650 billion (not million) in Interruptions

An interesting article in the New York Times entitled”Lost in Email, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast.”

Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.

The article describes one study that shows that some 28% of a professional’s day is spent deal with interruptions by things that aren’t urgent or important.

This seems all well and good… until they give the example of “unnecessary email.”

That made me pay attention, because I know from experience that the problem isn’t the technology, but instead it lies in people’s habits. In others, don’t blame Microsoft Outlook for the habit of checking and acting on email ten times per day.

Not surprisingly, the article cited the example of Intel workers who were encouraged to “limit digital interruptions” and were way more effective as a result. No surprise there! Limiting the interruptions allows for a greater opportunity to enter into the flow state, which is one of the goals of the 2Time Management system.

On engineer has apparently introduced a tool that will prevent a user from having access to his/her email inbox! I thought this was funny at first, because it’s a little like freezing one’s credit cards in a block of ice to prevent impulse purchases. It works, but it doesn’t really change the underlying habit.

The effect of poor habits is now being seen as quite costly:

A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure by RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer habits. The company, which draws its data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.


Right at the end of the article a typo caught my attention that stopped me in my tracks altogether…

Correction: June 18, 2008
An article on Saturday about efforts to cut down on information overload in the workplace, using data from the research firm Basex, gave an incorrect estimate in some editions for the annual cost of unnecessary interruptions at work. It is $650 billion — not million.