Interruption Models

June 19, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Attention Management, Information Work, interruption science | 7 Comments

Well, we’ve gone quickly through the cycle of seasons here in Chicago, passing from winter to spring to construction.  When working in my home office I’m now faced with a random barrage of interruptions from beeping trucks, pile drivers, and loud workmen that can’t afford walkie-talkies.  Living in a part of Chicago that was fully built 50 years ago, many feel the need to tear down perfectly good houses and erect new ones to match the current style (the “large brick block covering every allowable inch in 3 dimensions” school of architecture).  I think this inspired me to develop a list of interruption models that I posted over at the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.  I figure I should post them here as well for greater input. These are still open for debate – so your comments and feedback are welcome.

Each has an example of how it would apply, followed with a sample numerical calculation based on the dollars gained or lost by the organization based on the interruption (assume this is $ based on time x fully loaded pay rate).

  • Help-me model: Bill needs a moment of Stu’s time to proceed with his work
    • Value to interrupter (80) + value to interruptee (-20) = Net closed-loop benefit (60)
  • Help-you model: Bill takes the time to let Stu know he needs to change his task approach
    • Value to interrupter (-10) + value to interruptee (50) = Net closed-loop benefit (40)
  • Jerk model: Mick is an jerk that likes bugging other people about fantasy football, hurting both their productivity
    • Value to interrupter (-20) + value to interruptee (-30) = Net closed-loop benefit (-50)
  • Machine interrupt model: Stu’s PC crashes. This distrubs Stu and has no benefit to the PC
    • Value to interrupter (0) + value to interruptee (-50) = Net closed-loop benefit (-50)
  • Break model: Bill’s thinking has been getting less effective and he finds himself spinning on a simple task, so he interrupts himself and decides he needs a mental break.  He returns to work more refreshed and effective
    • Value to interrupter & interruptee (5) = Net closed-loop benefit (5)
  • Interaction model: Stu and Bill are working on a task together, expecting each other’s input, and neither would really consider this an “interruption”
    • Value to interrupter (5) + value to interruptee (5) = Net closed-loop benefit (10)
  • Alert model: A fire alarm goes off while Stu is working, interrupting him and saving his life
    • Value to interrupter (0) + value to interruptee (100) = Net closed-loop benefit (100)
  • Scheduled interruption model: Stu is working hard on a task that requires concentration, but has to stop at 10:00 for a scheduled meeting, which interrupts his train of thought and will require recovery time upon resuming.  For this example, it is assumed the meeting is a project update for another project that Stu doesn’t get much out of but is obligated to attend
    • Value to interrupter (0) + value to interruptee (-10) = Net closed-loop benefit (-10)
  • Lazy model: Mick could figure out his task alone if he applied some time and effort, but it just seems easier to ask his smarter colleague Stu. Too bad Mick will never learn to help himself and will keep bothering Stu
    • Value to interrupter (5) + value to interruptee (-7) = Net closed-loop benefit (-2)
  • Training model: Bill is stuck in his task and needs to ask his smarter colleague Stu for information.  Bill learns a valuable lesson that can be immediately applied and Bill is now that much better at his job
    • Value to interrupter (10) + value to interruptee (-7) = Net closed-loop benefit (3)
  • Blast model: Mick shouts out to the room to see if anyone wants to go to lunch.  No one wants to because Mick is a jerk, so they are annoyed
    • Value to interrupter (1) + value to interruptees (-50) = Net closed-loop benefit (-49)
  • Social interruption model: Stu stops by his co-worker Bill’s desk and interrupts him to find out how his daughter is feeling after she got out of the hospital
    • Value to interrupter (?) + value to interruptees (?) = Net closed-loop benefit (positive?)

I talked this over with Mike Gotta, who brought up the point of reciprocity.  One enters into an implicit social contract that they will be gracious about interruptions in exchange for getting to interrupt others when needed.  The Help-me model should be encouraged as it has a net benefit for the organization, but it can also have a net benefit for Stu if he gets some of Bill’s time the next time he needs it.  He also pointed out that interruptions tied to communities can be worthwhile as people search for expert opinions and information.

For individuals feeling stressed and overloaded this list of models could help guide some introspection about the degree to which interruptions are causing the stress and which models need to be reduced. 

For the owner of an attention management project, surveying information workers for the types of interruptions they are experiencing can help optimize the communication flows and interruptions. 

For anyone presented with an interruption study (particularly those showing extremely high negative impact by interruptions) it provides a firetest of the study’s assumptions.  These models can be run through the methodology of the study to see how accurately it would count the net closed-loop benefit.  I’ll post more on this later.




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    1. […] 1:37 pm | In Attention Management, User experience, interruption science | Yesterday I posted up a set of interruption models.  I mentioned in that post that I’d write another entry on how they can be used to test […]

    2. […] one wins when the other loses.  Almost every possible model I can think of for interruptions (see interruption patterns) results in one of the parties involved losing on the deal, so pretty much every interruption will […]

    3. […] and the intractability of the problem.  I’ve said many of the interruptions fall into models that are either a net positive for the organization with closed-loop analysis, required by social […]

    4. […] shake-you-to-your-senses statistics on time wasted, money wasted, brains harmfully rewired, and interruptions run amok.  I’ve commented on all this before (select the link in the previous sentence to your […]

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