When we’re trying to concentrate, even short interruptions can lead to big problems.
We all know that when we’re trying to marshal the cognitive power at our disposal to resolve a “situation,” be creative, or just plain get stuff done, disruptions are not good – and social science research continues to show just how harmful mental “disconnects” can be.
Altmann, Trafton, and Hambrich have found that brief interruptions, think 3 seconds or so, double the number of mistakes that people make on tasks that are “relatively difficult.” Forgetting to turn off your cell phone before you sit down to work just took on a whole new significance, didn’t it?
Previous research with people doing work that requires mental focus found that when their thoughts were interrupted by nearby conversations, or e-mails, or instant messages, or whatever, it took them 15 to 20 minutes to get back into the mental swing-of-things and fully return to the task at hand. Interruptions also add stress to our days, and that tension is distracting, as well.