Just how long does it take you to regain focus after an interruption?

I confess.  I do remember, once, that when an email arrived, I stopped what I was doing to look at it.  (I may have conveniently forgotten the 11,999 other occasions over the past 15 years when I’ve done the same thing.)

A friend of mine discovered that when he needs to work on a specific project, or to respond to a large number of emails, that it is more effective to drive 15 minutes home from work, work uninterrupted for an hour, then drive back to the office – because interruptions are such an issue in his workplace.

An interesting study conducted by Gloria Mark associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading expert on work found that it took 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to your task following an interruption.

Constantly checking for emails, or following a lengthy chain as colleagues bounce emails between themselves (cc Everyone and their siblings) is a real drain on concentration and productive use of time.

In previous blog blog  Talking Talks Volumes I advocated picking up the phone (or even walking to someone else’s desk).  A key reason for reducing an email chain to a productive 10 – or even 20 – minute conversation is not only the time saved (after all, most of us can talk much faster than we can type), but the loss of say 2 hours of targetted productivity that a chain of five emails may cost you.

Some simple tips. Take ownership:

  • Turn off the notifications that appear on your monitor as each new email arrives.
  • Switch your email programme (eg Microsoft Outlook) to Work Offline for an hour at a time.
  • Change your working culture. Pick up the phone more often.  Visit someone else’s desk to talk face to face.