Interruptions, context-switching, and flow

Mike Gunderloy at WWD writes "The more you allow yourself to be ping-ponged around from IM chat to
email to what you should be working on to social network to phone call,
the less likely you are to ever hit a flow state."  He points to a great post by Darren Rowse on "batch processing."

There has been a lot recently written about the time cost of working in an interrupt-driven fashion.  This Microsoft Research Study by Mary Czerwinski, Eric Horvitz, and Susan Wilhite documents the level of task-switching and interruptions user face.  We’ve mentioned this topic on the ClearContext corporate blog and the IMS methodology is built around batching concepts like only checking your email every few hours.

Mike’s post touches on what I consider an even greater issue with the interrupt-driven information overloaded world most of us work in – the impact that has on the creative flow of ideas.  Nathan Zeldes of Intel wrote in  Infomania: Why we can’t afford to ignore it any longer that "because of Infomania, employees are not creating new ideas to the extent they could."

This is not a new issue by any means  Back in 2003, gavinb writes "this translates to the idea that 2-3 interruptions per hour can halve productivity" and points to an article by Bryan Dollery that describes why that’s the case:

Flow takes time to achieve, and it is fragile. If a programmer’s flow
is interrupted it can take a large amount of time for her to regain the
state, sometimes up to an hour. That’s an hour of lost productivity to
your team. If a programmer is interrupted many times during the day she
may never reach this state. Without this state, creativity is crippled.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Bryan’s article as well as the others referenced in this post.  They provide some really valuable insight into the second-order impacts of interrupt-driven work styles beyond the basic loss of time and productivity.

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