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Manage Your Interruptions and Manage Your Time

September 28, 2010

Did you know that knowledge workers are interrupted or switched topics about every eleven minutes or that  workers visit an average of 50 websites a day, or that in the United States, more than $650 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions?  These are the statistics according to experts, Dr. Gloria Mark, Rescue Time, Basex, and others.

How many times are you interrupted each day?

Basex reported that 28% of a workers interruptions are not important or urgent.  It seems that we barely start a project or task before the phone rings, someone pops in, or we are notified of an email.   Most of us have learned to just attend to these interruptions as a normal way of life, but at what cost?  Have you ever started to do something and then couldn’t remember what you were doing?  Or, have you ever stopped what you were doing to take a call and then forgot what you were doing before the call?  Have you ever set out to send an email and then clicked on so many links that you forgot to complete your original task?  Well, you are not alone.  There are no shortages of interruptions in our lives, from technology, to people, to tasks, all begging for our attention.

Institute a Quiet Hour

While the problem is complicated, one solution is to have a “Quiet Hour” in which you manage the interruptions.  The nature of our jobs does not allow us to realistically turn off all communications during the day, but an hour is manageable and reasonable.  Alec Mackenzie in her book, The Time Trap states that, “on average, a person gets done in one quiet hour what would take “three normal hours.”

A New York Times article titled, “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast,” states that: “A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure by RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer habits.  The company, which draws its data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.  The fractured attention comes at a cost. In the United States, more than $650 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions, predominately mundane matters, according to Basex. ”

Save Your State

One of the problems with being interrupted is the time wasted trying to return to the formerly interrupted task.   So one hot tip for saving time until you learn how to manage the interruptions is to make a written note of what your next step was to be.  This will help you to resume your task quicker.  Also, push yourself to work on a task for a certain period of time.  If the average is a few minutes, try to increase your own personal work time.  According to Dr. Gloria Mark’s research of thousands of information workers:

Who Interrupts You the Most?

And finally, if we want to save a big chunk of time, we must learn to manage our own internal interruptions.  Dr. Mark’s research showed that 44% of interruptions are internal interruptions.  That means they are initiated by us.   Examples of internal interruption are getting up and leaving the room, stopping to check an email, going to the bathroom, getting a snack, remembering something and stopping to attend to it, or someone walking by your office and intentionally stopping to talk to them, or just arbitrarily switching to another task.  In closing, interruptions are costing us in loss productivity, increased stress, and wasted time.  Some things we can change and some we can’t.  I suggest we start with the things we can change, ourselves!

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