Research on interrupted work, or… wait, what?

The benefit of some unscheduled time:

So naturally I dug into some of her publications (which you can find by clicking her name, above).

The Cost of Interrupted Work (written with Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke) is based on a field study, rather than a lab experiment.   The researchers were interested in disruption cost–the price you pay when you get interrupted.  It can take two forms: reorientation time (“Now, where was I?…”) and increased stress.

Please excuse the interruption.Interestingly, the study suggests no real difference based on whether the interruption related to what you were doing.  In other words, if you’re working an application exercise for the loan-processing system, and Connie stops by to talk about how people process loans, it’s still an interruption.

You might not see it as in the same class as Louise asking how to fill out the TPS report, but when Connie leaves, you still need to transfer your focus back to the specifics that her visit took you away from.

Nor did the form of the interruption (email versus instant message, for example) seem to matter.  As for the stress factor:

When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster (and writing less) to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. Yet working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price.

Another conclusion: people who are more open to new experiences seem to tolerate interruptions better.  No surprise there, at least to me–but Mark and her colleagues report that people who have a high need for structure needed less time to finish the task after an interruption.  “Perhaps those who need personal structure are better able to manage their time when interrupted.”

Mark has another study, written with Norman Su (also of U Cal Irvine): Communication Chains and Multitasking.  It has to do with quick, successive interactions, and how you manage them in organizational contexts.  Worth treating in a future post.

Interruption photo by lamentables.