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The Interrupt Driven Life

Last week someone asked me if I was easily distracted at work. I told him that I thought the modern workplace made it impossible not to be easily distracted. Email, IM, over-the-cubicle conversations, the day is often just a string of interruptions that keep real work from being done. Except, of course, that the interruptions themselves often are "real work". What they prevent is any concentrated work, any focused work, from being done.

It's easy to blame technology for this multi-tasking run amok, but that's only part of the story. We allow it to happen; many of us even thrive on the constant stimulation. (Don't we all know at least one person who clicks "send" then instantly appears at our door asking "did you get my email?") And there's often an expectation (real or perceived) that we're all plugged in, all available, all the time.

The New York Times Magazine ran a fascinating article on this subject yesterday. It describes our interrupt-driven workplaces and work styles (I recognized myself a couple of times.) The author interviews several researchers and computer scientists who study how we work and goes on to discuss some low- and high-tech ways our daily dose of information (and interruptions) can be better managed.


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# re: The Interrupt Driven Life

Gravatar Ever worked in a so-called "open" office? No cubicles. Just desks. Senior management-types think it's great... "it will really foster improved communication amongst the 'team'!" Meanwhile, they all have private offices with doors...

In such an environment it's impossible to get more than an hour of real work done in a day. Distractions are constant: Phones ringing, people walking by, others having conversations, others asking you questions... When working in such a place, I had to call in sick just so I could get some work done!

The really bad part is, I'm seeing this more and more. I think it is a trendy thing to try out. I just hope it dies before it does any real damage. 10/19/2005 12:04 AM | Adam Machanic

# re: The Interrupt Driven Life

Gravatar It's interesting how even the illusion of privacy provided with higher cube walls can make a difference in your ability to concentrate.

I did have occasion to work in an environment similar to what you described. Frequent use of headphones was my only salvation. 10/19/2005 7:01 AM | Denise

# re: The Interrupt Driven Life

Gravatar I kind of like sitting in a room with my peers when we are doing focused teamwork. Just a table with laptops (and usually far too many snacks :) When everyone is focused on a single task, it can foster great communication.

That having been said, when you have to work in this kind of environment with people who are not 100% working on the same task, even headphones won't do the trick (pretty much nothing will, and nothing gets done)

I am currently in a wierd situation. I have a private office, but I spend 5+ hours a day working with a person in another state on various projects. Often it is hard to pay attention to the conversation on the phone for some other distraction, but using livemeeting it is almost like being there. 10/20/2005 8:14 PM | Louis Davidson

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