Interruptions At Work Are Killing Your Productivity

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

If you’re like most people, you get interrupted way too much at work. Over the past two months, more than 6,000 people have taken the online quiz “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” As I’ve been analyzing the results, one of the most striking findings has been just how many people suffer from interruptions throughout their workday. In the chart below you can see that 71% of people report frequent interruptions when they’re working. Meanwhile, only 29% say that they can block out everything else while working.

Of course, in some jobs, interruptions aren’t really interruptions. If you’re a nurse in an Emergency Room, your daily routine will involve people calling your name with one "emergency" after another. But for the rest of us, frequent interruptions can absolutely ruin our productivity.

I dug deeper into the data from the online test and discovered that interruptions really impact peoples’ sense of accomplishment. For example, as you can see in the chart below, when people get interrupted frequently, there’s only a 44% chance that they’ll leave feeling like "today was a really successful day." By contrast, when people can block out interruptions at work, there’s a 67% chance they’ll leave feeling like "today was a really successful day." That’s a huge change in accomplishment just based on whether we get interrupted frequently or we can block out interruptions.


Now, let’s be realistic; it’s likely that you can’t block out every interruption during the course of a day. And frankly, there are probably going to be times when you want employees and colleagues to feel like they have quick and easy access to you. But that shouldn’t be all day long.

Have you ever had the experience of working at your local coffee shop for an hour and during that 1 hour you accomplished more than you would with 8 hours in the office? Almost everyone has had those pockets of intense productivity. One of the primary drivers of our success during that 1-hour in the coffee shop is that we avoided interruptions.

When you’re trying to do deep thinking work (e.g. writing that big report, completing performance reviews or sales projections, creating the new presentation, etc.) it’s nearly impossible to maintain a cogent train-of-thought when you’re getting bombarded with interruptions.

Let’s imagine that it takes 10 minutes to really get your mind engaged on writing that report; collecting your thoughts, clearing your head, etc. And then, let’s say that you’re only able to write for 10 minutes before you get interrupted by an employee. So you stand up, deal with the issue, and then sit back down to start work again. Because you’ve lost your creative train-of-thought, you now have to go through that 10 minute ‘start up’ time before you can return to your writing.

Before you know it, a measly three interruptions per hour could cost you half-an-hour in wasted time. So instead of your report taking one hour to write at a coffee shop, it’s now going to consume at least two hours of your time in the office.


Now, don’t take this article as a pitch for local coffee shops (although I do love them). Rather, take this as a plea for you to block out a few times during your workday to limit interruptions. First, turn off your email for an hour. If your application is open, even if it’s just running in the background, you will likely feel the temptation to check it. And that’s not good. Second, put your phone away, somewhere away from your desk. Third, if you have an office, close your door. If you don’t have an office, go to the break room or cafeteria or wherever. The point is to create a physical barrier or distance that makes it more difficult for your employees to track you down and interrupt you.

Finally, and this is the most important tip, you need to tell your employees that the next hour is to be free of interruptions. If there’s a fire, let yourself get interrupted. But otherwise, your employees should know to hold all their questions, requests, roadblocks, etc. until the hour is up. Not only will this block of time give you the opportunity to do some deep thinking, but because it’s only an hour, it will put a little extra pressure on you to think and write faster. And that will absolutely improve your work.

Depending on your company’s calendar setup, I often counsel leaders to literally put a block on their calendars when they’re going to enter creative time. When your schedule is completely open for others to edit, you’re at the mercy of your employees and colleagues. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have an uninterrupted hour, but the odds aren’t good. So take control of your schedule, remove yourself from interruptions, and go knock-out that big report.

Mark Murphy is the New York Times bestselling author of Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give It Their All, and They'll Give You Even More


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Posted by Mark Murphy on 12 December, 2016 Forbes, Research, Time Management | 0 comments
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