The Science Behind Task Interruption and Time Management

Halvor Gregusson

How many times do you get interrupted every day at work?  Whether it’s a big crisis or a simple relaxation break, chances are you don’t even realize how much time you’re losing to those interruptions.  Interestingly, Dr. Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, found that average information workers are interrupted every three minutes – nearly twenty times per hour!

Granted, many of those interruptions are miniscule and take just minutes of our time, but the sheer number of them points to a costly problem.  According to the same study referenced earlier, bigger and more important interruptions occur roughly four times per hour.

What’s worse, every one of those interruptions functions as a forced shift in gears.  Workflow is jarred and employees have to take time to “get back into the groove.”  How much time?  On average, 23 minutes.  That means, over the course of a day, the four “important” interruptions we face every hour can displace more than an hour’s worth of work!

Research shows that “when you’re interrupted, you don’t immediately go back to the task you were doing before you were interrupted.”  In fact, workers tend to take on two additional tasks in between the interruption and returning to whatever it was they were doing before.  Corroborating findings from Microsoft’s corporate office show that happens 40% of the time.

The overall time and cost consequences of an interruption depends on the original task’s complexity:  the more complex the task, the higher the cost. 

Where Do These Interruptions Come From?

You might be tempted to blame email, text messages, IMs and even other employees for the lion’s share of these costly interruptions – and you’d be right… but just barely.  While email was one of the biggest time killers (accounting for 23% of all distractions, according to Microsoft), Dr. Mark found that 44% of the time, the workers surveyed interrupted themselves.  They simply moved on to other tasks, whether the first one was finished or not.

The majority of the non-self-instigated interruptions come from electronic “notifications” (either email, IM or phone messages); the remainder are person-to-person or face-to-face in nature.  While in-person interruptions are in the minority, they tend to last longer and leave employees with a larger interruption-related workload (as in, the department chief dropping off a pile of expense reports to be completed).

And, unfortunately, we never procrastinate when it would do us good, as 73% of interruptions are generally handled immediately – whether they need to be or not.  Workers seem to get distracted by the interruptions and tend to finish the task created by the interruption, rather than continuing on point with what they were doing in the first place.

“The good news is,” Dr. Mark says, “that most interrupted work was resumed on the same day – 81.9 percent.”  But if the good news isn’t really that good – nearly 18% of tasks are pushed back to the next day – how good can the bad news be?

Intangible Costs of Interruptions

If you multiply the 23 minutes per major interruption times 4 interruptions per hour, you’re looking at over an hour of interruptions per hour of work.  So how is anything actually getting done?  Shouldn’t employees simply be hopping from one interruption to the next?

In a sense they do… and still manage to get things done by the end of the day.  How is that possible?

Another study by Dr. Mark shows that, in an effort to make up for distractions, individuals try to worker harder and faster at the expense of personal wellbeing and – to some extent – the quality of their work.  Trying to do the same amount of work in less time, while still dealing with distractions, gives rise to:

  • Increased stress levels
  • Increased feelings of frustration
  • Increased effort (or at least perceived effort)

In short, all these distractions make work harder and less enjoyable for the people doing it.  This leads to cut corners, worker apathy and the use of slap-dash tactics that leave the final product less than perfect.

Balance all of that on top of the financial cost (estimated at $588 billion every year nationwide) and you can see we, as a workforce have a serious problem with interruptions.

What Can You Do to Cut the Cost of Interruptions?

Simply avoiding interruptions isn’t going to work – they find you, wherever you are…  Of course, closing the door and shutting off the email client will make a major difference, but these actions won’t solve the problem entirely.  Remember, 44% of interruptions are created by worker themselves.

Perhaps learning better time management skills is the best way to deal with these distractions.  The first step is knowing exactly how you and your employees are spending time.  Task tracking (made easy through low-cost applications like Yast) can help you immediately spot your business’s biggest time wasters.  Spend a day tracking your time and you might be surprised to find out how much time you waste responding to daily distractions!

Research by CubeSmart found that, generally, 26% of interruptions were classified as “organizational issues.” With that in mind, schedule yourself a little time each morning to put a plan in place.  Having your day plotted before it ever really begins can help you to avoid interruptions by honing in on the tasks that are most important.

Finally, prioritize your tasks in order to get your biggest projects done first.  This will help you to retain your focus in the face of constant interruptions.  Ultimately, knowing what you should be working on and learning to put nonessential tasks off until you’re finished with what you’re doing will save you tons of time in the long run.


TrackBack URI

  • gold says: 

    Ahaa, its good conversation on the topic of this piece of writing here
    at this weblog, I have read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.

  • says: 

    Thank you for some other informative site. The place
    else may I am getting that kind of info written in such an ideal approach?
    I’ve a mission that I am simply now working on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

  • says: 

    I simply could not go away your web site
    prior to suggesting that I really loved the usual information a
    person supply for your visitors? Is gonna be again continuously in order to inspect new posts

  • ps4 specs says: 

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually bought me breakfast simply because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this matter here on your website.

  • accutane says: 

    I am now not sure the place you are getting your info, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time studying much more or working
    out more. Thank you for magnificent info I used to be looking for this information
    for my mission.

