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14 Mar

How to quickly get back on track after being interrupted


Datum: 2018-03-14 16:40

The researchers Mark, Gon­za­lez and Har­ris at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia have con­duct­ed a study on how often we get inter­rupt­ed, what kind of inter­rup­tions we are most dis­turbed by and what we can do to quick­ly resume work­ing on what we were doing before being interrupted.

Inter­rupt­ed regard­ing what we are doing, is a contribution
One inter­est­ing dis­cov­ery they made was that inter­rup­tions con­cerned with anoth­er theme, task, errand or project (which they refer to as anoth­er work­ing sphere”) than that which we are cur­rent­ly work­ing on, dis­tracts us and dis­rupts our focus. How­ev­er, inter­rup­tions” that con­cern the same work­ing sphere as we are in at the moment are on the con­trary often per­ceived as con­tribut­ing to what we are doing. More about this in a future post.

Leave it as it is
What I want to focus on right now is how their study indi­cat­ed that if the mate­r­i­al we were work­ing with when inter­rupt­ed (such as doc­u­ments, pro­grams, et c) are still in the exact same posi­tion as we left them in when we resume the task, it will be sig­nif­i­cant­ly eas­i­er to take it from where we left off and con­tin­ue work­ing, and hence the dam­age done by the inter­rup­tion will be minimized.

Phys­i­cal spaces
How do we make sure that we find our mate­ri­als exact­ly how we left them? Well, if we are talk­ing phys­i­cal mate­ri­als and paper doc­u­ments, we might use dif­fer­ent desks or work­spaces in our office for dif­fer­ent tasks. When we return to the des­ig­nat­ed table where we left all the mate­ri­als we were work­ing with when inter­rupt­ed, every­thing is exact­ly where we left it, and we can get up to speed again easily.

… and their dig­i­tal equivalents
But what about when we work in dig­i­tal spheres and envi­ron­ments? We can actu­al­ly use dif­fer­ent work­spaces in this con­text as well. On a Mac the func­tion is called spaces” and in Win­dows it is referred to as mul­ti­ple desk­tops”, and the idea is pret­ty much the same for both sys­tems. It is easy to cre­ate sev­er­al desk­tops” which we can pop­u­late with dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als, apps and pro­grams depend­ing on what we want to work with — and thus cre­ate sev­er­al dig­i­tal sur­faces to work on. If we are inter­rupt­ed, we just leave the desk­top we are work­ing from and open anoth­er where we work until we are done, and then return to the first one. Every­thing is where we left it and we can resume work­ing much faster — regain­ing focus and motion quickly. 

Do this
If you want to try work­ing with dif­fer­ent tasks on sep­a­rate sur­faces, think about what recur­ring tasks you have to do once in a while that require your full atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion. These should be good tasks to try the method on, and see for your­self if it makes a dif­fer­ence to your focus and abil­i­ty to resume work.

If you are not yet famil­iar with the dig­i­tal func­tions I men­tioned, you can read up on how they work here (in OS X or in Win­dows).

The next time you need to do some­thing com­pli­cat­ed, use a des­ig­nat­ed sur­face or work­space — or try it right away, regard­less what your next task is.

Quick recov­ery
If you make it easy to leave all the mate­r­i­al you have tak­en out and need for a par­tic­u­lar task when you have to step away for a while, the research men­tioned above sug­gests that the inter­rup­tion will not nec­es­sar­i­ly hurt your focus. You will find it eas­i­er to get back into what you were doing and will spend more of your time get­ting things done instead of try­ing to regain focus and motion.

What is your trick?
How do you get back up to speed after hav­ing been inter­rupt­ed? Share your best idea. 

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