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Multitasking: The Enemy of Productivity

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- With March Madness about to start, college basketball aficionados -- otherwise known as your employees -- will be hovering over their carefully chosen brackets, scouring social media sites for player information and watching the occasional afternoon game through their work computer.

As the business owner and manager of those workers, your job is to make sure they still get their jobs done and that events such as March Madness don't get in the way of your company's output. But how do you do that when iPhones are everywhere and workers have essentially become multitasking agents -- combining work and personal lives at (theoretically) all times of the day?

March Madness is a great time to if whether workers are doing what they're supposed to -- and how to fix it if not.

Jonathan Spira is the CEO and chief analyst of Basex, a research firm focusing on workplace and productivity issues faced by companies in the so-called knowledge economy and the author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization . He shared his knowledge of how to fix an unproductive workplace:

What are detractors to employee productivity?

Spira: We have a lot of trouble paying attention. We have developed into a workforce with very short attention spans, and that tends to be a problem because keeping a focus on something without self-interrupting is difficult. Self-interrupting counts just as much as you interrupting Bob or Susan. We also evolved into a society that is predicated on instant gratification. We also tend to get a huge amount of information in tiny, little nuggets. And studies have shown this barrage of information basically lessens our ability to absorb deeper and greater thoughts.

Throw March Madness into the mix with lots of news, everything we need to know about college basketball -- and the more information we get, the more we're going to crave -- so in this particular period of time there is going to be a bump up in this information flow that will result in further interruptions in our work and simply just make it that much more difficult to complete tasks and get through the day.

According to Basex:
1. Information overload cost the U.S. economy almost $1 trillion in 2010;
2. Reading and processing just 100 email messages can occupy over half of a worker's day;
3. It takes five minutes to get back on track after a 30-second interruption;
4. Sixty-six percent of so-called knowledge workers feel they don't have enough time to get all of their work done each day.

How do you measure productivity?

Spira: There is no good way of measuring productivity in what we call the knowledge economy. We moved squarely from an economy that largely produces things to an economy where most of us work away from the raw materials and are more likely to do something with paperwork or a computer. We have a very big conundrum: How do you define "product" in the knowledge economy?