Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Better Managing Interruptions (like this one)


 Emails, mobile phones, PDAs, instant messaging, social networks, blogs, Google, voicemail, podcasts and webinars are just some of the technology tools that are supposed to make us all more productive. Really? According to a recent Time magazine article,the writer states that "The Internet, conceived as a research and productivity tool, has become a weapon of mass distraction". 

 A recent productivity study of workers at two high-tech firms in California showed that workers "switched out" or were interrupted from their task EVERY THREE MINUTES on average. Also, a joint study by Microsoft and the University of Illinois found that it takes a person interrupted by email an average of 16 minutes, 33 seconds to get back to what they were doing. The impact? According to Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California Irvine, who is studying the effect of workplace interruptions and multitasking, there is a psychological cost due to the high frustration and higher mental workload of these interruptions on workers. 

 So is there any good news? Mark suggests that there are two ways to minimise interruptions - social and technical. Social in terms of having the discipline to limit time on tools like the internet to stay focused on tasks at hand. I'm sure we've all experienced how creative we get with our To-Do list when the office or home internet is down! 

 The second is technical in which workers are encouraged to BROADCAST WHAT THEY'RE WORKING ON through online networking tools such as Facebook, Linkedin, Plaxo and Twitter. These 'on task' interruptions are found to be beneficial and valuable - as long as they're appropriate and relevant to the topic or task being worked on. The irony that this information is communicated via a disruptive technology like a blog post is not lost on me. 

I hope that you found this 'interruption' useful in better understanding how to manage them. 

 Sources mentioned: 
* Managing Workplace Interruptions, BNET Useful Commute Podcast: http://blogs.bnet.com/intercom/?p=1837 (7 minutes, 30 seconds) 
* The Offline American by Lev Grossman, Time magazine, August 25, 2008

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