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25 Minutes To Regain Focus After An Interruption

Written by: Anthony Moss-Zobel, PCC (ICF), Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Two recent studies have shed light on the impact of interruptions on task completion accuracy. The first study, led by Michigan State University, found that even short interruptions, such as silencing a buzzing phone, can have a surprisingly large effect on an individual's ability to complete a task accurately. The study involved 300 participants who performed a sequence-based procedure on a computer, and interruptions of about three seconds doubled the error rate.

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‘Sometimes participants were interrupted and told to type two letters – which took 2.8 seconds– before returning to the task. When this happened, they were twice as likely to mess up the sequence.’ The second study, by Mark, Gudith, and Klocke, examined the cost of interrupted work on productivity and stress levels. The study found that interruptions can increase stress levels and decrease productivity, as it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. The study highlights the importance of managing interruptions to improve productivity, reduce stress levels, and achieve better quality work. ‘Surprisingly our results show that interrupted work is performed faster.’ ‘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.’ ‘Our results suggest that interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states.’ Together, these studies emphasize the importance of minimizing interruptions during complex tasks that require attention to detail. Short interruptions, even as brief as a few seconds, can significantly impact task completion accuracy, productivity, and stress levels. Individuals and workplaces should minimize interruptions, such as turning off phone notifications, finding a quiet space to work, or implementing policies limiting interruptions during critical tasks. In addition to the steps to minimize interruptions, I like to recommend another useful tool; Neuro-led Coaching Focus Time Planner: It includes assisting clients in chucking down, writing and clarifying intentions, attending to feelings/emotions, considering the physical environment, sleep/rest pattern, and setting a timer. The idea is to help support habit formation which supports focus and attention improvement.


By helping clients & students manage interruptions; schools and workplaces can optimize performance and achieve better quality outcomes. These studies provide valuable insights into the impact of interruptions on task completion accuracy and productivity and highlight the need for effective interruption management strategies.


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Anthony Moss-Zobel, PCC (ICF), Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Anthony Moss-Zobel, PCC (ICF), is a Doctorate of Business Administration student. He leads Neuro-led Coaching & Consulting, specializing in personal & professional cognitive neuroscience coaching and training in the public and private sectors. He also is an associate lecturer in team leadership, communication & HRM. He partners with NeuroEducation experts in France, the USA, and Africa to bring neuroscience insights to the classroom which has been proven highly effective. His work in Ghana and recent collaboration with Consortium International pour la Formation et la Recherche Coopérative en Education (CIFORCE) and l’Institut Africain pour la Neuro Education et la Ludopédagogie (IANEL) brings NeuroEducation across West Africa.

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