Most of the people never focus on the fact that their is a difference between a task which is performed when a person is in focused environment & task which is performed in an distracted environment. It’s a fact, that when someone is distracted while they are working will actually lead to 50% longer finish time & has chances of 50% more mistakes then in a task which is uninterrupted one and done completely without any kind of distraction.
Our brain takes a while to get us into a true “zen” like focused state at work. This state is when you feel fully concentrated with your mind on a particular task without having any feeling of being overwhelmed & feel highly focused into the work you take upon. Once anyone gets into such state of mind, they enter a very productive work-flow (UNTIL, someone else don’t distract them again)
Now, ofcourse even while we are in this focused state of mind, our mind is very sensitive to disruption from any external input. For example, interruptions such as switching to a different task, thinking about any thoughts which are unrelated with the present task in hand — erase and scramble much of your previously loaded & nicely optimized brain state that you felt before. And most crucially an environment which is full of frequent interruptions can actually make it impossible for you to ever fully getting into the state of flow.
Whenever someone is distracted, it takes approximately 23 minutes to get back into the original state of work, additionally it can take upto 30 minutes to return fully into a state where they can fully feel productive once again. Nearly half of the time someone gets distracted, we actually get them away from the task in hand completely, such that the next person won’t come back to work on the same task again even if the distraction is now ended. Ofcourse, we might think that we are simply pausing the next person from there tasks for a minute or may be two, but the actual amount may be larger then that.
The person distracted will have 80% chance of returning to the same task again the very same day, but 1 out of 5 times you distract someone, they’ll actually be caused to stop that task for the entire day.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been distracted by someone? Did you take a break because of that distraction and made excuses with yourself to go to bathroom now, or may be check email, or may be go and have dinner, etc?
How many times this would have happened that a co-worker, family or friends started of with a very small & easy question. But, it turned out to be a lengthy discussion? These are few of the common examples, which is most common to today’s knowledge workers. A minor distraction can derail your complete focus which will take hours to get back into the same state where you can actually complete your ORIGINAL task, that’s as if you actually get back to the task, very same day.
Do you know whenever you are in a habit of switching yourself from one task to another, you actually increase your chance of increasing your stress levels vs. when you are single minded on a particular project. So, not only does distraction hamper our productivity, but it also damages our health.
Imagine the cost society has to pay over a long term as whole. One estimate puts the cost of workplace distraction at $588 billion per year in lost productivity for the U.S. economy alone. What’s it going to be for the world? I would still count it as totally underestimate since this only factors one part of the story. Imagine the rippling effect of distraction will be including missed opportunities, costly mistakes, amount of lost sales, increasing no. of layoffs, businesses which go down, reduced investments & even more sick people due to increases stress in their lives, etc.
Imagine those books which would had been written but never got finished.
Imagine those businesses which never got launched.
Imagine those ideas which never got worked on and died even before getting started.
Next time if you wish to disturb someone. Please consider the amount of serious consequences for them, which includes increasing more work on their plate, increasing their stress level, increasing their chance of more mistakes, making them delay their task, and potentially even killing the task in hand completely.
Even a simple distraction of a complex task can create the cognitive equivalent of an hour work of extra work for them.
People who know how to be productive always know the importance of making sure they get uninterrupted blocks of time to find their focus and attention while concentrating on their work. They are the ones who take the right steps to guard themselves from any distraction, whether that’s wearing headphones to discourage anyone from having conversation (even when not listening to anything), shutting their office door, by guiding people not to disturb them when they are working until its not something VERY URGENT, by creating policies to let people know when it will be OK or not OK to talk to them, or even creating a habit of working in different set of places, turning mobile phone, emails, any notifications on desktops, or changing the work timing to find silent and non-interrupt-able environment.
Many coders & developers for example love to work while no one is awake (night). Reason being you get less distracted by everyone else since they would be busy sleeping, so this nighttime gives you much more silent time to work on and be more productive. And secondly, most of the online activity such as emails, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. also see a drop off activity while so late at night.
I understand being social is completely fine. But, when someone is actually working harder, please let them work. You can always talk to them when they are done with their task.
On the other side, if you have issues with people who are constantly distracting you while you are working. Follow a rule of thumb advice from me (Or anything which works for you):
“I really want to let you know this sincerely, without offending you. When you see me working, please don’t disturb me unless whatever that you want to talk to me about is so urgent that it will be worth removing all the work I’ve done in the previous hour.”
Most people will understand. Someone will call you control freak. Someone might get angry. But, whatever that be.