Interruption Wastes Half of Our Day

After an interruption, it takes 8 minutes to get back to the same level of focus.

I just finished several studies and reports on “human-computer interactions”—specifically on interruptions. On average, interruptions happen every 11 minutes. Plus, we spend an average of 25 minutes dealing with the interruption! Then, those 8 minutes to get back to full focus, leaving 3 minutes of full focus until the next interruption. AAAARRRRGRGGGGGGGGHHHHH…

Let’s do the math…

9:00—begin project
9:08—up to full focus
9:11—Interruption #1. (we wander after an interruption which is why it takes so long to get back to the project)
9:36—back to Project
9:44—back to level of focus first achieved
9:47—interruption #2
10:12—back to project #2
10:20—back to level of focus first achieved
10:23—interruption #3
10:24—shoot somebody

Analysis: in 83 minutes of work above, we worked on our project for 33 minutes. Of that 33 minutes, only 9 minutes were spent in full focus. Now you may be faster or slower getting back to focus. For me, I’m digging deep while writing a blog or book and sometimes the thought I just had flies straight out of my head and it takes a while—if ever—to get it back. I mean, there are some million dollar thoughts lying on the film cutting floor somewhere—if you find them, please return them—or use them.

So—how to combat. Peeps that are working on solving these life issues are called life hackers and the methodology is called a life hack. Makes sense.

How I personally make it work:  headphones and white noise. Because I frequently listen to high-quality music mixes from a mastering house, I have a pair of big, nice headphones. During the times I MUST be productive (usually my sweet-spot of the day is 9:00am–12:00pm) I don these phones and play some white noise—specifically, some ocean waves from a youtube video. It serves three purposes:

1. Blocks out the office noise very well so I can concentrate.
2. Soothes me very well so I can concentrate even more on my writing.
3. Informs anyone who comes to interrupt me that I am UNinterruptible. My request is, if I am wearing my headphones, I am not interruptible unless the building is on fire, “she that must be obeyed” is on the phone, or there’s pizza in the building. Anything less than that is to be disregarded.

But what about the “other” distractions—email, phone, text, etc.? I know I get email all the time. So do you. I don’t need a little ding to inform me that I received an email—it’s as sure as the sun rising tomorrow, taxes, and death. I know that for any given hour, I have received between five and fifteen emails. I will survive—unless one of them is telling me pizza is here…

So, I check my email every hour or two—and sometimes four hours (morning during planning, lunch, and the end of the day). I put my phone on DND if my headphones are on. For text, I turn my cellphone on DND Favorites, which means that only people on my favorites list can get through when on DND. The texts still appear on my phone—it’s just silent. On my favs list I have my bride, my kids, best friends, mom, dad, and the pizza delivery guy. Okay—not the pizza delivery guy… All-in-all, this cuts down my interruptions S.I.G.N.I.F.I.C.A.N.T.L.Y. Actually by about 95%—it’s marvelous!

Here’s the key: be INTENTIONAL about setting SOMETHING up. My ways to combat interruptions are probably not your ways. The point is, don’t just let interruptions rule you—you rule the interruptions! Make a plan! They lead to far more than just jumping from one interruption to the next. We have that tendency to wander as I mentioned earlier. Once we start surfing the web, forever will it dominate our direction as we run headlong to the dark side of of the force. Remember—saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.

Real bottom line: If a project is going to take 20 hours of solid work, and IF I want my work to be excellent, it will take me 15 times longer to accomplish!! If I’m only getting nine good minutes out of every 83 minutes, that’s 10.8%. If we multiply 10.8% times 60 minutes in an hour, we get about 7 minutes of efficacy. That means it will take us 285 hours to complete the project if we want high quality. Seeing that we won’t spend 285 hours on the project because we want to keep our job, we will settle for lower quality. Either way, it’s not what we truly want to accomplish.

Reflection: How does interruption affect me and what are the ways I am most affected?

Action: Set up a system that will allow you—or force you—to get the most out of your time. Reflect and change this weekly until you are happy with great results. But keep measuring to ensure ongoing success. It’s a life-time process. Also, write some comments on how you tackle interruptions. Share with everyone below. The more ideas we have, the more we can find a solution. Then—order a pizza.

MAKE it a great day (and by controlling interruptions, you will accomplish more and indeed, have a great day!)


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