Interruptions: The Consequences Are Significant

By CUToday04.15.2019

Tired of being interrupted? One person urges the adoption of three practices that should allow you more uninterrupted time to get your work done.

Noting the average worker today is interrupted every 11 minutes, only resume their interrupted tasks after 25 minutes, Matt Plummer, founder of Zarvana, said those interruptions amount to more than 2.5 hours per day in lost time. 

“The consequences are significant. People who experience frequent interruptions report a 9 percent higher exhaustion rate,” wrote Plummer on “And according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied, when people were interrupted for just 2.8 seconds, they made twice the number of errors of those who were not interrupted.”

Fortunately, said Plummer, there are three practices that can cut the hours we lose to interruptions every day in half. The three practices: 

Retreat to Private Workspaces

“Most vexing of the interruption culprits are face-to-face interactions, partially because they are the hardest to ignore,” said Plummer. “The trend towards open office layouts and the rise of collaborative working spaces has only made this truer. A 2013 University of California, Irvine study shows that those in open workspaces experience 29 percent more interruptions than those working in private cubicles or offices, and 70% complain about the noise.

“Physically isolating yourself in a private workspace when doing cognitively demanding work can save you 18 minutes per day, according to that study, by eliminating more than 10% of the interruptions the average person experiences per day,” continued Plummer. “While this may seem obvious, only a third of professionals apparently do it. You can make it a habit without upsetting your coworkers by letting them know you're going. Tell them how long you'll be gone and give them a way to contact you if they really need you. Do it at consistent times so they can plan ahead.”

Create a "Do Not Disturb" Sign

Plummer noted that a few years ago, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia developed a device—kind of like a traffic light—that indicates workers' availability to their coworkers. This light, later named "FlowLight,” was mounted on users' cubical walls or outside users' offices. For one-to-two months, 450 workers in 12 countries gave the lights a shot.

What did they find? The FlowLight resulted in 46 percent fewer interruptions and, more than that, it had a broader effect on office culture, encouraging people to be more respectful of each other's time and more aware of when they could, and couldn't, interrupt a colleague, according to Plummer. Eighty-five percent of users were still using the light two months after the study ended.

“You can also go with a low-tech approach too by repurposing a flip calendar with three different cards: available as green, busy but 'interruptible' when necessary as yellow, and do not disturb as red,” said Plummer.

Develop Ready-to-Resume Plans

Private workspaces and FlowLight-type solutions can help reduce interruptions, but what should you do when you're still interrupted?

Plummer said research done by the University of Washington found that when workers took one-to-two minutes to develop a plan for how they would resume the interrupted action before switching to the interruption, they showed almost no effect of being interrupted. 

“A ready-to-resume plan should include three things: where to return to, planned but now delayed tasks, and any unresolved thoughts concerning the task that you haven't already documented,” said Plummer. “Instead of accepting interruptions by habit, delay them. Telling your interrupter you need a minute or two gives you the time to create a cognitive bookmark so that you don't lose time later figuring out where to pick your work back up.”

Reprinted with permission from, a leading source of news and resources for credit union decision-makers.