The 5 negatives of interruptions during work

Getting interrupted whilst working or managing a project can be annoying.

However, recent research suggests the negative effects can be a lot worse.

In 2013, Erik Altmann and Zach Hambrick of Michigan State University and Gregory Trafton of the US Naval Research Laboratory found that brief interruptions, even as low as 2.8 seconds resulted in doubling the error rate of work performed.

More recently, Gloria Mark from the University of California together with Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke from Humboldt University, Berlin concluded that interruptions had other more far reaching consequences.

These included increased effort and time pressure to perform the task, higher frustration and most importantly more stress.

People also compensate for interruptions by working faster to complete the project.

Interestingly, where the interruption was related to the project, there were benefits from the interruption to the work performed. However, if it was unrelated there were disruptive effects.

Most notably, the time taken to return to the project was significant. 18 per cent of all interrupted work was not resumed on the same day – meaning almost one in five projects were abandoned if there was an interruption.

Finally, Gloria Mark found that it took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand.

So avoid unrelated interruptions to reduce errors, effort, time-pressure, frustration, stress, and ensure you finish your project.

Gloria Mark’s research can be downloaded as a PDF here | Photo: Robert Servais