Wasting Productive Time on Interrupts by pengtt


									         Wasting Productive Time on Interrupts?
          (How new time-saver technologies can waste time in your business)

According to a study by Time Magazine in
January 2006, workers in the US are interrupted
on average every 11 minutes, either through
email, phone calls or conversations with
colleagues. In addition to that, people then took
25 minutes or so to refocus on the project or
task at hand after the interruption. The study
found that interruptions thereby represented
some 2.1 hours of every working day or 28% of
the average person’s nine to five schedule,
including the time to recover your train of
                                                           tenfold rise in the number of patients with work
thought following an interruption.
                                                           related Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD).
When you turn this into productivity loss, this            Adult ADD takes hold when we get overloaded
represents a huge $ wastage in any company.                by incoming messages and competing tasks to
Once interrupted, people often forget what they            such an extent that we are unable to prioritize.
were working on. Once their work becomes                   Hallowell coined the term “Frazzing” (or as we
buried beneath a screen-full of interruptions,             would call it thrashing, or wheel-spinning) for
office workers appear to literally forget what             “Frantic, ineffective multi tasking, typically with
task they were originally pursuing. Researchers            the delusion that you are getting a lot done. The
at Microsoft on a multi-tasking study, found that          quality of the work, however, is poor.”
40 percent of the time, workers wander off in a
                                                           Many managers receive between 30 and 60
new direction when an interruption ends,
                                                           emails a day, and this consumes more than 50%
distracted by the technological equivalent of
                                                           of their working day, responding or directing
shiny objects. However, the inherent danger of
                                                           actions through asynchronous communications
interruptions is not really the interruption itself.
                                                           where little attention is given to the potential for
It is the havoc they wreak with our short-term
                                                           un-intentional interpretations at the other end.
memory: Now, what the heck was I just doing?
                                                           When To-Do lists get too long, it is easy to fall
When we introduce new technology timesavers
                                                           into the trap of spending more time managing
and communication support tools such as emails
                                                           the list and pondering what is important rather
and Instant Messaging facilities that let you
                                                           than urgent, than spending time actually
know when other virtual workers are “online”,
                                                           achieving something.
this may save gathering time around the coffee
urn, but scant attention is given to training              Another study last year in the UK commissioned
office-workers how NOT to let these                        by HP claimed that heavy texting and emailing
technologies rule our lives.                               caused a reduction in mental capacity equivalent
                                                           to the loss of ten IQ points. Dr Wilson, of Kings
Too many people for instance, have their email
                                                           College London, who did the study, claimed that
options set to flash them a brief glance as each
                                                           obsessive use of phones and email devices – a
email arrives in their in-tray. How many times
                                                           phenomenon he termed “infomania” – impairs
have you heard someone in your office ask:
“have you got my email yet?” even when                     mental capacity even more than smoking
                                                           cannabis. This is equivalent to the effect on the
sometimes they work in neighbouring cubicles.
                                                           mind of losing a whole night’s sleep.
The Time study also warned that such
                                                           The problem with this “always-on” technology
interruptions could lead to a host of
                                                           is that it leads to constant distractions and a
psychological disorders in workers as well as
                                                           reduction in concentration as well as in mental
raising stress levels and irritability. Psychiatrist
Edward Hallowell told Time that he had seen a

Time Savers Wasting Time through Interruptions   www.aspsoftware.com.au          April 2006     Page      1
                     In today’s wired society,             ways, points first to a changing focus in how we
                     with Blackberry PDAs and              interpret agreement.
                     email-able phones, the                "Our increasing reliance on real-time
                     problem is no longer                  communication has led many to resolve that if
                     connectivity, but rather how          they don't hear from someone on the day of a
                     to get disconnected! How              meeting, they assume it is no longer happening."
                     do you shut the input-door
                     and allow yourself time               He argues that being able to constantly check
periods to focus on one thing at a time? And,              and recheck, risks turning us into neurotics, who
how do you ensure you set small enough goals               can no longer fix a date in the diary for a month
that can be achieved (completed) before you                ahead and then just turn up. "I don't have a
have to allow-in interruptions again?                      mobile phone," he adds. "I am increasingly
                                                           being stood up. People say: 'Oh I couldn't reach
In Microsoft’s research into interruptions for             you so I assumed the meeting was cancelled'."
Information workers, 40% of the interruptions
were self initiated. This seems to imply that we           In this new technology world, there is a lack of
have trouble just keeping focus, even when not             established rules for virtual interaction. Rules of
interrupted by external causes. Try to stop and            engagement have long been set for face to face
check how often you are interrupting yourself,             meetings, such as when not to interrupt or
for example, by checking emails, switching                 intrude; how to engage and listen or interact.
tasks before finishing, making calls in the                Yet with the ease and outreach of virtual
middle of something else, etc.                             communications, we aren’t taught the polite
                                                           politics of how not to blast/copy all and sundry
Another study, reviewed by Mark Charmer in                 parties. And the systems themselves are still
April’s UK MIS e-magazine, on how people                   evolving ways to “cc” for info only (not reply).
interact, suggests we should take more time to
think rather than follow the neurosis of using             On the one hand, some people feel they have to
technology to fill every moment of our time.               respond to every email they are copied on, and
Time spent waiting is now in short supply as we            in other cases, there is the muddled expectation
are now easily able to fill all these time-gaps.           of that people simply must give the courtesy of
For example when someone is late for a meeting             response to our unsolicited interrupt.
we cram in a mobile phone call, check our email            Some stereotypical behaviour is emerging as
or send a ‘text’ message.                                  people become known for their selective email
This is a sad loss of disengaged thinking-time             reading habits (and intermittent replies). For
which can be an important source of creativity.            instance, busy people with large inbox queue
If someone arrives early for a meeting now, they           depth may simply skim or ignore most emails,
tend to get on their mobile, rather than sit and           selecting only ones that look important or
focus their ideas.                                         interesting. It’s sometimes faster and more
                                                           effective to intrude directly by phone for a
One key thing that suffers is our listening and            verbal response (that’s if they don’t have their
reflection time. Blogs (web logs) are a fine               phone off the hook). There’s often no other easy
example of how easy it is to use IT to throw               way for these busy people to put up the sign:
down opinions, make a stand or build a profile.            ‘DON’T DISTURB’ for the next hour or two to
Yet this fosters a technology culture that cares           broadcast their preferred non-interrupt time.
more about rapid response, and input, rather
than study, exploration and consideration.                 Recently, in connection with a study of our own
                                                           business processes (for best practice quality
It is often frowned upon these days in the                 improvement), we’ve instigated several new
workplace to just sit reading printed material. If         technologies to help us take control of interrupts
you sit with the computer off, reading, people             and related productivity-loss time wastage.
are likely to think you are skiving, or ask you if
                                                           In our move to more central
the system is down.
                                                           help desk facilities, in our
Professor Stephen Rowland at University                    company we are trying to give
College London, who researches how different               our expert engineers larger
parties interact and interpret things in different         non-interrupt time-slices.

