02:11 PM

Measuring Interruption

There has been lot of discussion about how technology impacts work.  I myself am guilty of contributing to the literature on this subject quite extensively, especially in our recent report, The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity, in which we estimate the cost of unnecessary interruptions and recovery time at $588 billion p.a.

So, in the interest of science I decided to commence a short-term examination of how I spend my time, in this case one day, and how often I am interrupted.  This week I've been working from home following a (relatively minor) kidney stone surgery, so my routine is a little different but one never knows what the day will bring.  Here's how I logged my day.

08:30 - 09:00  Read e-mail and scan newspaper headlines - number of interruptions: 0
09:00 - 09:15  Review upcoming travel schedules - number of interruptions: 0
09:15 - 09:30  Make green tea for sustenance - number of interruptions: 0
09:30 - 10:15  Read industry news releases - number of interruptions: 4 (assistant notifies me of overnight letter; two phone calls asking how I am post-surgery; one IM from a colleague)
10:15 - 10:45  Review colleague's revisions to an industry survey - number of interruptions: 1 (telephone call)
10:45 - 11:15  Various internal conversations via telephone and IM - number of interruptions: everything was an interruption
11:15 - 11:45  Conduct interview of vendor for forthcoming article - number of interruptions: 0
11:45 - noon   Preparation for meeting - number of interruptions: 1 (IM from west coast colleague)
Noon  - 13:00  Meeting with colleague re our InfoAge conference - number of interruptions: 2 (both non-business related phone calls)
13:00 - 13:10  Break (make more green tea)
13:10 - 13:30  Attend internal conf. re practice development issues - number of interruptions: 0
13:30 - 14:30  Attend meeting with client - number of interruptions: 0 (was in "do not disturb mode" for IM and phone)
14:30 - 15:00  Read new e-mail during my lunch minute - number of interruptions: too numerous to count
15:00 - 16:00  Attend client meeting - number of interruptions: 0 (was in "do not disturb mode" for IM and phone)
16:00 - 17:00  Attempt to get Bluetooth to work on new laptop without success.  Make fresh green tea - number of interruptions: 3, none significant
17:00 - 18:00  One-on-one call with client - number of interruptions: 0 (was in "do not disturb mode" for IM and phone)
18:00 - 19:00  Scheduled call doesn't take place.  Decide to watch today's news on German cable to catch up (change of media helps) - number of interruptions: 1 (colleague trying to set up time to meet with me later today)
19:00 - 19:30  Internal conf. with analyst re industry survey - number of interruptions: 0
19:30 - 19:45  Review editorial plan for Basex:TechWatch for this week - number of interruptions: 0
19:45 - 20:45  Dinner - number of interruptions: 0  (first time no phone calls during dinner in a long time)
20:45 - ...    Write my column - number of interruptions: 0

Today was actually unusual in many respects.  Most activities took place in very compartmentalized blocks of time, as contrasted with what is often a more chaotic, ad hoc schedule.  I took control of my environment by changing my state to Do Not Disturb when appropriate.  This significantly reduced the number of interruptions that could occur; since I was working at home, the chances of a colleague walking into my office were also greatly reduced.

There was only one interruption that truly interrupted my flow (at 10:15), and it did take me about 10 minutes to regroup and and come back up to speed.

I'll document a few more days and discuss this in upcoming columns.  Meanwhile, I'd be interested in hearing how you spend your day and how often you are interrupted.  E-mail me ( and let me know what your day looks like.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Elite 100 Digital Issue, April 2015
The 27th annual ranking of the leading US users of business technology
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of April 19, 2015.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.