Interruptions do Impact Quality of Work

stressed office ee - CopyInterruptions are universally common at home and in the office; however, little is known about the influence disruptions have on quality of work.

According to a study published by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, office employees are interrupted an average of six times every hour!  The research study, “Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work” was designed to determine if interruptions negatively impact quality of work.

The study found that “quality of work was significantly reduced in both interruption conditions when compared to the non-interruption condition,” and that interruptions are detrimental to performance.

According to the authors of the study, we should minimize unnecessary interruptions when possible.  Some suggestions we’ve compiled include:

  • For most of us in office settings, email is a high level activity and a principle form of communication; however, it can be disruptive and negatively impact productivity and quality while we are working on an important task.  Solution: When working on a designated task, it may be helpful to set aside time to work on the task and designate set periods of time to check new email – perhaps every 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Turn off notifications (email/chat/apps) – this will stop external distractions and allow you to take the time to review them during a break from your task.
  • Turn off cell phone / designate set periods of time to check messages
  • Self-interruptions happen when you abandon an ongoing task before you finish it, in order to direct your attention to a different task, without being prompted by an external event or another person.  One way to minimize self-interruptions is to plan your interruptions in advance.  Write down an “if…then” statement to use when you lose focus.  For example, “if I get mentally tired working on this task, then I will clean up my email for 10 minutes, etc.”



Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work? (Cyrus K. Foroughi, Nicole E. Werner, Erik T. Nelson, Deborah A. Boehm-Davis), George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) is the world’s largest nonprofit individual-member, multidisciplinary scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals, with more than 4,800 members globally.