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27th March 2015

Digital Distractions at Work

Tom Huggins

Tom Huggins

Business Manager, Contracts

Tom graduated from Durham University after completing a sport science degree. Whilst at University, he…

I recently read about a study conducted by the University of California which got me thinking about the potential pitfalls of ubiquitous technology and digital distractions at work, particularly in relation to software developers and engineers.

According to the study, office workers are interrupted, or self-interrupt, roughly every three minutes on average. Distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, BBC News / Sport become extremely tempting procrastination techniques, and then of course there are emails, phone calls and other work related events which all break up what I’ll call ‘focussed engineering time’.  According to the study, it can take up to 23 minutes for a worker to return to being fully immersed in a task after a distraction.

Digital distractionsThe implication is that if you’re trying to maximise your efficiency – ie your ‘focussed engineering time’ – the key is to limit the distractions and tempting procrastination sources. Some simple suggestions:

1.    Turn off the mail function on your phone (or turn off your phone completely!)
2.    Don’t route personal emails to your work inbox
3.    Schedule breaks so that you’re in control of your distractions rather than the other way round

It may seem that ‘maximising your efficiency’ sounds like a way of you helping your employer make more profit while you have no fun. But actually staying focussed is helping you in three concrete ways. First, it’s making you better at your job – so helping you increase salary or hourly rate, progress your career, etc. Second, it’s allowing you to focus for extended periods, which is good for your brain. And three – perhaps more importantly – it’s allowing you to spend less time in the office, so then you can choose whether you want your free time to be reading all those emails you avoided during the day, or doing something non- technological……. like going for a walk with your pedometer / health aid turned OFF!

As always, would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.



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