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Driven to Distraction by Technology 261

Ant writes "CNET says 'The typical office worker is interrupted every three minutes by a phone call, e-mail, instant message or other distraction. The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state. The result, says Carl Honore, journalist and author of "In Praise of Slowness," is a situation where the digital communications that were supposed to make working lives run more smoothly are actually preventing people from getting critical tasks accomplished.'"
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Driven to Distraction by Technology

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  • by duncanbojangles ( 787775 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:38AM (#13133594)
    That sounds about right where I wor...

    Hold on, I just got an IM.
    • by teslar ( 706653 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:44AM (#13133616)
      Or at least, it's distorting the facts.
      Work keepy interrupting my IMing, not the other way around :)
    • by yog ( 19073 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:12AM (#13133689) Homepage Journal
      Hmm, it sounds like an overgeneralization to me. "Office workers" is a pretty broad term that presumably encompasses pretty much all white collar jobs. Some jobs have always been interrupt-enabled, such as stock traders and financial analysts, and some are constantly on the phone, like sales and marketing types. Then you have people who are always on their feet, such as teachers and police. Writers such as journalists (like the guy in the article) have traditionally worked in open offices with phones ringing constantly.

      This fellow Honore is probably thinking of certain professions such as computer programmers and IT professionals and architects and graphic designers, where you really do need periods of uninterruptedness to get some solid creative work done.

      As a programmer, I'm willing to bet that most people in these fields have long since discovered the power of ear buds (and noise-cancelling headphones, my own favorite) to blot out the world around them. To a lot of us, IM and email are just a bit of line noise that we easily put up with. I usually welcome a little interruption now and then, and in fact it helps spur the creative juices sometimes to have a context shift.

      Overall I think this article is a bit alarmist, though there's probably something to it in terms of the frenetic pace of life in modern offices.
      • Excellent point- It would be interesting to see how this breaks down by occupation, or even level- People with doors in their office are less likely to be distracted by the chatty office mate who wants to talk for half an hour about nothing. In my experience- the worst are poeople (sorry to generalize- but women) who are getting married. For a solid month an office mate talked to every caterer, photog etc all day at work, and then thought I was interested in hearing about it.
        When I have a project I need t
      • Additionally, getting an IM while you click copy/paste is still a lot more efficient than having undistracted monks copy your document longhand.
  • by Trinition ( 114758 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:39AM (#13133599) Homepage
    Where I work, it's not the e-mail or instant message interrupting me so much as it's the person stopping by your cubicle *in person* to ask a question.

    Quit being so quick to find evil in technology.
    • by radja ( 58949 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:50AM (#13133631) Homepage
      I vastly prefer the person coming to me. I can pay no attention to them and mumble something about being busy, and come back in an hour. this does not work with a phone: you HAVE to pick it up, or it'll keep ringing. Phones bust in without looking, a person coming to see you can see that you're busy.

      yeah, I don't like telephones...
      • The amazing thing is you can pick that phone up and *immediately* without answering put it back down. Repeat as necessary.

        Later, when they talk to you in person, or you actually answer, tell them "my phone has been on the fritz lately" and they'll assume it was a technology problem, not intentional hangups.
      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:49AM (#13133824) Journal
        I thoroughly recommend the book PeopleWare to anyone, but especially anyone in management. It contains an fictional anecdote about some chap named Alexander Graham Bell trying to sell this new invention called the Bell-o-phone to people. One of them asks a question; `if I'm busy, does it stop ringing?' to which the reply was `No, that's the best thing. It just keeps on ringing!' Bell was laughed off the stage.

        Actually the book goes into a lot more detail about the concept of flow, and how much productivity is lost per interruption.

        The thing I like about IM is that it is non-realtime (so I can devote as much or as little attention to it as I want) and that it is opt-in - I can set myself to do no disturb mode and people can only contact me with urgent things, or I can go completely offline. You can leave a telephone off the hook, but it's far less socially acceptable.

      • Does your phone not have any form of volume control on it? Alternatively, you could always wear headphones. Personally, I've got pretty good at ignoring phone calls (along with emails and any other form of technological interruption) when I'm busy. That includes at home - if I don't want to talk, I don't answer.

