Interruptions Destroy Productivity

As attention gets scarce, and the ability for everyone to push communications and work onto us is easy, our productivity is greatly affected. It is not uncommon for emails and calls to go without response. Furthermore, there are a lot of projects which suffer from interruptions from our computer screens or from office distractions. It is epidemic.

I have been studying John Medina’s Brain Rules and his comment,

“Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.”*

From experience, I think we know this. Medina helps us to understand the neuroscience behind it. When we shift our attention, our brain walks through a four-step process to refocus. It happens every time we are distracted and it has a cost. It is unavoidable. We are not multi-taskers by nature.

When we have familiarity with certain subject areas, the errors are reduced, however, the same mechanism and process governs us all.

Our ability to focus without distractions can be an enormous differentiator in today’s knowledge economy. I have seen the fruits of it in several areas:

  • Execution. Clients that have challenges getting things done have hired me to align teams, tasks and deadlines as well as deliver. This is a struggle when distractions pull people in organizations in different directions.
  • Strategy. It is difficult to get clear. Facilitating a focused dialogue and process for an aligned strategy is pretty common. What needs to be done has to be defined and this is difficult in environments prone to distractions and interruptions.
  • Creativity. New ideas and ways to do things are abundant. However, if our attention is continually being gnawed at, who has time for such explorations? Creativity ultimately gets sacrificed for the mundane.

These are three broad areas. If you are able to focus and get things done, the world will present opportunities as others who struggle on this one area pay a cost in lost opportunity.

As you look at your typical workday, consider ways to minimize the distractions. Open only one window. Look at email just twice a day. Be unavailable for other periods. I can promise you that you will create more space and time to get the real work done and, in effect, become more valuable to others.

What kind of steps can you take towards reducing your distractions?

*Medina, John (2010-07-06). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (Kindle Locations 1210-1211). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

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