Shut the Front Door! (And Don’t Let Distraction In)

There’s a good reason to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door when you need to concentrate. Researchers for Michigan State University and the Navy have determined that people make double, sometimes even triple, the errors immediately after they are interrupted, even when the diversions last only a few seconds. It doesn’t take much to get off track, which occurs whenever people have to shift attention. For efficient communication, interruptions are essential, but at the same time, those distractions can be destructive to your work—both in a slower response time and an increase in mistakes. Three-second distractions doubled errors in the study; 4.5-second interruptions tripled errors.

Scientists call the delay in collecting your thoughts and finding your place in the original task after an interruption “resumption lag.” This task interruption causes a loss of productivity. While they’ve studied many aspects of this phenomenon, it’s agreed (and it makes sense) that multitasking—essentially a cycle of interruption and resumption of work—acts like a brake to momentum. And today there are endless outlets for distraction and reasons to look away from a task. The takeaways: Turn off the phone, log out of social media, shut down email and close the door to avoid mistakes and work efficiently.

Distracted? Have a problem with that little thing called procrastination? Read these tips: "How to Undo the Dawdler"


Betsy Simnacher is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. She lives in the suburbs of Dallas.

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