        It's a lot easier than politely getting rid of the person sitting on the end of your desk who won't take the hint that you don't want to talk to them right now.
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:50AM (#13133832) Homepage
        this does not work with a phone: you HAVE to pick it up, or it'll keep ringing.

        really? we must have really high tech phones here because of this funny button called "do not disturb" I use it all the time. if I am coding, I turn off the crackberry, shutdown outlook, and put the phone in DND.

        works great and they must come down 3 floors to talk to me in person (if they have a proxcard that will get them in the section.)

        I suggest trying it. Remember if you are always available to everyone they expect that, do not be available to their beck and call. let them know you are working on important projects (just before DND change your voicemail greeting) and can not be disturbed for at least XX time and will check your messages after that.

        It's funny how that if you do not let them control you like a robot, they back off and let you do your work.
        • The other day, my cubicle neighbor's phone rang while he was out of the office. 30 seconds after it stopped ringing, it rang again. Then, 30 seconds after it stopped ringing the second time, a woman from another office came in looking for him. I asked her if she was the one that called and she said, "Yes." I was barely able to contain my laughter.

          Like someone else said, it's the people, and sometimes people won't get the hint. Suppose he was there but had just tried to ignore her because he was workin
        • we must have really high tech phones here because of this funny button called "do not disturb"

          Yes you must. I've had a lot of phones on my desks, and none have ever had such a button.

          Even having it doesn't help when it's the phone in the next cube that keeps ringing.

        • we must have really high tech phones here because of this funny button called "do not disturb" I use it all the time.

          Yep, I'd say your phone is pretty high-tech. Allow me describe to you the features of my phone. My phone sports a 12-key user-interface, stylishly arranged in a rectangular shape. Ten of the keys have a numeral on them, allowing me to quickly and easily enter a phone number. There is also a * key and a # key, which excitingly serve pretty much no purpose whatsoever, for maximum flexibility. This allows me to press them pretty much anytime I want to and pretend they are doing whatever I want.

          • I had a phone like that once. It also had a "do not disturb" ripcord on the back though. If you pulled the cord out of the phone, it would stop ringing. When you plugged it back in later, it would work again.

            Your phone might have that feature too.

      • Turn the volume down and ignore it. I don't recall any law stating that you have to answer the phone when it rings. If my phone rings (at work or at home) and I don't feel like answering, I don't
    • While I would prefer to use e-mail to contact people around my office; you just can't always get a response that way. Sometimes people seem to just ignore e-mail, or they probably "will come back to it later" and then never do.

      So, when I need an answer in the next 20 minutes, I stop by in person and ask the question. I get my answer and can get back to work, and that person can try to answer my e-mail in a more timely manner next time.
  • by wrp103 ( 583277 ) <> on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:41AM (#13133605) Homepage
    If I ignore (for the moment) an interruption, then it has less of an impact on my productivity. And some of us multi-task fairly well, which would also reduce the impact.
    • by Gax ( 196168 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:50AM (#13133633)
      I've changed my work pattern in the last few weeks. I try to get my work finished by 4pm, then I spend an hour reading and replying to the various e-mails that have arrived during the day. My productivity has increased significantly and I feel under less pressure to handle several tasks in quick succession.
    • New toys: 1) iPod. 2) Shure e2c noise isolating headphones.

      Together, they block out 80-90% of the sound distractions. People come up, see the headphones, and re-evaluate if they should interupt me. Many still do, but some back off and send an email.

      It also helps my slight ADD nature since I don't hear conversations near me that slightly affect me, so I don't get involved in them.

      This doesn't help email and IM, but it's a good start.
  • I don't believe it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ReformedExCon ( 897248 ) <> on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:42AM (#13133608)
    I do believe that there are many distractions that may take our minds of our work. The phone ringing, the pager going off, the bright blue sky outside with flocks of geese slowly migrating back to their Canadian homes. All these things are distractions that may harm productivity.

    But I don't think that productivity is being harmed to such an extent that a fuss must be raised over it. Projects are still being finished, people are still getting paid, and products are still being sold. It's not that there are so many more distractions than before, it's simply that we can quantify (and villify) one particular set of distractions.

    Maybe it's just me, but sometimes taking a time out to stare out the window at the horizon helps me feel a lot better about sitting in front of the computer.
    • by Young Master Ploppy ( 729877 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:48AM (#13133820) Homepage Journal
      Maybe it's just me, but sometimes taking a time out to stare out the window at the horizon helps me feel a lot better about sitting in front of the computer.

      Its not just the fact that it makes you feel better - often someone who appears to be just staring blankly and unproductively into space, may actually be deep in thought about the complex system they're working on.

