Interruptions destroy productivity

by | Jun/9/2010

We live in this modern world of e-mail, text messages, and social media and the constant interruptions can be devastating.

When CNN ran the story, Study tracks effects of interruptions on doctors, I immediately thought about the effects of interruptions on the “doctors” who take care of your IT—your IT professionals!

If you have seen me speak, or experienced an IT Vital Systems Review audit, you have heard my soap box spiel about how IT professionals all need at least one 45 minute period of uninterrupted time each day to accomplish tasks. My preference is that they get even more than one of those periods.

When solving an IT related issue, planning the next upgrade, or focusing on some other IT related process, it is crucial for the IT professional to be balancing multiple ideas and multiple subjects around in their brain simultaneously. One unnecessary interruption can throw the IT professional back to “square one” again in a nanosecond.

The CNN article says doctors did not even return to almost 20% of the tasks they were doing when interrupted.

Interruptions are dangerous to medical professionals in hospitals, pilots in aircraft, and IT professionals in your organization.

Save them time, and yourself money, by allowing them to work quietly from time to time.  If you have them on staff, IT developers are the same way. Writing code is a thought intensive process.

I was interrupted twice while writing this article. How many times were you interrupted while reading it?

For that matter, some of the CEO’s and other key executives that read these blog postings can benefit from some uninterrupted time as well!  Please post your thoughts on this blog.


  1. Karen

    Mike: Last Monday’s NY Times had a fantastic article called Hooked on Gadgets about multi-tasking and how we all think we’re great at it and really we aren’t. I agree with your ideas on uninterrupted time, but I think it’s made even more difficult when IT people are serving many roles in a small organization AND often in a cubicle environment. Great article Mike!

  2. Mike Foster

    Thank you Karen! I found the link to the article you mentioned here:
    Some organizations allow their IT professionals to “work from home” one day a week and that helps – I know you are familiar with that one. And you are right – it is a challenge. Thank you for your feedback and added value!

  3. Jana Hunter

    You don’t know the HALF of what interruptions are like! Try living and working in Saudi Arabia! I am a teacher and at present also doing the job of “acting principal”. Every time I am called to a “meeting” with the “boss” I spend TWO hours on things that should have only taken 20 minutes! These men don’t seem to mind when one after another person comes into their office with things they are to read and sign. Then there are their phones. Cell and desk. Sometimes they are on them both at the same time! And there I sit, waiting! It is the most rude behavior I have ever seen. On top of that, I am constantly interrupted from teaching my students with one problem after another that needs the “principal’s” attention. Having experienced interruptions to the 1000th degree, you can BET that I will think twice before I interrupt anyone else!

  4. Mike Foster

    Wow, Jana – thank you for your feedback. Interruptions interfere with principles, teachers, doctors, IT professionals, business executives – I wonder if anyone is excluded? You mention the culture in Saudi Arabia – I wonder if there have ever been any studies about how cultural norms about interruptions affect a nation’s financial success, crime rates, and other factors?

  5. Donna G.

    Hi Jana ~ From Donna, fellow teacher in Saudi Arabia!

    Yes, you did a great job balancing 2 positions at the school: third grade teacher, and stand-in principal. You smiled and told jokes under pressure. I hope you are the full time principal next year.

    • Mike Foster

      Thank you Donna. I hear Jana saying she could have done an even more amazing job if she didn’t have all the interruptions. Do you face lots of interruptions too?


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