Time Savers Wasting Time through Interruptions   www.aspsoftware.com.au          April 2006     Page     2
                                                           As knowledge workers get more access to and
                                                           more used to web based facilities, they also
                                                           expose themselves to new external time-soakers.
                                                           Where once upon a time, staff would gather
                                                           around the water cooler, some communities of
                                                           practice are now meeting far more frequently
This follows industry best-practice for IT                 via “free” online facilities such as Skype and
Governance by separating the recording and                 Microsoft’s Instant Messenger (these alert you
initial investigation of user problems away from           when friends are online, so you can chat without
senior engineers who need more focussed un-                leaving your cubicle). Where the odd joke
interruptible time segments to work on resolving           email from friends and family outside the
the bigger more complex issues.                            company may have once been seen as positive
                                                           for morale, these newer chat facilities can often
With trained first-level help-desk staff assisting
                                                           just increase the frequency of interrupts.
to clarify and capture more information up front,
to identify data involved and the pattern of               One effective knowledge management strategy
events leading up to any usage problem, this               these days is to urge users towards a single
also saves engineer Q&A time on basic data                 corporate content management system (CMS),
gathering: for when, where, who and what info.             where they can either subscribe to topics or
                                                           pages to get alerted when nominated topics-of-
The next step is to entice the engineers to
                                                           interest change. Other corporate dashboard-style
explain their solution back to the help desk, for
                                                           bulletin boards and message centres (such as
them to communicate back to users. This forces
                                                           basecampHQ.com for project collaboration,
the engineers to write down the recommended
                                                           management and task or To-Do-list tracking)
action or solution, so it gets recorded in a
                                                           can provide your users with simple extranet
knowledge base for faster resolution next time.
                                                           info-review facilities for shared areas of interest.
We are also implementing new web-based To-
                                                           However, companies should consider how these
Do-list task prioritisation management tools that
                                                           new facilities might also have to compete for
help everyone realise who has to do what next,
                                                           your users’ attention and their contributions.
by when. This helps us see realistic task queue-
                                                           Extracting expert knowledge can sometimes be
depths and then do the right thing next.
                                                           like pulling (wisdom) teeth.
There are some good simple freeware tools now
                                                           As these new knowledge-bases grow, we also
available, such as the electronic (onscreen) 3M
                                                           expect to see more migration of discussion
Post-it sticky notes that might help your staff
                                                           group emails and documents onto central-server
keep their prioritised task-lists always on-top of
                                                           storage systems. These new shared knowledge
their electronic desktop in clear view. These
                                                           encyclopaedias of collaborative writing are now
can help remind your people what they were
                                                           called Wikipedias on the web, derived from the
working on (pre-interrupt) and highlight what
                                                           Hawaiian word for fast or quick; more aptly
their priorities should still be post-interrupt.
                                                           interpreted as the backronym: What I know is…
We’ve also instigated a new web based bulletin
                                                           While capturing free-form knowledge is getting
board that helps remote and onsite team workers
                                                           easier, finding it again when you need it can still
share project communications, group news item
                                                           be frustratingly difficult! Directing users how to
updates, and shared To-Do-lists, as well as
                                                           log calls so they can later hunt and peck more
providing new communal discussion BLOGS
                                                           swiftly for pearls of wisdom can sometimes be
(web-logs). These shared bulletin boards let
                                                           harder than herding chickens. Hence the
participants share views and add their input
                                                           popularity of new natural-language search tools
without email interruption, on their break times,
                                                           (like Google’s desktop-text-search freeware).
rather than be interrupted each 11 minutes by
some multi-copy email.                                     So, what’s your company going to do to reduce
                                                           time-wasting worker interruptions? What’s the
The trouble with email is that it’s there almost
                                                           average time your workers get to be productive
instantly, where-as most questions can wait for a
                                                           between interrupts? Race off and ask someone
work break, and often benefit more from
                                                           right this minute! … remember: Tempus fugit!
considered rather than instant rapid response.
                                                           (Collated by Terry Daley, Senior Consultant ASPsoftware)
Time Savers Wasting Time through Interruptions   www.aspsoftware.com.au              April 2006        Page       3

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