      I often have to think through logic paths, forks, and possible consequences of the tinest changes to such an extent that it takes me nearly fifteen minutes of quiet to get down through my abstract mental models to the required level of detail. Any interruption can completely derail your mental thought processes and waste up to an hour while you deal with the minor interruption, maybe go get a coffee, settle back down again, and start thinking it through from the top again.

      In a nutshell - just because someone looks like they're zoning out, doesn't mean they're not being productive.

    • by symbolic ( 11752 )

      I guess that depends on what you're doing...things can easily still "get done," but one has to wonder about the negative influence that these distractions might be having- not just on the end results, but on the overall well-being of those involved (think "stress").

      Now, we have people like Bill Gates, who fancies himself as some kind of sociological genius. To wit:
      Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has tried to make the case that however overwhelmed workers may feel, they are actually suffering from "informati
  • by zenmojodaddy ( 754377 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:44AM (#13133614)
    ... hones the creative brain to a razor's edge.
  • Productivity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:45AM (#13133619) Homepage Journal
    I once talked to a manager about this. The floor was vast, the only divisions made by medium-height file cabinets and a couple of plants. He knew that the productivity was 10% lower, but the costs and the easiness with which he and the secretaries could find employees had a greater value.

    • I've worked in an office like that - the worst distractions are people slamming shut filing cabinets, scrunching up waste sheets of paper and dropping them in the recycling bins (couldn't they just drop the paper in the bin and avoid making that noise in the first place?), and keyboard bashing - where in frustration of some event, they start banging each key as loudly as possible. Not forgetting noisily flicking through any bound paper document, or after printing out a document on a laser printer, reading
  • by justforaday ( 560408 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:45AM (#13133620)
    That's why I just ignore all of it and sit in my office playing Nethack and reading slashdot. Occasionally somebody will pop their head in, but I just tell them I'm busy and I'll come find them in a few minutes. They usually just go bother someone else.
  • Open offices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TedRiot ( 899157 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:48AM (#13133621)
    This is exactly what my boss doesn't seem to get, however often I try to explain it to him. I do software development for a living in an open office without even cubicles. I have very hard time to concentrate on my tasks when other people - my boss included - come around every half a minute to ask me when I will have time to do something or just keep having meetings one meter (a little over three feet for those of you who are not familiar with the metric system) behind my back.

    Especially this is difficult when I cannot give an instant answer and have to think about it for a minute. I first need to change my way of thinking into the model of the interrupting project and then back to the original project that I'm supposed to be working on. Afterwards I probably have to figure out some things for the second time because they were lost in the process.

    E-mails or IM's aren't so bad, they just pop up a little square in the lower left corner of the screen and I can deal with them later. Other people or phonecalls are harder to ignore.
    • Just want to say you're not alone. As the only developer in my department (there's a DBA in IT for accounting mostly) it's impossible to explain that I don't just push a few buttons and make things happen.

      I tried explaining to the boss that he has to stop piping little jobs down, with Highest Priority, to me when I am trying to meet a coding deadline on a large project.

      I put it in these terms, imagine you're doing your taxes and every 10 minutes your wife comes to ask you to do something else.

      A) How long
    • Re:Open offices (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vegard ( 11855 )
      My boss once had asked me if I could finish a pretty huge, but not impossible, task - by "end of tomorrow". I said "yes, with a good, productive day with few interruptions, that's doable". Day after, he was out of town for a meeting with the customer, whom he had promised this.

      Now, my boss wasn't exactly calm about these things, and easily got nervous, so about every half hour, he'd call me and ask for the progress. Around 3 pm, as he once again called me and asked "How's it going? Will you still be finish
    • I had the same situation, and found a pretty good solution - Earplugs.

      I told my boss I'd be putting them in, and he could talk to me only when I removed them, otherwise I wouldn't be able to get work done. (this was an open office where my desk and my boss's desk faced and touched each other with no divider, and he was the type of guy who'd interrupt you from business-critical tasks when having trouble printing, which was all the time).

      Now, you can actually hear stuff with earplugs on, but I pretended I co

    • Mental queueing (Score:3, Insightful)

      I've had two bosses (and a number of coworkers) who didn't understand the idea that letting the queue build up behind tasks getting completed is not a bad thing since it means the original task is getting completed that much quicker for the person who was there first/has a higher priority. When I worked pizza delivery, the very worst (and one of the shortest-lived of the seven I had in my less than a year there) was the guy who kept redirecting people willy-nilly. You got tired just from moving from task
  • by Linus Torvaalds ( 876626 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:49AM (#13133627)

    Set your IM to busy.

