Distracted every 10 minutes

Distracted every 10 minutes

On average, employees who do the majority of their work on computers are distracted almost every ten minutes.

Most of the interruptions are external - an incoming email or a colleague stopping by to chat. But a significant proportion also comes from the individuals who voluntarily switch tasks.

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It is commonly known that when our attention is divided, it's harder to get things done. What's surprising is that so few of us use this common idea in our workdays.

It's not just productivity that suffers when workers are constantly interrupted, but research found that people will attempt to compensate by working faster, leading to more stress and effort. Take email as an example. In one study, email was removed from a group of civil workers for five days. Workers stress reduced over that time, and they reported feeling more in control of the workday.

For many corporations, task switching has become a requirement of the job.

  • One study points out that time spent on collaborative activities has increased by 50% over the past two decades.
  • Open office floor plans are still common, but the interruptions make it difficult for teams to get work done.
  • One survey shows that workers spend an average of six hours on email a day.
  • Meetings still take up 15% of companies' time.
  • Slack found that people spent an average of 10 hours a day in the app.

Collaboration and communication are essential in the workspace, as well as social connections. But a balance is required between focused productivity and connectedness.

Meetings, email, real-time chat are all habits. And habits can be changed. Changing one keystone habit can start a chain reaction in how a team approaches everything about their work.

  • Set a maximum time your team spends in meetings. It can help your team rethink which meetings are necessary.
  • Have your team mark off time for deep work on their calendars. Hold that time sacred.
  • Have the team list the one important task they want to complete each day.
  • Limit email/group chat before a specific time in the morning
  • Make asynchronous communication the default. Delayed responses should be the preferred way of communication. It will enable your team to focus on their deep work.

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RELATED IDEAS

In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains , Nicholas Carr explains how our brain, through neuroplasticity, adapts in response to changes in our environment, like technology innovations, which means we gain and lose certain skills. Social media, email, and team communications tools stimulate our very human desire to want to connect with people and access novel information but diminish the focus and processing skills that our literacy culture of books and newspapers built up. As Carr writes :

“[E]ach interruption brings us a valuable piece of information… And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”

There are mainly two ways to communicate within a company: synchronous and asynchronous communication. While the second type has always been widely practiced, as face-to-face meetings or any other in-person communication, the second type is just slowly being discovered. 

In fact, asynchronous communication enables team members to respond to their colleagues whenever they can, without putting pressure on them that the answer should be provided immediately.

Faster Isn’t Better

Back-to-back video calls, all-day team chats combined with an expectation of immediate response is taking its toll on people trying to work from home.

In the quest to create a real-time interaction of the office, we are cutting the remote workers' ability to get things done.

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