Even Short Interruptions Have Negative Effects On Performance


Closing out the interruptions isn't easy: image via learnthis.caClosing out the interruptions isn't easy: image via learnthis.caIf your job is task oriented, demanding your concentration, you had better turn off your cell phones, pagers, email, and buzzers, and hang a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your locked door.  Why?  Even a 3 second interruption in your work can double your chances of making an error.

This study, led by researchers at Michigan State University and funded by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, is one of the first to focus on the effects of short interruptions on relatively difficult tasks. Participants were asked to perform a series of tasks requiring concentration, such as indicating whether particular letters presented in sequence were closer to the beginning or the end of the alphabet. There were some mistakes made in the sequencing even without interruptions, but when the interruptions intervened for a mere 2.8 seconds, the error rate doubled.

The reason, according to Associate Professor of Psychology Erik Altman, lead researcher for the study, "is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought."

"What this means is that our health and safety is, on some level, contingent on whether the people looking after it have been interrupted," Altman said. " ... ensuing errors can be disastrous for professionals such as airplane mechanics and emergency room doctors."

Come to think of it, don't we all work better without these interruptions? Try working for at least a few hours a day without them. You'll perform better; guarenteed.

sources: MedXpress, APA Psycnet.