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Digital distractions in the workplace
 

Digital distractions in the workplace

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Distractions in the workplace are nothing new, but technology has made them much worse. This presentation looks at the causes of workplace distractions, and offers several strategies for dealing them, ...

Distractions in the workplace are nothing new, but technology has made them much worse. This presentation looks at the causes of workplace distractions, and offers several strategies for dealing them, both for individuals, and for organizations. Information overload and context switching are identified as two key problems that must be dealt with. Since organizations have invested heavily in collaboration tools, workers are faced with a coterie of products that don't work together well. The result is a day spent toggling between multiple applications to complete basic business tasks. Case in point: the New York Times found that workers typically change windows 37 times an hour. But how do you solve this problem with out having to change a worker's daily habits or behavior? One solution is social email - a way to reduce context switching by aggregating existing collaboration tools in the one window that is open all day at work - email. Single context, one window...but no 'pane.'

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  • We havealways been distracted, but it is getting worse. Solutions include both technology and new ‘user behavior’ – let’s take a look at what is causing distraction today.There are three main causes for distractions today:Information Overload – TMIInstant Gratification SyndromeExpectation To Be ‘Always-on’ / Instant Response
  • Richtel, M., YOUR BRAIN ON COMPUTERS; Hooked on Gadgets, New York Times, 7 June 2010http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806EFD61030F934A35755C0A9669D8B63&pagewanted=all
  • 2 out of 3 people will tune out of face-to-face meetings to communicate digitally with someone else. The addiction is also taking over people's personal lives. Case in point: the majority of people under the age of 40 stay digitally connected in bed, and 44% of people under 30 stay connected during a night out at the movies.
  • The typical corporate user sends and receives about 110 messages daily – 18% of this is SPAM and graymail.There will be 3.5B IM accounts by 2014. Email Statistics Report, 2010, RADICATI GROUP, INC,http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Email-Statistics-Report-2010-2014-Executive-Summary2.pdfRadicati Group
  • 71% of workers respond to IM within 2 secondsWorkers take anaverage of 10-15minutes to return to original tasks when interrupted by email or IM
  • Web pages are viewed for ten seconds or less. Fewer than one in ten page views extend beyond two minutes, an a significant amount of those seem to involve ‘unattended browser windows…left open in the background of a desktop.’”
  • The average US office worker is interrupted 11 times an hour. The cost of these interruptions, in which email plays a large role, runs close to $650 billion in the US alone. Basex Study(Freeman, p. 140). [Note: another study that says this number is $950 billion for 2009].
  • 53% waste at least one hour a day due to distractions.Bob Slydell: You see, what we're actually trying to do here is, we're trying to get a feel for how people spend their day at work... so, if you would, would you walk us through a typical day, for you? Peter Gibbons: Yeah. Bob Slydell: Great. Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, hehheh - and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour. Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out? Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work. 
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  • The majority (57%) of work interruptions now involve either using collaboration and social tools like email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications. 45% of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted53% waste at least one hour a day due to all types of distractions.
  • Less than two minutes on one page! It’s no wonder we can’t get anything done.45% of workers have at least 6 items open on the desktop65% use 1 to 3 desktop or mobile devices, in addition to their main computerToggling between multiple applications/windows/tabs/items on the desktop contributes to the problem of distraction, along with using multiple devices at the same time. 45% of survey respondents keep at least six items open simultaneously, and 65% report using one to three desktop or mobile devices in addition to their main computer.Source: harmon.ie surveyMatt Richtel, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” New York Times, 6 June 2010.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html
  • 45% of workers have at least 6 items open on the desktop65% use 1-3 desktop or mobile devices in addition to their main computer.
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  • Francesco Petrarca a Tuscan scholar from the 1300s, describes in his Life of Solitude,how to construct "invisible walls" by developing the disposition to be less distracted through an emotional detachment from ambient noise. Petrarca says you can achieve imaginary solitude by "closing the doors of your senses in order to achieve solitude in the presence of other people."
  • The Ciceronian, Erasmus suggests setting aside time when "one can shut down." On a practical note, Erasmus recommends writing "in the dead of night, when it's absolutely quiet and deep silence reigns over all." No outside distractions, no background noisesShut off the cell phone, disconnect from the Internet, and close all applications except the ones you need to complete your task. If you need the Internet for research, shut off Twitter feeds, IM updates, and all the other distractions. You don't need a "distraction blocker" program; you just need to shut them off - plain and simpleTurning off email alerts and using IM status is a good start.
  • Lastly, accept the fact that you won't get everything done; this is a law of nature. Before Albert Einstein could be overwhelmed by Twitter, he was overwhelmed by correspondence. According to Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, in 1953, Einstein received 832 letters and he answered only 476. The barrage of letters didn't let up, and Einstein died two years later, so one can only assume that he left a great deal of unfinished business. Take a look at the Life Magazine photo of his desk from the day he died. Take heart; as bad your desk looks, it probably isn't as bad as this ...
  • Cut email threadsLimit email message lengthClear rules for who should be addressed
  • Be ‘present’ at meetings No reading email No open PCsNo mobile devices