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Distractible Me

I was listening to the podcast Note to Self and the guest quoted an interesting statistic: it takes on average 23 minutes to ramp back up to full productivity when we’ve been distracted from a task.

I Googled the stat, and then realized the study itself was linked to on the podcast page. (That’s what I get for being so distracted.)

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task.

What I found interesting in the study is that the quality of the work didn’t suffer. (I would beg to differ — I can tell the difference between something I wrote when email was minimized and something I wrote when I was glancing back and forth between the article and the email tab on the screen.)  It was just that our stress levels were different.  We became agitated and frustrated by work when we kept being pulled out of the moment.

The best panel I went to at BlogHer ’15 was led by Sam Horn and Danielle Faust, and it was about productivity and staying focused.  If you click on that link, you can hear the whole talk, but Googling around, I found an article that covered at least Sam Horn’s portion of the talk.  I’ve been using her techniques, especially the U (hands as blinders approach).  I combine it with staring at the Do Nothing app.  (I have the old version of that app which seems better?)  And I have been less distracted.  At least until the phone rings or someone texts me or Truman starts wheeking for a cookie.

23 minutes.  That’s a lot of time, right?


1 Charlotte { 09.09.15 at 8:42 am }

That IS a lot of time. I totally believe it though. I know how I am always running around my house trying to complete a million tasks at once, and if a kid stops me to ask something, or if I see something else to do when going from room to room and I stop to pick up that one thing…I end up wandering around for probably 20 minutes trying to remember what I was actually trying to do when I first started. So…yeah.
At work I have a different kind of job, and due to the urgent nature of the work, it is rather hard to get distracted off task.
But at home…forget it. I am a scatterbrained mess.

2 nonsequiturchica { 09.09.15 at 10:16 am }

I could totally see that but 23 minutes is a lot of time! Good to know for work purposes. I multi-task (or try to) way too much and get distracted way too easily from what I am doing.

3 SuzannaCatherine { 09.09.15 at 11:14 am }

The issue I struggle with most is focus. I am so easily distracted. I know this about myself and yet I slip into the same patterns on a daily basis. Sometimes all I need to do is clean up the kitchen, but the focus eludes me. I will definitely check out the link you put up about productivity. Thanks for again sharing just what I needed to know, when I needed it most. ?

4 Peg { 09.09.15 at 11:35 am }

Currently using hand blinders to keep me on task at work–of course I just stopped to let you know but at least trying right?

P.s, epic collapse by our boys last night!! Ugh! Making me regret my high stepping to mets fans on metro monday

5 Justine { 09.09.15 at 1:09 pm }

Wow. 23 minutes? So I guess I’m not going to be too productive this afternoon, huh?

6 Northern Star { 09.09.15 at 11:29 pm }


7 Mali { 09.10.15 at 12:13 am }

I’ve just finished one thing, and needed to start another, but here I am reading you, and discovering it is going to take me 23 minutes to recover and focus! Argh!

Off to see if the 23 minutes applied …

8 deathstar { 09.10.15 at 11:05 am }

If I’m memorizing lines for an audition, I find it quite helpful to be doing something else, like walking the dog or cleaning the house. However, if I’m actually transcribing, well, I interrupt myself every 10 minutes or so I can stretch or watch a video on Facebook cause it’s so darn boring. At best I can only do 20 minutes but if I’m at a workplace, I can work for 2 hours solid.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.10.15 at 1:36 pm }

Wow. I would have guessed closer to 23 seconds and thought THAT was high.

I need to get back to lesson planning. Thanks for the diversion. Hi, Truman!

10 loribeth { 09.10.15 at 10:10 pm }

It IS a lot of time. And I struggled with staying focused when I was working. It was so easy to get distracted, not just by emails popping up or the temptations of the Internet, or people stopping by my office to ask a question. Towards the end, I was surrounded by a bunch of younger employees who seemed to gravitate to the area just outside my cubicle to chat & giggle every morning. And then there would be coffee break, and lunch, and another coffee break, and meetings, and phone calls, and after each one, I’d have to go back to my desk and get settled in and pick up the thread of what I’d been doing all over again. There were days when I’d have a to-do list and absolutely nothing on it would get done because of all the distractions & interruptions. I always said that the odd times when I worked from home, I could get more work done in 4 hours than I could in 8 at the office, just because it was so much quieter. (Not sure I could sustain that if I worked from home full time — but as an occasional thing, it was great!)

11 torthuil { 09.10.15 at 11:22 pm }

Ugh, this is the story of my life at work. I don’t know any way to fix it (I can’t really hide) so I just have to make peace with it. But it is frustrating when the to do/not done list never seems to get smaller.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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