    Set your mail client to check for new email once an hour.

    Switch your phone to voicemail.

    If your boss won't let you, then it's an organisation problem, because your boss absolutely needs to understand that this is how to get you to work most efficiently.

    • If you do that then linux is set back an hour every hour. What if it is one of the kernel hackers with a really cool compile? You gonna wait an hour to implement it? Call yourself a geek!
    • by Mr_Silver ( 213637 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:24AM (#13133726)
      Set your mail client to check for new email once an hour.

      I find that Outlooks "Display a notification message when a new mail arrives" option is a substantial productivily killer because not only does it flash a window up in your face, but it taunts you to stop working on your current thing by giving you a one button press to view the email.

      With this off, the only way to tell that you have email is a small icon in the system tray. If that is still too much then you can either exit Outlook completely or use something like Knockout [] to remove the icon.

    • Well, somebody had to post it.

      This is a link [] to an old Slashdot story from maybe three years ago, that very eloquently talks about how the instantaneous nature of email, IM, and business in general these days is affecting people.

      After reading it, I have turned off all notifications on my computer, and haven't looked back since. It's nice to be master of your own domain, even if it is a tiny one.

    • I totally agree, it is a problem of organization. The choice to have more information faster is a good thing, but it is a personal decision on how to harness and use it.

      It is interesting to note the case of Donald E Knuth (of The Art of Computer Programming fame), no doubt one of the most productive and eminent scientists of our age. He stopped using email 15+ years ago!! ml/ []

      And the point is well made. Email can be a distraction and the solution has to
  • by The Jabbit ( 647747 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:50AM (#13133628) the average time between each time I read /.
  • by soma_0806 ( 893202 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:53AM (#13133638)

    Just run a silent system. No bells or chimes to signal when new email comes in. Have your phone light up, not ring. I never IM, as it annoys the hell out of me in general, so my distractions rarely, if ever, register enough to take me away from my work.

    Also, the same studies that say you need eight minutes to charge up say that your brain is only good for about twenty minutes at a clip, and then processing effectivness takes a big dive. Therefore, you can surface every half hour or so to check up on what you've missed.

    But the people stopping by... There's now way to fix that, except maybe not showing or begin collecting rare cheeses.

    • But the people stopping by... There's now way to fix that

      If you have the opportunity to work nights, try it. I hardly ever have visitors, the phone never rings, and if anyone wants to schedule me for a meeting, they'd better be prepared to: a) come in by 7am or I'm on overtime; and b) accept that I'll have put in a full day at work by the time they arrive, so I'll be tired and probably cranky if the meeting overruns much.

    • Exactly.

      I turned the ringer off on my phone. There's a red light on it that blinks when someone calls. I found that if I'm deep in thought (and thus at a very bad time to be interrupted) I don't notice it. If I'm idling, or not too far into something, the blinking light instantly attracts my attention. It also blinks when there's a voicemail, so I pick up on that as soon as I emerge from my deep thinking.

      As for people stopping by, you can retrain them if you have your supervisor's support. In my ca
      • I turned the ringer off on my phone. There's a red light on it that blinks when someone calls.

        Pff.. Blinkenlights are so noisy!
        Real.. err.. people-who-don't-want-to-be-disturbed use the Kraftwerk approach - No ringer, no lights, nothing. Schedule a time for someone to call you, pick up the phone at precisely at that moment, and if they're not on the other end they've missed you.

        From Wikipedia's entry on Kraftwerk []:
        The band are notoriously reclusive, so much so that it is rumoured that their own record com
    • I do tend to shut off all bells and whistles in my office, and when people stop by I will usually show them a t-shirt I think suits them and they don't come bothering me any more after that. Roses are #FF0000 Violets are #0000FF Then your Co workers will think, There's something wrong with you.
    • I second that. Make alarms only for _IMPORTANT_ things, which you really don't want to miss. Other email, phone, sms - as much as presence as you can get. Because it won't create haos in your communications and you can answer all incoming messages accordingly.
  • by fordede ( 18922 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:54AM (#13133641) Homepage Journal
    I'm a clinical engineer in a very large US hospital, in the operating room. In addition to the distractions above, we also have the old fashioned overhead pager to deal with. I used to have a pretty long attention span, but I think I have acquired ADD. I can't work on anything longer than a minute at a time and usually try to be doing two things at once so I'm not waiting. Ever. It gets better at the end of the day, but when cases are getting started, there are usually 3 things I have to do at any one time.