  • says: 

    What’s up, every time i used to check webpage posts here in the early hours in the daylight, for the reason that i love to find out more and more.

  • spilleautomater på nett says: 

    Har ikke noe imot seg til det annerledes skulle v

  • Xanax says: 

    Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website?
    I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with
    hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  • Cialis online says: 

    Wow, this piece of writing is nice, my younger sister is analyzing such things,
    thus I am going to inform her.

  • Oscar Papp says: 

    Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is great, let alone the content!. Thanks For Your article about The Science Behind Task Interruption and Time Management .

  • Dan says: 

    Great tips.
    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    Gtdagenda .com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  • Iesha says: 

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a cokment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is therde any way yyou can remove me from that service? Thank you!

  • zylo slim fast optima says: 

    Awesome issues here. I’m very happy to peer your article.
    Thank you a lot and I am looking forward to touch you.
    Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  • Armanda Dudden says: 

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is magnificent, let alone the content!. Thanks For Your article about The Science Behind Task Interruption and Time Management .

  • Lewis Lafleche says: 

    Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about The Science Behind Task Interruption and Time Management .

  • Janine says: 

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way
    of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got
    an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Buy Celestron Telescope says: 

    I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  • 激安 アウトレット says: 

    Howdy! I simply would like to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent information
    you have got here on this post. I am returning to your site
    for more soon.

  • brooklyn locksmith avenue n says: 

    Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering
    if you get a lot of spam feedback? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very
    much appreciated.

  • web site says: 

    Heya i’m for the primary time here. I came across this
    board and I in finding It really helpful & it helped me out a lot.
    I’m hoping to give something again aand aid others like you helped me.

  • butch femme says: 

    What’s up everyone, it’s my first pay a visit
    at this website, and post is genuinely fruitful for me, keep up posting these types of posts.

  • stem cell hair regrowth says: 

    Heya i am for the first time here. I fopund this board and
    I find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to present somwthing back and aid others
    like you aided me.

  • says: 

    I read this article completely regarding the resemblance of most up-to-date and earlier technologies, it’s remarkable article.

  • sport psychology consultants says: 

    My programmer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of
    the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on several websites for about a
    year and am worried about switching to another platform.
    I have heard excellent things about Is there a
    way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Counter Strike Global Offensive Key Generaotr says: 

    Wonderful beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a blog site?

    The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted
    of this your broadcast offered bright clear idea

  • electronic cigarettes drugs says: 

    Very goood article. I will be going through a few off these issues
    as well..

  • do love spells actually work says: 

    This is simple in theory, buut again, many guys have a hard time of
    it. It has been noticed and observed that the
    love spells in America are getting a lot of attention and notice day by day.
    In America, the love spells are of immnense and highly importance.

  • foot cream says: 

    scholl express pedi price comparison

    Scholl Express Pedi hard skin remover leaves the skin feeling gentle and smooth from the first use.
    This system is exclusively produced to empower the specialist removing of
    tough pores and skin from the toes, right in comfort and ease of your very own home.

    The epidermis on the toes was created to endure the daily strain of having walks and standing
    up. Sometimes ongoing tension or rubbing from bad fitting shoes
    may possibly trigger tough skin to develop.
    Foot treatment for healthy feet is significant; after all, they are with you for the lifetime.

    Beautifully and ergonomically created, the Scholl Express Pedi
    special roller surface is likely to make it easy to efficiently eliminate unattractive and
    often unpleasant genuinely tough skin safely.

    Tiny microgranuals inlayed in on the Scholl Express Pedi roller,
    very carefully buff aside tough skin, with out resorting to blades.

    To gain your own personal professional-style
    home pedicure, simply roll over the affected area with medium to gentle pressure motions; just replicate often for sleek and comfortable sensation toes.
    In addition, the Scholl Express Pedi is protected
    by the use of a two year gaurantee promise, and provided are 2x AA batteries so you could get to work getting rid of useless skin
    cells quickly.

    For stunning, silky-soft pores and skin have a peek at
    Scholl Express Pedi to revitalise your toes. The revolving head
    will get rid of unwelcome, dry skin from toes speedily,
    as a result of mineral micro-grains inlayed inside the head of the product.

    The Scholl Express Pedi is totally risk-free to use. There aren’t any sharp edges
    or blades and it comes total with a safety stop button.

    The Scholl Express Pedi is an all round professional skin
    treatment device. It is so simple to use, brings about no discomfort and aids
    you receive the specified benefits of the best pedicure.
    For hygeine purposes, antimicrobial therapy destroys germs present on
    the roller head.

  • Royal Square at Novena singapore says: 

    Amazing blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on
    everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?

    There are so many options out there that I’m totally confused ..
    Any recommendations? Thanks!

  • clash of clans cheats gem hack says: 

    Since the admin of this website is working, no question very quickly it will be famous, due to its feature contents.

