texting and driving injuries and deaths:
- Every year, about 421,000 people are injured in crashes that have involved a driver who was distracted in some way.
- Each year, over 330,000 accidents caused by texting while driving lead to severe injuries. This means that over 78% of all distracted drivers are distracted because they have been texting while driving.
- 1 out of 4 car accidents in the US are caused by texting while driving.
- Texting and driving is 6 times more likely to get you in an accident than drunk driving.
- It takes an average of three seconds after a driver’s mind is taken off the road for any road accident to occur.
- Reading a text message while driving distracts a driver for a minimum of five seconds each time.
- The chances of a crash are increased by 23 times when you are texting.
Error Rate and Distraction
A recent Michigan State University study provides supporting evidence that being distracted significantly increases human error (which can result in an accident).
Participants in this study were asked to perform a series of tasks in order, such as identifying with a keystroke whether a letter was closer to the beginning or end of the alphabet. Of course, a certain number of errors were made even without interruptions.
Occasionally the participants were told to input two unrelated letters — which took about 3 seconds — before returning to their task. These slight interruptions led to participants making twice as many mistakes when they returned to their sequencing task.
In addition, there are a number of studies and/or exercises which prove that humans cannot consciously complete more than one task at a time. Indeed, one author has labeled the so-called skill of multi-tasking as “worse than a lie.” No matter how you look at it, being distracted (for any reason) significantly increases the risk of making a mistake and/or being injured.
Unfortunately, we are not only distracted by something in our environment, but simply by the way our minds operate!
Imagine you are part of a team that has been assigned a particularly difficult maintenance job. It will take three craftsmen at least eight hours to complete this task. Your supervisor (Jeff) is coordinating a long list of planned jobs as part of a large shutdown. Before you go to the work site, Jeff provides a pre-job brief:
“OK, guys – listen up. We have to replace the large pump in the northwest corner of the basement. As you know, it’s in a very tight space with no head room and there isn’t much ventilation or lighting down there – so make sure you hook up a fan and some temporary lighting. This is a critical path job, so I need you guys to get started on it ASAP. The guys on the production line will be waiting on this job before they can start back up. We’re behind on shipping customer orders, so there’s some heat from upper management to get in, get out, and get running. Don’t take any more time than is necessary to get the pump changed out. Keep any breaks to a minimum. I know you guys always work at a good pace. That’s why I teamed you up on this job – to get it done quickly. I’ll be checking on the job every hour to see if we are on schedule. If you need anything, get me on the radio and I will rush whatever you need to the work site. If you run into any problems and aren’t sure what to do – use your judgment and do whatever takes the least amount of time. I know I can count on you guys to get this job done right and on time. I gotta go … but don’t hesitate to yell if you need anything!
Oh…. and be safe.” Continue reading
“Raise your hand if you believe that you are pretty good at multitasking”.
When I present this challenge to a group, typically about half of the people in the room respond by lifting their arms in the air. Then we have a discussion about what multitasking is and why NO ONE has this “skill.” We also use a simple exercise that demonstrates what is really happening with our brains when we attempt to take on two cognitive tasks at the same time (more about this exercise later).
Dave Crenshaw has blogged and written extensively about multitasking. His premise is that this phenomenon simply does not exist. In fact, he calls it a myth.
If you are one of those persons who raised your hand, perhaps you are thinking, “I’ve been juggling many things for a long time and I think I’ve been pretty successful in doing so. What do you mean there is no such thing as multitasking?”
I thought that an appropriate starting point for this blog would be to review a concept which I believe holds great promise in the way that we think about improvement. In the spirit of the Continuous MILE (minor improvements / large effects), the notion of a “tiny habit” may be viewed as perhaps even less significant than a minor improvement. Yet, it can be the start of something much more substantial.
The originator of this concept is Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.