Sorry I Got Distracted

I’ve long recognized that the continous web access and the couple of hundred e-mails each day come at a certain cost. We face so much stimulation from communications that require an instant response that regular work gets constantly interrupted.

Interesting stories prompted by Tim Dowling’s account of the distractions in today’s Guardian – Leave me alone . . .

The Information Age was supposed to provide humanity with access to endless streams of information, carefully organized and readily available to anyone with a computer and a bit of know-how. But how are you supposed to take advantage of such bountiful excess when you’re forced to deal with a constant stream of pop-up ads you can’t get rid of, “informational” e-mails you didn’t ask for, and other newfangled distractions? It’s a serious matter, according to researchers who have been studying worker productivity, and the unceasing interruptions are having a profound impact on our ability to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

The New ScientistSorry no link since the NS put this on its subscription only part of the website. lead story this week led me to the Bren School of Information and Computer Science, University of California, Irvine, where researchers have actually been examining how we work, with all these distractions.

No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work by Gloria Mark and her colleagues left me depressed, but not feeling alone. A less academic account can be found in an interview with Dr. Mark – Too Many Interruptions at Work?

Now, I must get back to work.

But let me leave you with the New Scientist’s tips:

Quiet, please: Seven ways to cut distraction

· Put up a clear Do Not Disturb sign, or an obvious signal that you are busy. Insist that your colleagues respect it.

· Rearrange your office furniture so that your desk faces away from the flow of people, so no one can catch your eye.

· Always stand up to talk to someone who is interupting you, so they know what they’re doing.

· Put a big clock in plain view of visitors and check it while you are talking.

· Be prepared: if an interruption is likely to take longer than two minutes, add it to your to-do list and go back to what you were already doing.

· Keep a notebook open and write down what you are doing as soon as you are interrupted.

· Cutting 2cm off the front legs of a chair makes it just uncomfortable enough to keep visits short.


  1. I interrupted my work to read this post….and it was well worth it! Thank you, Simon. I am constantly struggling with work flow and trying not to let things fall through the cracks. And these last seven tips are great. I have already done a few of these, and will implement some of the others. People get annoyed that I write everything down in my notebook while they talk to me. One person in my office calls it the “Connie doomsday book”. Well, woe is the person whose request does not get recorded!

  2. A similar article ran in the Harvard Business Review in January 2005 (or so) – here’s the Computerworld interview:,10801,98770,00.html?SKC=home98770 (the article is available for download for a fee from the source.)

    The author talks of attention deficit trait (rather than disorder, in which he is an expert too) and how it traps busy professionals. He also has some hints for fighting back, including interacting with a real human being whom you like, every 4 to 6 hours! Here is the ‘fighting back’ list.

  3. Thanks John. Obviously we distracted you too, and we’re grateful for your attention.

  4. Okay, I admit it. I interrupted my work to read this post AND the interview with Dr. Mark. Now I know why I have that ‘what the heck did I accomplish today?’ feeling on some days. As I write this, I’ve noticed that I have about 6 tabs open so I can read some of the new articles posted on LLRX (thanks for letting us know about this on the CALL listserv, Connie! I just subscribed to receive their newsletter). I certainly have enough reading to distract myself throughout the day.

    Attention deficit trait, eh? Sounds about right…