I Have No Time for Interruption Bashing

March 5, 2007 at 8:25 pm | Posted in Attention Management, interruption science | 2 Comments

I wasn’t going to blog until later this week when I finish giving our workshop on collaboration and SharePoint, but I read a paper from Basex called “Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us” and couldn’t help it.

To quote:

Interruptions now consume 28% of the knowledge worker’s day, based on surveys and interviews of high-level knowledge workers conducted by Basex in 2005. This translates into 28 billion lost man-hours per annum to companies in the Unites States alone. Assuming an average salary of $21/hour for a knowledge worker, the cost to business is $588 billion.

So this study is also assuming that 100% of the time spent on those interruptions is worthless? Not a single interruption was “I finished my section of the presentation – you can start on yours now” or “Are you coming to the meeting – it started 5 minutes ago?” or “your house is on fire”? Ban the whole smoke alarm industry because all it can do is interrupt you (unless you’re pressing the test button and it’s not worth buying a device that attaches to your ceiling and screeches only when you press a button). And every phone call is pure interruption unless you were staring at the wall or had scheduled it to ring at that time.

The paper goes on to quote a study where people taking an IQ test were interrupted with e-mails and phone calls and scored 10 points lower. I’ll tell you how to throw that experiment – have the people interrupting be really smart and calling with the answers! “Someone just told me the answer to the train question is 20 mph. Now if you figure out #3 give me a call.” In real life, people aren’t always interrupting just to ruin your concentration – they are often calling about something of importance to you. Granted, not often enough for my taste, but still it’s nowhere near 0%. And unless you’re the king or CEO, sometimes people have a right to interrupt you for things that are important to them. If the 28% counts the time spent by both people on the phone call, chances are that’s double counting unless it was a total waste of time for both parties.

As I blogged here and here interruptions cannot be assumed to be evil. Certainly etiquette is part of the answer. Organizations need to optimize – not eliminate – the flow of communications using technologies such as presence and asynchronous communication to gracefully handle the times they do need to interrupt.

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2 Comments »

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  1. […] or hamstringed to address intermittent failures. There are good and bad meetings, good and bad interruptions, good and bad emails , good and bad Powerpoint presentations. Banning email, meeting-free Fridays, […]

  2. […] or hamstringed to address intermittent failures. There are good and bad meetings, good and bad interruptions, good and bad emails , good and bad Powerpoint presentations. Banning email, meeting-free Fridays, […]


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