    My strategy is to ignore eamil and my personal phone line and just worry about the emergencies for the first 5 hours of my day, then try to do the actual engineering work with whatever time is left. Works ok, but it would be nice to have more free time. Unfortunately, I just can turn off my pager.
  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @06:56AM (#13133646) Homepage
    And that is why I simply don't answer the phone 80% of the time unless it is a call from somebody that I know would be needing help with a priority project/subproject/whatever. Ditto with emails - however I appreciate that email makes it easier to screen incoming information and quickly decide whether it is worth reading right away.

    If I'm deep in thought, off goes the email, and the phone certainly gets ignored.

    Work on the stuff you know is important, or at the very least work on the stuff your boss tells you is important. Don't just switch tasks every time somebody adds something to your to-do list. The guy calling on the phone will get taken care of in time. Time management gurus call this taking care of the important rather than just the "urgent." This is the only way things get fixed in the long-term - often the guy screaming for help on the phone is looking for a short term solution.

    In fact, I normally prefer email to phone calls. It is less interrupting, and it forces the person who is contacting you to organize their thoughts rather than just randomly spilling them out. Phone is GREAT for conversations, but TERRIBLE for just making requests. Unless you know that the call is going to be very high priority for both parties, I think you're better off just sending an email to schedule a time to make the call, or better still a visit.

    But that is just my two cents...

    • Yes. To some extent I wonder whether it is cultural and generational. When I was at school we sat in our place in rows and talked when we were called upon. Same for study hall.

      In particular, I've purposefully avoided instant messaging. If someone has an inspiration, they'll have a mature thought by the time they can see in a more scheduled opportunity.

    • Europe already has an answer for that in situations when email is unavailable.
      Text messaging aka SMS :D
      Read when convenient. Call back or reply by text. With slow typing you have more than enough time to put what you mean in words.

      One exception - it's considered rude to SMS requests/question type messages to strangers - they have to pay to reply. It is perfectly okay to send messages that don't require acknowledgement/reply though.
  • It's nice and quiet in the office during the weekend.

    Works for me.

    • by toonces33 ( 841696 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:31AM (#13133750)
      Yeah, I know it is quiet on the weekend. It is quiet in the evenings as well. I used to do this all of the time.

      Only one problem with this - eventually this behavior is expected, and essentially you become a slave rather than an employee.

      The worst that I remember was a time when I was so exhausted by the weekend, that my Saturdays consisted of lying down to take a nap in the mid-afternoon, and not waking up until about 10pm. At that point, there was nothing to do but just go to bed. Maybe by Sunday afternoon, I was starting to feel somewhat human again, but by then it was time to chuck myself back into the chipper on Monday.

      These days I REFUSE to work evenings and weekends any more. Having a life outside of the office is important to me now.

      I now have the Friday afternoon rule. If a "crisis" comes up after 3PM on Friday, it couldn't be so important that it cannot wait until Monday.

      If I were placed back in a situation where regular work on evenings and weekends were required, I would plan on looking for a new job. Even leaving the industry, if that is what it takes. There is no way I am going back into that hellhole.
  • Definetly True (Score:2, Insightful)

    by enoraM ( 749327 ) *

    We had this problem in our office, where telephone calls were routed to groups of people. Everybody got distracted and decided upon looking at the caller ID wether to pick up the phone.

    Favourite office sport became being the last one to pick up, before the answering machine answered.

    We descarded the old system and routed all calls directly, forwarding the call quickly (after two rings) to one other phone, if it wasn't picked up. If that one also wasn't picked up within two rings, the call got forwarded t

  • by technology focusing news-site would be more accurate
  • Gotta check out responses to my /. posting.
  • Compulsive Email (Score:3, Interesting)

    by putko ( 753330 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:03AM (#13133665) Homepage Journal
    It's been documented that if someone knows he's got an email/voicemail, he'll go crazy if he can't at least see who sent it, or knowing that, what it is about.

    This is quite terrible, given that most stuff can be ignored, yet we get emails and voice mails all the time.

