Monday, October 15, 2018

The Relentless Barrage of Daily Interruptions Is Messing Up Your Productivity

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

The older one gets the longer it takes to recover from things, especially physical stuff.  Where once your body would bounce back seemingly instantly, as your age advances that's no longer the case.  You can and do recover, it just takes longer.  Another one of the nasty little things about the golden years.

And speaking of recovery, there is now ample evidence that it takes increasingly more time to recover from the barrage of daily interruptions to your work productivity.   This seems particularly true when you really need to focus on getting something done (e.g., a major report, grant application, presentation or ?).  According to  UC Irvine study, quoted in Training Magazine

"People spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before they’re interrupted. It takes them on average 25 minutes to get back to the point they were at before a distraction.
Even after a 2.8-second interruption, subjects in a study doubled their error rates. And their error rates tripled after a 4.5-second distraction, says the Journal of Experimental Psychology."

According to an article on interruptions in

"Interruptions come at great cost. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that, on average, people spend three minutes and five seconds (see, it’ll be fine) on an activity before switching to another task, and 10.5 minutes before switching to a completely new project. And, they found, if a task is interrupted, it takes more than 20 minutes to fully adjust back to the task. 
Other studies show that interruption scenarios significantly decrease work quality. Researchers at Michigan State University asked participants to complete a computer-­sequencing-based task. Every so often, the participants were interrupted with a request to input two unrelated letters -- a task of 2.8 seconds -- before continuing with the sequence. Those interruptions led to twice as many errors in the sequencing task."

Oh dear!

Interruptions of any kind disturb the rhythm of getting work done. That's true if your brainstorming, writing, preparing a presentation, or working in other ways on a given project.

Is it then any wonder why what should take a finite period of time seems to take increasingly unnecessarily long hours to accomplish?

What can be done to minimize the negative aspects of constant interruptions, or really how to avoid many of those interruptions in the first place?  We've got the deal with this issue for the simple reason that the demands on our time are increasing while our available time is not, and if the work that needs to get done, doesn't, then the enterprise (our part or the whole thing) is in jeopardy.

While you can't necessarily control all the interruptions your body must endure as you age, you can take some actions to, if not eliminate, then reduce the interruptions to your work situation.

There are some ways to block out the interruptions at least for those times when you won't get done what you need to get done if you don't.  


1.  Simply ignoring incoming communications for a finite period of time.  Let people know you're unavailable via email, texting or telephone for X number of hours on any given day or days.  Don't worry if some kind of emergency comes up, people will find a way to let you know.  And then resist the temptation to check for incoming messages via whatever platform.  At least for a couple of hours.

2.  Organizations can sanction and facilitate working at home on those occasions when you really need to be productive.  According to a Rescue Time Blog post, a majority of workers cite personal visits or inquiries by co-workers as the most invasive kind of interruption (one that can't really be ignored).  Of course, home has its own set of distractions and interruptions, and so you would have to specifically deal with those up front, but working at home doesn't have all the workplace distractions.

3.  If working at home occasionally, as needed, isn't a viable option, then try to just get out of the office for and hour or two during the day.  Go to your favorite coffee shop and work there.  For many people that option is actually conductive to getting work done.

4.  Ask your coworkers and other colleagues how they cope with the incessant interruptions in the workplace when they need to get work finished.  Maybe they have their own approaches that would work for you too.

5.  Close your door and put a note on it that says you are unavailable for X period of time.  Do NOT Disturb.   It's probably a good idea to advise people upfront of your intention to do this.  And that notice may help them to respect your wishes and avoid the seemingly innocent:  "Can I ask you a quick question?"  Your answer to that ought to be:  "You just did, and the answer is no." 

Of course, not all the interruptions that threaten your productivity are external based. There are also the interruptions that have their genesis in your head.  Often times when faced with a critical deadline or major piece of work that not only needs to get done on a timeline, but needs to be really superb when finished, our minds throw up blocks to getting it done.  We have all experienced writer's block or some other form of an inability to hunker down to the task at hand.  You may succeed in eliminating most of the interruptions that plague your concentration, but still not remedy the internal workings of your mind that will allow you to focus on the one thing you need to finish.

There are, I'm sure, tricks and techniques to deal with that challenge too.  Google it.

Have a good week with minimal interruptions!

Don't Quit

Note:  My own interruptions mean I will henceforth likely be blog posting every two weeks, instead of every week - at least for awhile.