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Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks


  • Leroy, Sophie


In many jobs, employees must manage multiple projects or tasks at the same time. A typical workday often entails switching between several work activities, including projects, tasks, and meetings. This paper explores how such work design affects individual performance by focusing on the challenge of switching attention from one task to another. As revealed by two experiments, people need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another. Yet, results indicate it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Being able to finish one task before switching to another is, however, not enough to enable effective task transitions. Time pressure while finishing a prior task is needed to disengage from the first task and thus move to the next task and it contributes to higher performance on the next task.

Suggested Citation

  • Leroy, Sophie, 2009. "Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 168-181, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:109:y:2009:i:2:p:168-181

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. De Dreu, Carsten K. W., 2003. "Time pressure and closing of the mind in negotiation," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 280-295, July.
    2. Lim, Stephen Ghee-Soon & Murnighan, J. Keith, 1994. "Phases, Deadlines, and the Bargaining Process," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 153-171, May.
    3. Mayseless, Ofra & Kruglanski, Arie W., 1987. "What makes you so sure? Effects of epistemic motivations on judgmental confidence," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 162-183, April.
    4. Weenig, Mieneke W. H. & Maarleveld, Marleen, 2002. "The impact of time constraint on information search strategies in complex choice tasks," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 23(6), pages 689-702, December.
    5. Chakravarti, Amitav & Janiszewski, Chris, 2003. "The Influence of Macro-level Motives on Consideration Set Composition in Novel Purchase Situations," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 30(2), pages 244-258, September.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Something Called ‘Attention Residue’ Is Ruining Your Concentration
      by ? in scienceofus on 2016-01-21 19:14:00
    2. Employers, Your Employees&#8217; Lack Of Productivity Might Be All On You
      by ? in Co.Exist on 2017-07-17 12:00:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Lu, Jackson G. & Akinola, Modupe & Mason, Malia F., 2017. "“Switching On” creativity: Task switching can increase creativity by reducing cognitive fixation," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 63-75.
    2. Bertolotti, Fabiola & Mattarelli, Elisa & Vignoli, Matteo & Macrì, Diego Maria, 2015. "Exploring the relationship between multiple team membership and team performance: The role of social networks and collaborative technology," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 911-924.
    3. Sophie Leroy & Theresa M. Glomb, 2018. "Tasks Interrupted: How Anticipating Time Pressure on Resumption of an Interrupted Task Causes Attention Residue and Low Performance on Interrupting Tasks and How a “Ready-to-Resume” Plan Mitigates the," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 29(3), pages 380-397, June.
    4. Rocio Bonet & Fabrizio Salvador, 2017. "When the Boss Is Away: Manager–Worker Separation and Worker Performance in a Multisite Software Maintenance Organization," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 28(2), pages 244-261, April.
    5. Miron-Spektor, Ella & Beenen, Gerard, 2015. "Motivating creativity: The effects of sequential and simultaneous learning and performance achievement goals on product novelty and usefulness," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 53-65.
    6. Leroy, Sophie & Schmidt, Aaron M., 2016. "The effect of regulatory focus on attention residue and performance during interruptions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 218-235.
    7. Choi, Yunsik & Delise, Lisa A. & Lee, Brandon W. & Neely, Jerry, 2021. "Effective staffing of projects for reconciling conflict between cost efficiency and quality," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 234(C).
    8. Long, James H. & Basoglu, K. Asli, 2016. "The impact of task interruption on tax accountants' professional judgment," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 96-113.

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