We all need to work uninterrupted from time to time. When we have a difficult task before us it often requires our concentration and focus. In other words, this is not the ideal time for getting interrupted. But, are all interruptions to be regarded as unwelcome distractions?
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
We live and work in spheres
In a study conducted at the University of California titled “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work” the researchers Mark, Gonzales and Harris studied how being interrupted while working effects us. They established the term “working spheres” which represent the theme or area the task we are currently working on is concerned with. A working sphere can be anything from solving a problem using an application, prepare an invoice or servicing a tool, to a long-term project.
Anything but this distracts us
The researchers found that when we get interrupted by something regarding any other working sphere than the one we are currently operating within, we experience it as an annoying distraction. We have to leave our train of thought and shift into another frame of mind or recall other facts than the ones currently at the top of our mind. But, the study also showed that if we are interrupted regarding something that does concern what we are working on, the effect is not as devastating and the interruption can even be experienced as a contribution to what we are working on.
“I am currently working on this”
What if we could make it clear to others what working sphere we were currently in, that is to say, clearly communicate what we are working on or with? Then others would know that they are welcome to interrupt us with matters concerning the working sphere we are in, and we can hence help them without being distracted. Making this clarification enables us to work uninterrupted and still be semi-available. It would be an improvement to those of us who find it difficult to completely shut ourselves away from others.
If this sounds like a way that would make it possible for you to work concentrated and still be available to your colleagues, take a few moments to think of how you could make it clear to them what you are working on — meaning, what working sphere you are in.
Will you write it on the small whiteboard just outside your office (if you have your own office door)? Or will you add it as your “Current mood”-message in Teams or some other digital service you use in your organisation? Or will you do this some other way that makes more sense where you work?
If this is new to you, make sure you tell your colleagues what you want to try and why the next time you all congregate so that they can abide to this new rule.
Undistracted and available at the same time
If you make it clear what working sphere you are in, you will — at least according to the study I mentioned — be less effected by interruptions regarding the same sphere, theme or area. The colleagues will find that you are still somewhat available and willing to help them, and you can maintain your concentration on the task that requires your full attention.
What is your way?
How will you show your colleagues what you are working on and what sort of tasks they are welcome to disturb you with? Share your thoughts with me!
There's more where this came from
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.