Workers interrupted every 11 minutes

2006

Everyday interruptions cost Western economies billions of pounds in lost productivity, with the average worker interrupted by an email, phone call or simple tap on the shoulder every 11 minutes.

A study by Time magazine has warned that such interruptions can lead to a host of psychological disorders in workers as well as raising stress levels and reducing productivity.

Researchers studying a random sample of office workers and found they got an average of just 11 minutes clear time to a project before being distracted by an e-mail, phone call or verbal interruption from a manager or colleague.

It also found interruptions now took up an average of 2.1 hours of every working day, or 28 per cent of the average person's nine-to-five schedule, including the time to recover your train of thought following an interruption.

It took an average of 25 minutes to return to a task after being disturbed, according to the magazine.

In terms of lost wages and reduced productivity, workplace interruptions cost the U.S economy $588bn a year, it estimated.

Extrapolated to the UK, this would be the equivalent of £34bn a year.

Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell told Time that he had seen a tenfold rise in the number of patients with work-induced attention deficit disorder.

"They complained that they were more irritable than they wanted to be. Their productivity was declining and they couldn't get organised," he said.

Adult attention deficit disorder took hold "when we get so overloaded with incoming messages and competing tasks that we are unable to prioritize", he suggested.

Hallowell has even coined a term to describe the experience – "frazzing" – or, as he put it: "Frantic, ineffective multi-tasking, typically with the delusion that you are getting a lot done. The quality of the work, however, is poor."