    I think this is one reason why people totally despise spam.

    I remember in '91 there was a guy who would go on "vacation" (with the vacation program) even when in the office. You'd mail him and get a note that he was realy busy, and would respond later. If you went and interrupted him, it needed to be really, really urgent, or he'd have a fit.

    I thought it was odd then, but now it makes perfect sense.
  • Where's the problem? Just disable interrupts while you're managing one, and re-enable when ended. People will keep calling until they don't get some CPU share. Else, the overhead for context switching is known to be terrible. Just be sure to schedule calls from your boss in real time priority, if you don't want to get fired.
  • Tech causes problem because we haven't yet learned to handle it. Sure, we use it all the time, but that doesn't mean that we're using sound strategies to handle all the information and requests from colleagues.

    Just read the article: more and more companies are realizing that they cannot continue with all of the information management like they have used to. At first, these little tricks will seem pretty odd, but once we filter out those that work for everyone involved, they will be strategies commonly u
  • by sita ( 71217 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:11AM (#13133687)
    YMMV, but I find that if I, for any longer period of time, turn off notifications for e-mail etc (or if I am forced to use my webmail instead of a fat IMAP client or so) I will spend a lot more time polling my webmail than I would have lost due to "push" interruptions. The same goes for slashdot and the like.

    I suppose there are parameters that I could vary (get a more interesting job, for one;).
  • bleh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Blymie ( 231220 ) * on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:15AM (#13133699)
    "The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state."

    Hey, I won't disagree that it is very difficult to work with constant distraction. As a Programmer, a SysAdmin, sometimes you have to sit and _think_ about the big picture.

    You must pause and consider.

    However, the above quote shows quite aptly one of the major flaws with Western Medicine. It seems to think that all human beings are identical.

    8 minutes? Clearly this is some sort of average, and an average likely deduced by dubious means. It could be 1 minute for some, 16 minutes for others.. and the type of creativity could make as much of a difference as the person involved!

    Of course, let's just boil it all down into a neat figure, instead...

    • However, the above quote shows quite aptly one of the major flaws with Western Medicine. It seems to think that all human beings are identical.

      Where did you get the impression "Western Medicine" was involved in this? That quote appears to have come from "journalist and author" Carl Honore. It's not news that journalists oversimplify things.
  • Use your head... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flajann ( 658201 )
    One simply must manage the distractions.

    I myself will simply ignore the email and focus on what I must accomplish. Then when I'm at a breaking point, I'll look at the email.

    Simple old-fashioned prioritization.

    All thing fall under:

    • Urgent or Not Urgent
    • Important or not Important
    That forms a 2x2 matrix, and all problems should be ranked accordingly. Then, it becomes clear what the most efficient way to deal with the issues are.
  • Telecommute (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wiseleo ( 15092 ) * on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:18AM (#13133712) Homepage
    I once had an urgent high priority matter and got sick of interruptions. I normally wear high quality headphones (office music is well...), but...

    Next day did not show up at the office and logged on from home through VPN and shut off my phones. Worked my 8 hours and got back to work next day. They had a problem with it, but I said it was billable time and I had to allocate the entire day to one client that was basically a convoluted research project.

    The reason why I was surprised at the reaction? I live 3 miles from my office. Any urgent ticket, for which I have real-time notification, would have same speed of response if not quicker than calling me in the office.

    Some people just don't get it, but it's a good option if you can make it work. I much prefer working in my home office with a high end sound system rather than the open-doored office in subzero temperatures.

    I've been successful another 2 times so far to work remotely and converted most customers for remote access.
  • by RandomRob ( 882021 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:22AM (#13133720)
    This strikes a chord with me, too...

    I had an employee a few years ago who didn't seem to understand the idea of uninterrupted work. I regularly close my door and get work done - research, coding, whatever - and the rule around the lab is, if the door is closed, you leave the person alone. This one guy didn't seem to understand this - I mean, he didn't WANT to have this apply to him...

    He would come up with really annoying ways to interrupt, like hammering on my door really hard, or standing in front of the door talking loudly. The final straw, that resulted in his near-decapitation, was one incident where he emailed me, emailed me five minutes later to complain I hadn't responded, then borrowed a security key to let himself in to my office to ask why I wasn't answering email.


  • I get it, you're working on something and you're trying to concentrate, come up with the next block of code for an intricate function, and some popup email notification for shonky viagra salesman comes up and throws your concentration a little, annoying.

