Page last updated at 07:47 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Computer pop-ups 'slow down work'

Computer being used
Pop-up messages make it harder to return to tasks, says study

You might imagine the messages which appear on your computer screen for only a few moments do not affect your work.

But researchers say that even brief pop-up messages interrupt what you are doing and break your train of thought.

The Cardiff study, Now Where Was I?, found that they add time to complete a task as computer users try to remember where they left off.

For real concentration, the authors suggest turning off e-mail and instant messaging - and getting on with work.

Psychologists discovered that even when interruptions last only a few moments, people still lose more time as they try to rediscover where they were.

Instant messaging on computer
We have to work out where we were up to and what we were planning to do next before we can resume the task at our original speed
Helen Hodgetts, Cardiff University

They suggest that turning off messaging alerts will help refocus the mind.

"Our findings suggest that even seemingly brief and inconsequential on-screen pop-up messages might be impacting upon our efficiency, particularly given their frequency over the working day," said Dr Helen Hodgetts, co-author of the study at Cardiff University.

Along with colleague Prof Dylan Jones, they asked volunteers to work on a simple "Tower of Hanoi"-type task, which involves moving disks of different size between three rods.

But even with only five seconds of interruption to the puzzle, they found that people took onger than normal to complete the next step of the task.

Audio warnings

"The interruption breaks our cognitive focus on the task in hand, so we have to work out where we were up to and what we were planning to do next before we can resume the task at our original speed," explained Dr Hodgetts.

But the research also found that if the volunteers taking part in the experiments were given an audio warning before being given on-screen interruption, they were able to perform slightly better.

The study suggests the findings could help shape how computer messaging systems should work in the future.

Smaller, less intrusive visual alerts would cause less interruption, say the report authors.

But if real concentration is required on a task, they have a blunt message: turn off the e-mail and instant messaging programs, and crack on with the work that has to be carried out.

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Mail Online UK Computer pop-ups waste time even after they have disappeared - 8 hrs ago
The Scotsman Screen pop-ups make staff lose more time - 9 hrs ago
Telegraph Distacting pop ups make work harder - 19 hrs ago

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