Friday, October 18, 2019

Let Me Focus!

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Interruptions both in the workplace or while working at home are seemingly unavoidable. Your boss comes to your desk and asks how your weekend was when you are in the middle of working on a project for him, or simply you are just checking your texts and email while working. These all can interfere with your goals and your task at hand, but it does not end there! Cars are making lots of noise outside your office, and you have already been working for hours. On top of all that, you have also been simultaneously trying to coordinate your co-workers surprise birthday party that is tomorrow. All this is can be so overwhelming, no wonder the you’re feeling stressed. You deserve a break, right? Of course you do!

Interruptions can have a big impact on your stress levels. It may not seem like it at first, each person that interrupts you while working, those noisy cars, the much-needed breaks, and the last-minute change of the task can be challenging. Further, over time, the additive effects of these interruptions can cause more and more stress to build. When all that stress consistently builds or accumulates, your happiness and overall well-being will be impacted.

Additionally, frequent interruptions will likely cause you to be more prone to errors and cause an overall decrease in your task performance. These negative effects are more likely when the tasks are difficult or cognitively challenging. Further, the negative effects of interruptions often have large impacts near task completion. Specifically, being interrupted when you’re almost done with a task is thought to be more draining (as it’s often more effortful to pause when you’re almost done with a task compared to if you had just started a task) and cause negative performance on future tasks.

Thankfully, not all hope is lost. Some types of interruptions – specifically in the form of short breaks - can be beneficial and actually increase your future performance and decrease stress. Very short breaks, even under a minute (like looking at nature), can be beneficial and restore attention. In addition, taking breaks in between cognitively demanding tasks can improve productivity across the day.

It can also be beneficial to reduce interruptions that you can control. For instance, multitasking is considered an interruption that is self-caused, the other secondary tasks or activities being distraction from the main task or goal you have. Additionally, pay attention to sources of interruptions may help you control them. For instance, if you keep receiving notifications on your cell phone, put your phone out of sight. Taking steps to ensure that various types of interruptions are minimized can help.

It’s clear that being interrupted and distracted at work is inevitable. However, we must acknowledge the immediate and long-term consequences of interruptions, such as higher stress levels, poorer well-being and lower task performance, and work to mitigate interruptions. Even though breaks are considered a type of interruption to your work, using breaks in a way that can combat the immediate and cumulative consequences of interruptions is beneficial. Finally, be sure to take steps to reduce self-caused interruptions (limit that multitasking!) to maintain focus on the task and goal.

Chris Juszczyk

Chris Juszczyk is currently a PhD student at Florida Tech. He received his B.S in Psychology from the University of Missouri in 2018. When he is not busy with class and research, you can find him enjoying a refreshing IPA and playing GoldenTee. Chris’s main area of research is in workplace interruptions and he also researches human computer interaction, executive functioning, self-control and ego depletion. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

References and Further Reading:

Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2013). Self-interruptions in discretionary multitasking. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1441-1449. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.040

Ang, S., & Malhotra, R. (2017). Expressive social support buffers the impact of care-related work interruptions on caregivers' depressive symptoms. Aging & Mental Health, 22(6), 755-763. doi:10.1080/13607863.2017.1317329

Baethge, A., Rigotti, T., & Roe, R. A. (2015). Just more of the same, or different? an integrative theoretical framework for the study of cumulative interruptions at work. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 24(2), 308-323. doi:10.1080/1359432X.2014.897943

Claessens, B. J. C., van Eerde, W., Rutte, C. G., & Roe, R. A. (2010). Things to do today...: A daily diary study on task completion at work. Applied Psychology an International Review, 59(2), 273-295. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2009.00390.x

Cohen, J., LaRue, C., & Cohen, H. H. (2017). Attention interrupted: Cognitive distraction & workplace safety. Professional Safety62(11), 28-34.

Coker, B. L. S. (2011). Freedom to surf: The positive effects of workplace internet leisure browsing. New Technology, Work and Employment, 26(3), 238-247. doi:10.1111/j.1468-005X.2011.00272

Conard, M., Barbour, M., & Marsh, R. (2017). College Student Work Habits, Interruptions, and Stress. i-Manager's Journal on Educational Psychology10(4), 1.

Fletcher, K. A., Potter, S. M., & Telford, B. N. (2018). Stress outcomes of four types of perceived interruptions. Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 60(2), 222-235. doi:10.1177/0018720817738845

Foroughi, C. K., Werner, N. E., Nelson, E. T., & Boehm-Davis, D. A. (2014). Do interruptions affect quality of work? Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 56(7), 1262-1271. doi:10.1177/0018720814531786

Galluch, P. S., Grover, V., & Thatcher, J. B. (2015). Interrupting the workplace: Examining stressors in an information technology context. Journal of the Association for Information Systems16(1), 1.

Hall, L. M., Pedersen, C., & Fairley, L. (2010). Losing the moment: understanding interruptions to nurses' work. Journal of Nursing Administration40(4), 169-176.

Hall, L. M., Fergurson‐Pare, Mary., Peter, E., White, D., Besner, J., Chisholm, A., ... & Pedersen, C. (2010). Going blank: factors contributing to interruptions to nurses’ work and related outcomes. Journal of Nursing Management18(8), 1040-1047.

