News: Do You Have a Sec?

The upside of workplace distractions.

By Lauren F. Friedman, published on November 5, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Focusing without interruptions seems like a no-brainer for boosting productivity, but a recent study in Applied Psychology shows that’s not always the case—especially when considering the output of a team, rather than just an individual.

Allowing disruptions at any time may reduce productivity for the person being disturbed, but it simultaneously ups the efficiency of the person who needs help, the researchers found. Do quiet hours even the score? Not quite. Setting aside alternating times when interruptions were and were not allowed actually led to lower performance for both parties than the “ask anytime” condition.

The study authors suspect that keeping track of rules about asking questions—which understandably limits the motivation and performance of someone needing help—can also be burdensome for the helper by increasing cognitive load.