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The Interruption Epidemic

I normally post my weekly content on a Monday or Tuesday every week without fail. This past week, each time I sat down at my computer to write, something interrupted me in the middle of what was sure to be a deep and meaningful post! I guess that one will just have to wait!

Email notifications, text message notifications, a phone call, social media notifications, open windows at the bottom of my screen calling my name, a ring at the doorbell, my daughter, my son, my husband, a news flash across the top of my screen, and countless other interruptions.

Most of the interruptions didn’t last long, maybe 5 or 10 minutes max, but they definitely disrupted my thought process and took me right out of writing mode! A few other interruptions took longer, but mostly because what started off as an innocent quick check of one email led to being sucked into a vortex of other things.

How many of us can relate to the constant barrage of interruptions? With technology today, you don’t even have to sit at your computer or in your office to get can be interrupted anytime, anywhere with that handy-dandy piece of technology that we even take into the bathroom with us!

The number of interruptions that we encounter each day as individuals has reached the point of a possible epidemic! Move over obesity.... there’s a new epidemic in town! This epidemic can have devastating consequences to personal productivity, so imagine the organizational implications of these short and frequent interruptions.

Consider this:

  • The average worker loses an average of 2.1 hours per day due to interruptions

  • Some workers are interrupted up to 10 times per hour

  • It takes about 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption

  • 44% of interruptions throughout the day come from within the organization itself

  • Email is one of the biggest sources of interruption in the day

  • Emails are checked an average of 50 times per day or more

  • Email overload is estimated to cost a large company about $1 billion of lost productivity per year

Wow! Organizations spend a lot of time and money addressing issues that don’t even come close to reaching the magnitude of the cost of interruptions. So, is there any hope at all or do we just accept these interruptions as our new reality considering the technological capabilities at our fingertips?

While you may not be able to eliminate all interruptions, like some of the in-person surprise visits in your doorway, you do have the ability to prevent some interruptions, especially ones that you have more control over. Each day this week, I tried a few strategies to reduce my most frequent interruptions and was astonished by the difference they could make! I invite you to try one or more of these or come up with your own!

Preventing interruptions:

  • Turn off notifications for new emails, text messages, and other social media platforms

  • Close out, instead of minimizing, windows on your computer that are tempting to open

  • Leave your phone behind when going to certain activities that you don’t want interrupted

  • Find an area to work in that no one can interrupt you until you finish your activity/project or for a certain period of time

  • Schedule specific times of the day to check email, messages, social media and only check in at those times

  • Use ‘do not disturb’ signs or signals when needed, but don’t overuse them either (or people will just start to ignore them)

  • Use noise-cancelling headphones, which both block out sound AND give off the ‘don’t bother me’ message clearly

  • Set expectations and boundaries with others, in a positive and constructive way

  • Be a role model and respect others' needs for decreased interruptions...don’t be the interrupter!

Interruptions can rob us of time and the ability to be productive in a day already filled with excessive demand and challenge. The organizational impact is even more worrisome from a cost perspective. Prevention is the best medicine in the case of this epidemic. Implement some of the strategies here and see if you are able to accomplish more, in less time, and most importantly of better quality. Also think about organizational initiatives and programs that you can put in place to reduce the risk of an ‘interruption outbreak’ in your company.

If you have a personal or organizational strategy that works to reduce interruptions, please add them to the comments and share with others!

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