By Wilma Bedford
Research by Harvard has revealed that the average worker is interrupted 50 times a day, and most of that by trivialities. Employees need 27% more time to complete tasks, they make mistakes, and it takes approximately 23 minutes to fully concentrate on the first task again. A further study by the University of California at Irvine found that people who were interrupted scored a higher stress count on a NASA work scale than those who were not interrupted. The same task was given to two groups to complete but the first group was interrupted by emails and telephone calls while the other group worked without interruptions. The number of work mistakes made by the two groups did not differ significantly but the first group experienced raised stress levels, frustration, brain fatigue and work pressure. It was also found that people who were not interrupted worked slower, which led to the conclusion that people who are interrupted feel that they have to compensate for time lost and therefore worked faster – and paid for it in terms of stress.
Interruptions are part of the communication revolution and could be valuable in the workplace but the drawback is the stress because of the constant fluctuation between subjects and projects.
When is an interruption valuable? When an interruption has a bearing on the same thing it has value, for instance if you as a computer programmer is interrupted by a colleague who cannot trace a computer bug or is experiencing other problems, the interruption is positive because both of you are now thinking of the same problem and are looking for a solution and although the solution is not immediately obvious, it will become clear with time after you have returned to the original task. By allowing a short break you give your brain a respite and allow your subconscious mind to process a problem.
In the same way a short interruption that does not require thinking, such as signing a document, will not have a negative impact. Some interruptions or distractions can be good for your spirit and help you to get through the day and even motivate you to work harder.
When is an interruption counterproductive? When you are working on one specific task and you have to shift your cognitive resources, ingenuity and attention to a completely different task or subject, it is a counterproductive interruption. An interruption can cause you to forget an important step in a process you were busy with, and mistakes could creep in and disrupt your effectivity.
What is the price of this stress? A feeling that you cannot cope and consequently work longer hours or over weekends just to keep up with the demands of the workplace. Because your concentration is frequently interrupted and your effectivity is affected, you begin to fear that your employer will regard you as unproductive.
Employees feel that they can no longer control the interruptions and when their focus has to shift too often, they feel derailed and that they have to work harder to make target dates. Factors outside of their control leads to insecurity in the workplace, which could prejudice their careers. When productivity decreases, stress increases and employees avoid the workplace because they no longer control their own productivity.
What if you feel you cannot keep up?
The most effective and productive workers are those who eliminate distraction. Although it is not possible to eliminate all distractions in the workplace, they can be reduced.
In the workplace one would expect interruptions to be caused by coworkers, but how many of these interruptions are self-interruptions and not a colleague or work-related interruption? How often do you search for something on the web while you are on-line in connection with work or make a fast personal call?
If you are inclined to postpone tasks or are easily distracted, you will have to think of a strategy to protect yourself against stress.
Prioritise your day’s work
Eliminate distractions such as your phone’s message notification, turn down your phone’s sound, switch off your phone, disconnect your computer from the wi-fi, limit your use of the web, and be disciplined.
Focus on the task or project you’re working on even if it is boring. Shift your focus to the end product – it will keep you motivated.
Do not try to do a lot of things simultaneously; all you are doing is interrupting yourself in order to attend to another task. Your brain can only process a certain amount of information and by working on two tasks simultaneously with divided attention neither of them is done with optimal productivity. Your attention is also affected negatively.
Reduce office interruptions by appointing an assistant who will handle administration for which you don’t have time or do not want to be involved in. Reserve a specific time every day or week when you can work without interruption and make it clear to your assistant and colleagues that no interruptions will be allowed during that time.
While the open-door policy has its advantages, it is also an invitation for interruptions. Lay down “office hours” during which your open-door policy does not apply; your open-door time could for instance be from 14:00 to 16:00 when you are working on less important administrative tasks.
If it is unlikely that you will not be disturbed while working on an important project, think about working somewhere else; it could be at home or in a boardroom.
The Shocking Cost of Workplace Distraction
The Effects of Distraction on Work
ByChron Contributor November 10, 2020