Stop or Not? How behavioral factors affect decisions related to work interruptions
What can managers do to combat productivity losses caused by distractions and interruptions? In some cases, common-sense interventions carry the day. But in others, a counterintuitive approach turns out to be more effective.
When was the last time you were able to just sit down at your desk and complete an entire task or project start to finish? No emails or texts, no checking of the Internet, no colleagues crashing through the door to report the latest unrelated challenge (or even gossip)?
The difficulty of performing sustained, focused work is well understood and has been studied across a variety of settings, including education, health care, and management. The authors draw on that extensive body of research—focusing on two studies in particular—to examine how distractions and/or interruptions impact the productivity of a broad cross-section of workers, from students to radiologists. Our goal is to summarize findings related to the impact of interruptions of various kinds—from switching among different projects to interruptions of single projects—and to offer insights into effective strategies for combating the inevitable productivity losses that they impose. From this effort, we distill some key findings and prescriptions for managers to move forward toward achieving higher-performing organizations.
This paper should take about 15 minutes for you to read. Turn off your smartphone, close your door, and see if you can do it in one sitting!
In this paper, the authors draw on that extensive body of research to examine how distractions and/or interruptions impact the productivity of a broad cross-section of workers, from students to radiologists.
About the authors
Mark J. Cotteleer
Dr. Mark J. Cotteleer is a research director with Deloitte Services LP. His research focuses on the application of advanced technology in pursuit of operational and financial performance improvement, and is widely published in top management and academic journals. Cotteleer has received multiple research and teaching awards and has led teams in technology-enabled reengineering, supply chain strategy, business analytics, and process design. His experience with clients includes work in manufacturing, supply chain, business analytics, health care, and service industries.
Dr. Elliot Bendoly is a professor of management sciences at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. His current research interests include studies into the effectiveness of opera- tions/IT alignment as well as investigations in the behavioral operations domain: collaboration/ group dynamics and work policies/task complexity/uncertainty. Bendoly serves as senior editor for the journal Production and Operations Management and as associate editor for the Journal of
Operations Management. His 50-plus peer-reviewed articles also appear in Information Systems
Research, MIS Quarterly, and Journal of Applied Psychology. His personal site can be viewed at www.bizbreed.com.