The blog

Previous article

Next article

30 Jan

Get interrupted without minding

Datum: 2024-01-30 08:34
Two hands holding white, empty speech bubbles against an orange background.

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.

Do this

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

An elderly man on the patio of a bier stube in the alps on a sunny day, listening to music in headphones.

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.

Yes, I want more tips!