Jett, Q. R., & George, J. M. (2003). Work interrupted: A closer look at the role of interruptions in organizational life. Academy of Management Review, 28(3), 494-507. doi:10.5465/AMR.2003.10196791

Keller, A. C., Meier, L. L., Elfering, A., & Semmer, N. K. (2019). Please wait until I am done! longitudinal effects of work interruptions on employee well-being. Work & Stress, , 1-20. doi:10.1080/02678373.2019.1579266

Kim, J., Ingersoll-Dayton, B., & Kwak, M. (2013). Balancing eldercare and employment: The role of work interruptions and supportive employers. Journal of Applied Gerontology32(3), 347-369.

Kirchberg, D. M., Roe, R. A., & Eerde, W. (2015). Polychronicity and multitasking. Human Performance, 28(2), 112-136.

Lin, B. C., Kain, J. M., & Fritz, C. (2013). Don’t interrupt me! an examination of the relationship between intrusions at work and employee strain. International Journal of Stress Management, 20(2), 77-94. doi:10.1037/a0031637

Long, J. H., & Stanley, J. D. (2012). Managing interruption in the accounting workplace. The CPA Journal, 82(5), 60. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1024293585

Mansi, G., & Levy, Y. (2013). Do instant messaging interruptions help or hinder knowledge workers’ task performance? International Journal of Information Management, 33(3), 591-596. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2013.01.011

Marulanda-Carter, L., & Jackson, T. W. (2012). Effects of e-mail addiction and interruptions on employees. Journal of Systems and Information Technology, 14(1), 82-94. doi:10.1108/13287261211221146

Maureen, C., Michael, B., & Robert, M. (2017). College student work habits, interruptions, and stress. I-Manager’s Journal on Educational Psychology, 10(4), 1. doi:10.26634/jpsy.10.4.13455

Parke, M. R., Weinhardt, J. M., Brodsky, A., Tangirala, S., & DeVoe, S. E. (2018). When daily planning improves employee performance: The importance of planning type, engagement, and interruptions. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(3), 300-312. doi:10.1037/apl0000278

Pasquale, V. D., Miranda, S., Iannone, R., & Riemma, S. (2015). An HRA-based simulation model for the optimization of the rest breaks configurations in human-intensive working activities. IFAC Papers OnLine, 48(3), 332-337. doi:10.1016/j.ifacol.2015.06.103

Pendem, P., Green, P., Staats, B. R., & Gino, F. (2016). The microstructure of work: How unexpected breaks let you rest, but not lose focus. SSRN Electronic Journal, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2888477

Rivkin, W., Diestel, S., & Schmidt, K. (2018). Which daily experiences can foster well-being at work? A diary study on the interplay between flow experiences, affective commitment, and self-control demands. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(1), 99-111. doi:10.1037/ocp0000039

Rogers, A. P., & Barber, L. K. (2019). Workplace intrusions and employee strain: The interactive effects of extraversion and emotional stability. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 32(3), 312-328. doi:10.1080/10615806.2019.1596671

Russell, E., Woods, S. A., & Banks, A. P. (2017). Examining conscientiousness as a key resource in resisting email interruptions: Implications for volatile resources and goal achievement. Journal of occupational and organizational psychology90(3), 407-435.

Stocker, D., Keller, A. C., Meier, L. L., Elfering, A., Pfister, I. B., Jacobshagen, N., & Semmer, N. K. (2018). Appreciation by supervisors buffers the impact of work interruptions on well-being longitudinally. International Journal of Stress Management, doi:10.1037/str0000111

Sykes, E. R. (2011). Interruptions in the workplace: A case study to reduce their effects. International Journal of Information Management, 31(4), 385-394. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.10.010

Szumowska, E., & Kossowska, M. (2017). Motivational rigidity enhances multitasking performance: The role of handling interruptions. Personality and Individual Differences, 106, 81-89. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.10.040

Taylor, W. C., King, K. E., Shegog, R., Paxton, R. J., Evans-Hudnall, G. L., Rempel, D. M., Yancey, A. K. (2013). Booster breaks in the workplace: Participants' perspectives on health-promoting work breaks. Health Education Research, 28(3), 414-425. doi:10.1093/her/cyt001

Unsworth, K., Yeo, G., & Beck, J. (2014). Multiple goals: A review and derivation of general principles. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(8), 1064-1078. doi:10.1002/job.1963

Werner, N. E., Nelson, E., Miller, W. D., & Boehm-Davis, D. A. (2012, September). Interruptions in the Real World: Examining the Role of Internal Versus External Interruptions in a Hospital Pharmacy. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting (Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 819-823). Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Westbrook, J. I., Raban, M. Z., Walter, S. R., & Douglas, H. (2018). Task errors by emergency physicians are associated with interruptions, multitasking, fatigue and working memory capacity: A prospective, direct observation study. BMJ Quality & Safety, 27(8), 655-663. doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2017-007333

Wheelock, A., Suliman, A., Wharton, R., Babu, E. D., Hull, L., Vincent, C., Arora, S. (2015). The impact of operating room distractions on stress, workload, and teamwork. Annals of Surgery, 261(6), 1079-1084. doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000001051

Wilkes, S. M., Barber, L. K., & Rogers, A. P. (2018). Development and validation of the workplace interruptions measure. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 34(1), 102-114. doi:10.1002/smi.2765

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