  • auguri di natale divertenti says: 

    Questa tecnica è abbastanza semplice per permettere ai bambini di essere coinvolti nel
    fare loro e loro sembrano grandi che coprono un albero . Ecco
    i Top Ten regali di Natale per le donne , si può tirare
    alcune idee fuori di questa lista per il tuo shopping
    di Natale . Barack Obama e la sua famiglia, compresa la moglie
    Michelle Obama e le figlie Sasha e Malia Obama presentarsi a Washington per l’ illuminazione di 90 ° del Bianco casa nazionale Albero di
    Natale sulla Ellisse Giovedi sera ( 6 dicembre 2102 )

  • call of duty games says: 

    These advanced perks will enhance your character with new and more improved rewards than the simple perks have to offer.
    In this game you can go to the arena and see the popular announcers and commentators, referees
    and trainers as if you are in the arena. If you buy ps3 games to play soccer games
    then go for EA sports FIFA 10 game.

  • live video cambio live live chat with mindless behavior says: 

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn.
    This is an extrrmely well written article. I will make
    sure to bookmark it and return to read ore of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely comeback.

  • Empower Network UK says: 

    Howdy! This article couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He constantly kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this
    information to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  • The Skywoods developer says: 

    My spouse and I stumbled over here different website and thought I might check things out.
    I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to
    exploring your web page for a second time.

  • Knights & Dragons Hack says: 

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to
    your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  • homepage says: 

    The laser is specialized to target the pigment of the skin to
    effectively remove the tattoo. There is the whole list of health insurance companies from which you can choose a company that can provide you an insurance
    plan that suits you best. I think it would be
    unfair to the writer of Cold Sore Free Forever
    to disclose their method but it is simple to understand and easy to
    do and it works.

  • wifi hack for android says: 

    Since its unlocked, MF60 3G Router could support more operators all over the world and enables you to communicate
    anytime and anywhere. Some users also reported
    that the system freezes too often. Although not the most upscale designed, the Creative Zen comes at a great price and incorporates useful features.

  • kursy dla bezrobotnych says: 

    I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or weblog posts on this sort of house .
    Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this web site.
    Reading this information So i am happy to show that I’ve
    an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered just
    what I needed. I so much for sure will make sure to do not forget this site and
    provides it a look on a continuing basis.

  • Www.Youtube.Com says: 

    I’m not sure exactly why but this web site is loading very slow for
    me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end?

    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  • Youtube Mp4 Converter says: 

    all the time i used to read smaller posts which also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this piece of writing which I am
    reading at this place.

  • youtube To Mp3 says: 

    I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everybody else encountering problems with your site.
    It appears as if some of the written text on your posts
    are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment and let
    me know if this is happening to them as well? This
    may be a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen before.

  • youtube to mp4 says: 

    Useful information. Fortunate me I discovered your website by chance,
    and I am surprised why this coincidence did not took place earlier!
    I bookmarked it.

  • You Tube Downloader says: 

    Great blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m
    a little lost on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?

    There are so many options out there that
    I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any tips? Thanks!

  • you tube converter says: 

    Wow, that’s what I was looking for, what a information!
    existing here at this webpage, thanks admin of this site.

  • youtube downloader mp4 download youtube says: 

    Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive
    a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views.

    I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  • Photography Tips and Tricks says:  (@photographtechs)

    I think MF60 3G Router could support more operators all over the world and enables you to communicate anytime and anywhere.

  • Markets & Spencer says: 

    To better educate people and increase sales for farmers, vendors and consumers.
    What do you markets 7th april think it can last?

    Web hosting is just one driver in the expansion of English language throughout the world.
    The price difference between various real estate markets
    come in the service sector fell to a three week low of 1.
    Beijing: It is one of the wealthiest in the
    region. These include markets 7th april the utilisation of CFDs.

  • get free youtube views says: 

    I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written! In order
    to get free youtube views to your youtube bank account, there are various quite effective ways.

    get more views on youtube Cheap and Secure for youtube account.

  • beginner piano lessons online fast says: 

    hi!,I really like your writing very much! share we keep up a correspondence extra about your post on AOL?

    I require an expert on this space to unravel my problem. Maybe that is
    you! Having a look ahead to look you.

  • commercial property for sale says: 

    Thankfulness to my father who shared with me regarding this weblog, this blog is in fact awesome.

  • says: 

    Do you have a spam problem on this blog; I also am a
    blogger, and I was wanting to know your situation; many
    of us have created some nice procedures and we are looking
    to swap techniques with others, please shoot me an email if interested.

  • Luke Bryan Ticket says: 

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this brilliant blog!
    I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.

    I look forward to brand new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.

    Talk soon!

  • youtube views says: 

    I always emailed this webpage post page to all my associates,
    because if like to read it next my friends will too.

    youtube account, youtube views, drive more moreattract views in youtube
    youtube views free 5k Top quality enthusiasts For Only
    $29. nine Help save.
    it is possible to buy real youtube views, youtube subscribers/views and Metacafe sights and also



Yast is a software company that builds easy-to-use, but powerful software. It's easy to make things complex; it’s incredibly hard to make things easy.

Read More …

Some Yast loving

Yast has to be the easiest to use time tracker, period. Keep up the great work! Glenn Murray - Divine Write

Read more love...