The Business-Technology Weave

Jun 2 2013   10:32AM GMT

Devices Distracting You at Work?

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

Nap PodIt used to be just phone calls or co-workers dropping by to see if you wanted to go get coffee.  But today, there’s plenty to help you lose focus at work.  Heck, some orgs seem to be contributing, and are even providing napping places (and nap “pods”).  They claim it aids focus and productivity – I don’t know.

But lack of focus and effects of diminished concentration on productivity are a real problem, fueled by e-mails, Tweets, phone calls (both professional and personal; on company and personally-owned devices), IMs, social chats, and the predictable cubicle “drive-bys.”

According to NBC News, the average worker is interrupted once every 11 minutes.  (Heck, it’s not even worth investing in nap pods under those circumstances).  Further, NBC states:  “Once interrupted, researchers found that it took at least 25 minutes to get focused back on the original task.”

In examining that statement, it seems a person would never get back on the original task … you’d be 11 minutes into the necessary 25 for re-focus, and… ping!… or ring!…  you’re interrupted again.  Once resolving that interruption, you’re back at Square One – or in this case, Minute One, of the necessary 25 minutes for re-focus… 11 minutes later  etc. – so I’m a little skeptical about the 25 minutes for re-focus (I can usually get back in the groove in about 30 seconds).  But the interruptions can definitely be a nuisance – and a problem.

Interruption at work is not as dangerous as distractions during driving, such as text messaging, or even glancing at GPS, but they should still be managed.  Many companies are creating “phone-free” hours as much as possible – internally dialed, that is.  Many suggest hours whereby people stay out of e-mail too – for productive, heads-down, work.  If something is critical, then of course exception-type phone calls are most definitely made – or an in-person swing-by to an office or cube.

There’s also something else to be considered beyond the uninvited interruption, and that is the self-initiated, pro-active, interruption:  Idle surfing of the web, the social calls that any particular worker generates, thus interrupting themselves – whether by phonecall, IM chat agent, text message, and so forth.  These must be managed too.  Here, the self must provide some oversight, but the organization should make reminders and cautions in the monthly staff meetings; supervisors can remind during weekly meetings, etc.

What do you think?  Are interruptions a large problem where you work – either for you, your teams, or your sense of the organization’s general productivity?

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

NPThe Ramsey Lewis Trio in Chicago, as recorded live at The Blue Note, original LP.  Great cover; great session.

4  Comments on this Post

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  • FTClark
    Interruptions?!... Umm... Let's see, where was I, OH! One interruption that has become an increasing problem: cold calls. It seems in this economy it has become increasingly popular for every Tom, Dick, and Harry (sales, marketing, research... person) to call me and think they deserve my time. I finally put my foot down. "I'm sorry, I do not take any sales, marketing, or research calls at all. Thank you. Goodbye."  
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  • TomLiotta
    A buddy of mine received an unwanted call at his desk while a group of us was discussing some project. Upon hearing basically "Hi, I'm Joe X calling about [printer ribbons or whatever]...", he interrupts and says, "Hey, can you hold on a second?" Then he put the guy on hold, and we all continued with the discussion. Quickly handled. -- Tom
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  • David Scott
    FTClark and TomLiotta:  I occasionally take a cold-call, and at least once in my career it led to a very rewarding vendor relationship (although I agree most are no-gos).  I'm curious, though:  Is there anything a vendor/potential solutions partner can say in the first critical seconds that would get someone to pause, listen, and perhaps engage?  Thanks - Dave Scott
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  • TomLiotta
    To me, first step has to be asking for the appropriate person to talk with. Starting a call with the assumption that the right person is on the other end is just begging for resistance. But asking the polite favor can be a good way to set a cooperative mood. Most people will respond to polite and reasonable requests. If you find you are talking to the right person, apologize for the interruption and ask when a good time might be to discuss whatever the call is for. -- Tom
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