Context: I'm creating a website aimed at middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to help them collaboratively create stories. The site is gamified so that each user will want other users to vote for the segments of stories (s)he writes.

There are two main reasons I want my users not to multitask.

  1. HCI researcher Clifford Nass has shown that people who multitask are more easily distracted, have worse memory, are worse at context switching, and are less happy. To maintain a high quality of content on my site, I would prefer that my users be focused, have good memory, be able to change direction depending on how the story is going, and have a positive disposition.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has considered the tremendous happiness and creativity that come from entering a flow state. A flow state comes from focusing exclusively on one topic, or in other words, from not multitasking. So that users will enjoy my site, I aim to bring them as close to a flow state as possible.

How can I encourage my users not to multitask? Or how can I discourage my users from multitasking?

4 Answers 4


If you are using gamification, user engagement is one of the core ideas of gamification. If implemented properly, there should be no separate need to capture the user's attention. That being said, that goal is quite hard to achieve.

Without much details on the application I would suggest you look into the following:

  • Make sure the content is real time. The content should be such that the user has an incentive to be always present there, but should not punish the user if he leaves. eg: you keep a score/badge for the user who was actively participating in the process throughout.

  • Since, the content is quite similar to a SE site (more comments/votes give you more authority/respect) you can try the all pervasive PBL (points, badges and leaderboard) model. You get points for votes people give you, BUT you also get points/badges for being attentive and regular.

  • Since you are dealing with school kids, you can go a step further and try to teach them other things, like appreciation, backing up friends, etc. You allow them to nominate other users for specific badges (helpful, friendly, level headed, etc.) and rather than focusing completely on the votes you get, you are promoting good behavior too.

  • Also, you can keep team based rewards, the team with the fastest story outputted. So entire teams are motivate to be focused on what they are doing.

  • +1 I really like the suggestion of adding the additional social layer of letting the kids nominate their friends for badges. It adds elements of altruism and peer moderation. Apr 10, 2013 at 17:51

The simple answer is to remove distractions.

A few apps do this with a 'zen' or 'distraction free' mode that lets you focus on the task at hand by taking away all the menus and options.

To compare, here is a normal mode in Sublime Text 2: enter image description here

Here is a 'distraction free' mode: enter image description here

  • 1
    +1 Making the app/site feel more like a full-screen game or movie is probably the best way to demand full attention.
    – devios1
    Apr 8, 2013 at 23:05

Make your app very responsive. To quote Jakob Nielsen on research results on response times:

  • 0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.
  • 1.0 second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.
  • 10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user's attention focused on the dialogue.

I know from my own experience too, that even short delays can break my flow and lead me into distractions.


Explane why they should not multitask and how this correlates with the number of good votes they will receive when writing their part of the story in that flow. Use exactly those points you mentioned for argumentation.

If they realize that their point of view was taken in to account and your program wants the best for them, they will realize that they are taken serious. People are more motivated to do things in a specific way if they get explained why they should do it like that.

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