    I don't however think that the best solution is to "unplug" so to speak, because I've had the reverse to, deeply entranced in something complex for hours on end, only to find out that it was useless work because I was emailed twenty minutes into the task an
    • I don't however think that the best solution is to "unplug" so to speak, because I've had the reverse to, deeply entranced in something complex for hours on end, only to find out that it was useless work because I was emailed twenty minutes into the task and notified we'd be taking a different task, that is similiarily annoying.

      If something is open to that kind of change, I generally just sit on it. Until a task is certain, it doesn't need to be done.

      If I worked in open cubes, I'd wear two sets of hea

  • I thought the statement about "eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state" was interresting but where did it come from? I'm trying to talk my manager out of a really bad office design and this kind of information would help.
  • bullcrap (Score:2, Informative)

    by ph4s3 ( 634087 )
    These things only bother the ignorant and the self-important. Anyone that's dealt with an office environment where you have 5 ways of being contacted knows that if you want to be highly focused on a project or whatever, you turn all that crap off and deal with it later.

    Personally I only answer the phone if it's my wife (w/ small baby at home) or a number I don't recognize which is rare. As for email, IM, etc., they are turned off and only checked twice a day.

    And by the way, for any low functioning PHB
  • Of course, The ultimate way to get around this is to go nocturnal. "Real programmers do their best work between 1 and 6 am" -- C for dummies :D
  • by Nova Express ( 100383 ) <> on Friday July 22, 2005 @07:53AM (#13133847) Homepage Journal
    This somehow assumes that modern business offices want you to be in a "creative state." Alas, I can tell that for some of them, this just ain't the case...

  • by Fr05t ( 69968 )
    I wear ear plugs, and a blind fold.
  • tetris (Score:2, Funny)

    by c0n0 ( 901224 )
    ohmmm...not now Lumberg...I am real busy
    Besides, I've got a meeting with the Bobs in a few minutes.
  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @08:21AM (#13133973)
    (1) the three minute average is silly. You can work uninterrupted or be in a meeting for an hour - this means you'd need other spans of near constant interruption to hit that average. Most likely this was a survey, "3 minutes" was a choice and it came up most often. People like to complain to inquisitive strangers who are paying attention to them, and you see the events, not the space between them.

    (Same problem accurately estimating cloud cover. Here's an exercise: Take a sheet of plain paper. Fold it in half the short way, tear a big circle out of the middle. Open it back up. You have a rectangular paper donut. Tear the round piece in half. Put one half in your pocket, tear the other into about a dozen random shapes and sizes. Lay the donut down. Lay the random pieces into the open hole. Ask passers-by to tell you how much of the hole is filled. You'll get big numbers. 70-80 % coverage. You can prove it's really only 50% - you have exactly half the hole in your pocket untouched.)

    (2) the 8 minute ramp-up is almost as silly. Suppose it's roughly right. Office workers are required to be in "a really creative state" to get any work done? Nonsense.
  • When I speak to my boss of being in a mode where I need to crank out furious amounts of code I use the expression "head down, headphones on." In other words, so I will see no distractions and hear no distractions. I have no audio alarm on either my email or im, so unless they visually catch my attention, I do not get distracted by them, either.

    I've gotten some of my best coding work done in the strangest of places....planes and trains. Why? Well, for one, you've got no internet (usually), therefore no

  • by joshv ( 13017 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @09:08AM (#13134335)
    I just ordered the book on Amazon. One of the options was to have it rush shipped to me by tomorrow.
  • No news for me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jurt1235 ( 834677 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @09:09AM (#13134338) Homepage
    That is why some people use methods like timeboxing (check your e-mail twice a day), deliberately do not run message programs, and really extreme: Let the voicemail enter the phone, if they do not leave a voicemail, it is not important.
    • Let the voicemail enter the phone, if they do not leave a voicemail, it is not important.

      I go further. My biggest problem has always been the phone, what with people calling me with problems that they could easily solve for themselves if they'd just spend 90 seconds thinking about the problem instead of reflexively picking up the phone. I hate that, so I just don't pick up the phone. My voicemail message says that I'll respond to messages when I'm able and that if you really want to contact me you s

  • Technique for getting back to work in distracting situations:

    Last week I read "How to Work the Competition into the Ground and Have
    Fun Doing it" by John T. Molloy. While the "color" material of the
    book is obviously from the 80's, all the substantive information
    contained within the book is still a goldmine.

