Measuring Interruption - InformationWeek
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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.

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