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Supporting multi-tasking of activities

Dr. Víctor M. González

Interactive Systems Design Group
University of Manchester

> Some characteristics of multi-tasking

> Office work: multi-tasking research

> Sphere Juggler

Challenges to support Multi-tasking

• Information workers have to cope with the

demands emerging by the multiple activities they
are engaged in.

• Current designs of information technology do not

provide a comprehensive support for the
management of activities.

• There is a lack of comprehensive understanding of

the phenomenon of managing multiple activities.
Office work: Multi-tasking research
The area of study:
• Personal activity management
• Modern information workers

The approach taken

• Systematic observation of 36 information workers as
they conducted their activities in the workplace
• Interviews to discuss various aspects of the
phenomenon, as well as reflective accounts about
• Informants included software developers, financial
analysts, support engineers, projects leaders and
Office work: Multi-tasking research
Average continuous time spent on actions before switching
% entire Avg. Time/Day Avg. Time/ Action
day (sd) (sd)
Using phone 7.6 0:39:48 (0:29:10) 0:03:02 (0:01:28)
Using e-mail 8.3 0:43:31 (0:20:27) 0:02:04 (0:00:42)
Using PCs 27.8 2:26:21 (1:08:23) 0:02:30 (0:00:45)
Using paper documents 6.6 0:34:51 (0:25:10) 0:01:50 (0:00:52)
Using other tools 0.8 0:04:02 (0:03:55) 0:01:15 (0:00:43)
Talking through the walls 1.7 0:08:46 (0:10:29) 0:01:06 (0:01:14)
Talking to others in own cubicle 8.3 0:43:45 (0:29:37) 0:04:29 (0:02:49)
Formal meetings 14.3 1:15:21 (1:00:12) 0:42:56 (0:19:11)
Talking to others in other cubicles 12.4 1:05:24 (0:37:40) 0:08:21 (0:03:27)
Personal 11.2 0:59:11 (0:26:13) 0:33:32 (0:27:40)
Unknown 1.0 0:05:15 (0:08:59) 0:05:09 (0:09:05)
All actions except “Formal 73.5 0:48:19 (0:53:05) 0:03:05 (0:02:51)
meetings”, “Personal” and
All actions total 100% 0:47:51 (0:51:48) 0:09:40 (0:17:19)
Office work: Multi-tasking research
Moving beyond actions: the need for a notion
Phone call with client
Meeting with developer
Composing e-mail message
Client’s problem with system

• The analysis was oriented toward understanding how

actions were related to other actions around practical
units of work: working spheres
Office work: Multi-tasking research
Average no. working spheres and segment for all informants

Avg. Time/W.S.
Type of working Avg. #. W.S. Avg. Total Time/W.S.
per segment
sphere per day (sd) per day (sd)
9.31 0:12:16 0:43:21
(4.99) (0:03:56) (0:19:38)
2.90 0:05:34 0:08:18
(1.63) (0:03:43) (0:06:06)
12.22 0:10:29 0:33:58
(5.30) (0:02:51) (0:12:04)
Office work: Multi-tasking research
Strategies to manage activities
People gain an overview of their working spheres at the
beginning of the day/week and update it as conditions
Consolidation of information from many sources
Office work: Multi-tasking research
Constant renewal of overviews: different perspectives
Global: provide major summaries of the work
Local: help manage the day-to-day things

Global perspective Local perspective

Our approach: Sphere Juggler
Personal Activity Management

The approach: Sphere juggler

Initial system to support activity
switching and context recovery
Aggregation of resources around
working spheres (emails, URLs,
documents, contacts)
Implementation: Windows XP and MS
Our approach: Sphere Juggler

Centralized Sphere Management Stepper Learning Curve

Quick Sphere Targeting Drag & Drop enabled

Document Monitoring

PIM Integration
Sphere’s space association

Quick Sphere Switching Highly Customizable

Open Docs

Active Spheres
Our approach: Sphere Juggler
Our approach: Sphere Juggler
Personal Activity Management
PDA Version
Integration with Whiteboard
Medical Interns
Future work on this area

> Study of multi-tasking practices with information

workers (executives) in Ensenada, Mexico.
> Design of a planning and task-management tool

> Theorizing on the conceptualization of personal