    One of the techniques I thought I'd share that I picked up in a book
    was a way to stay on task. It helps recover back to the task at hand,
    as well as making you plan what you're going to be doing.

    In the b
  • There's an interesting article (pdf here []) in the January 2005 Scientific American about this very problem and one company's solution...apparently, Microsoft is test-driving a system called Bestcom that uses Bayesian decision-making incorporating information about keyboard & mouse usage, recent calls, recent emails, and other markers such as whether or not the caller is listed in the recipient's address book. After evaluating all the parameters, it decides whether or not a phone call/email/whatever (inc
    • My kingdom for mod points. Very interesting article.

      I have managed to get 2 days per week working from home; with a sho' 'nuff office. Desk phone? Heh, it's 60 miles from me and I don't care how often it rings.

      A riposte to the constant distractions is to 'Be somewhere else.' Not always possible, but you can try...
  • My favorite is I get a call. Something is down. I am in the middle of fixing it and I get 20 more calls about it being DOWN. YES I FREAKING KNOW IT'S DOWN!!! LET ME FRIGGIN WORK!
  • This reminds me of an great story (hang on... check slashdot... reload...) umm where was I.. oh I'd better get that invoice out right away (umm check slashdot... reload... ) ok now.. lets see oh that deadline is coming up... (wait... check slashdot.. reload... ) mmmm oh damn it's my girlfriends birthday today and I didn't get her anything! Hmmm what should I get her (just a sec... check slashdot... reload...) oh here comes my boss - he's going to ask if I finished that bug fix yet... but I've been too busy!
  • I hate phones, I really do. I've resisted getting voice mail set up on the cell phone I got for when my car dies, because if I get voice mail, then people will leave me messages on it, and act very surprised when I don't pick them up, because I don't actually enjoy being needled by messages every goddamned waking hour.

    There's a tragic disconnect between the level of horribly annoying technology we can construct, and the level we should construct.

    --grendel drago
  • Tom DeMarco should be mentioned in this discussion.

    He did formal studies (assigning the same task to a large number of programmers) and compared productivity. The ability to turn the telephone ringer off and having a private office with a large desk were the biggest predictors of productivity.

    This is an older study, predating IM, and probably back when email wasn't such a part of daily life, but it seems to me obvious that the same principle applies.

    This is reported in a book called Peopleware.

  • You can defer email.
    You can defer IM.
    You can not defer a persistent phone caller, because your co-workers will bug you about the ringing.
    You can not defer the goon squad from popping by your cubicle every 5 minutes to ask you something.

    (That said, my visit to Novell in Provo back in 1996 was enlightening. They had cube walls that went up to the ceiling. And doors that closed. I tell this story every time it comes up at my current job that people are complaining about goon-visits, in hopes that managemen
  • I will not deny what they are saying about creative states being true, but a majority of the affected workers are not "creative" and it's often their job to answer these phones, emails and IMs. So screw you CNET for another useless bit of commentary.

    As for those who are creative workers or manage creative workers, I'm pretty sure this is not news and that you have "pretty good reasons" for not ensuring that the work environment remains as free from interruptions as possible... right?
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday July 22, 2005 @10:31AM (#13135034) Homepage Journal
    The messaging interrupt problem is one of complexity. If we had a single "inbox" for all messages, showing their subject, sender, and suggested priority, we could manage them better. We could whitelist/blacklist their real priority against a complete directory of senders, including "friend of a friend" associations. We could cross-reference our calendar, blocking out "solitary" time and blocking in "collaboration" time, for weighting message announcement priorities. Services like Spotlight and Dashboard could show prioritized messages' context of other messages/work/status, to quickly dismiss messages. All that technology would use all our information, automatically, to "defend" against incoming information distracting us.

    But the main defense is not just computers, or even personal discipline like "concentration". Mainly, we need to care more about our jobs. When our work itself is engrossing, we aren't as distracted by mere "wazzup?" messages from friends when we're busy. The real best use of the technology will be to keep all the administrivia of our jobs from sucking up our time, where we're most vulnerable to pleasant distractions.

    Personally, since my work is even more fun that posting to Slashdot, I get in my time only during the interstices between work tasks. Makes task switching seem like a social break. So I can work many hours at a time, without leaving the keyboard. On second thought, maybe I should be taking a walk to talk F2F with some real humans...

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.