You would think that as a 45 year old I would be pretty efficient and organised. I am not. I have attention deficit disorder. Or rather I don’t. But I get distracted. And often by myself. A thought will come into my head, interrupt what I am working on and then away I go. Or I need to find some information and before I knew it I would have wasted an hour on Facebook.

I am working on it though. Today I wanted to talk about interruptions and some ideas of how  to avoid them – or at least try to!

Interruption Studies

There have been many studies about interruptions. This one by Professor Gloria Mark and her team is pretty extensive.

In an interview with Gallup’s Business Journal, Professor Mark shares some of her findings:

  • The average time spent on a single event was three minutes and 5 seconds.
  • Participants spent on average 12 minutes and 18 seconds on one working sphere (A cluster of related to the same task events) before switching to another.
  • 44% of the time people were interrupting themselves
  • 82% of interrupted tasks where returned to on the same day
  • It takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to a task after an interruption.

You can download the full study here.

Mary Czerwinski of Microsoft has also come up with some fascinating research including:

  • When a task is interrupted it will take twice the time and have twice the errors of one that is not interrupted.
  • The average computer users has eight different windows open at the same time; emails, webpages, documents etc.  Staggeringly those monitored would spend barely 20 seconds on one window before switching to another.

From what I have read we are being sucked into an attention deficit vortex. It may well have always been there, but it is getting worse. The pings of social media and the delights of reality tv are destroying us.

pings of social media

So what can we do about interruptions?

These are some of my ideas and I would love to hear yours in the comments.

Use a routine to beat distraction

Start the day off with a routine. I did this at the end of last year/beginning of this one for 51 days before stopping after an unexpected trip. It is amazing how much having a set routine helps me avoid distractions. When I first started it it would take me the best part of an entire day to get through my morning routine! Now I do it in less than 2 hours.

I am now working on ending my day with a routine as well. I will report back on that later!

Tracking where you spend time is important.

You can track manually. I do this with my blog posts now. At the end I record some metrics which are interesting to me. These are how long I spend writing and the time spent since starting to write. On some occasions I have been horrified to note that several hours have gone by between starting and finishing. Even during this post when doing some research I have allowed myself to get pulled away. I am getting better though.

Software like Rescue Time is also useful. This tracks where you are spending your computer time and sends a weekly report.

Make it hard to get distracted.

For a long time Facebook was a major distraction for me.  So I started using a Chrome Extension called news feed eradicator. This means when I use Facebook my news feed is blocked. So I only ever see the newsfeed now if I am using my mobile phone. That helped, but it wasn’t enough.

So I now use an app called Cold Turkey. It is Windows only but I know that there are good Apple ones too. It is great. I can use it to block my usage of Facebook and any other websites that waste my time for the times I set. I choose from 6 am until 6.30pm.

I can still use my mobile phone if I want a quick fix! However I now leave it in another room so I have to go and get it.

Checking Email

Try and avoid doing it as much as you can. I try to only look after my morning routine, again at lunch and then before I finish for the day. My inbox is now emptied before I leave. That also helps!

So those are just a few ideas. I would love to hear yours. Please comment below.

Time spent writing: 45 minutes
Time from start to finish: 2 hours – 1 hour research, 1 hour distracted!
Time editing – 5 minutes
How Happy with result: 6