Measuring Multitasking Behavior with Activity-Based Metrics

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Multitasking is the result of time allocation decisions made by individuals faced with multiple tasks. Multitasking research is important in order to improve the design of systems and applications. Since people typically use computers to perform multiple tasks at the same time, insights into this type of behavior can help develop better systems and ideal types of computer environments for modern multitasking users. In this paper, we define multitasking based on the principles of task independence and performance concurrency and develop a set of metrics for computer-based multitasking. The theoretical foundation of this metric development effort stems from an application of key principles of Activity Theory and a systematic analysis of computer usage from the perspective of the user, the task and the technology. The proposed metrics, which range from a lean dichotomous variable to a richer measure based on switches, were validated with data from a sample of users who self-reported their activities during a computer usage session. This set of metrics can be used to establish a conceptual and methodological foundation for future multitasking studies.


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ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction

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