Can you read this email without distraction?

If there exists a bigger productivity killer than interruptions, I have yet to discover it. During the pandemic our exposure to distractions and interruptions increased as many of us had to relearn how to work and collaborate in home or hybrid environments. When distracted, our brains are forced into “context switching.” I remember only a handful of things from freshman year microeconomics — one is that any switching involves cost and tradeoffs

The typical office worker gets just 11 minutes of productivity between interruptions, according to Professor Gloria Mark of the University of California. But it takes an average of 1,395 seconds (23 minutes) to recover from each one. These rapid-fire tradeoffs are costing organizations hundreds of billions in lost productivity each year.

Overlay that with research from the Information Overload Research Group showing that knowledge workers lose about 25% of their time each day “dealing with the incessant stream of data,” and you start to wonder, how are we getting anything done at all?

  • Prone to: What is the average amount of time the average person maintains full attention on any screen? (answer below)

Over the next five years we’re going to see a wave of innovation that helps us “single- task” and better avoid distraction in our work. There’s early evidence this is already happening. Mobile phones that only support talk, text, and navigation, as well as apps and operating systems that turn off or filter notifications to allow for focused work are some examples. But tech and apps are only band-aids. Ultimately, it is up to leaders and managers to create cultures of focused work. Doing so will result in improved productivity, work-life balance, and work quality.

By the way, during the hour I spent writing this section today, I counted no less than nine digital and physical interruptions. And that was with notifications turned off. Yikes.

“Top distractions impacting employees’ ability to concentrate / Source: Gartner

WHAT I’M READING

Napoleon reportedly had a unique way of dealing with his mail: He would only open a few letters which came from “extraordinary couriers,” and would simply leave all the rest unread for three weeks. One unlikely culprit to burnout? Your lack of laziness — FastCompany — September 20, 2021

  • It’s complex: Napoleon is often credited for coining the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That was not the actual statement — what did Napoleon actually say in that context? (answer below)

The book “Four Thousand Weeks” is currently on my night stand — but this article gives a good overview. “Whenever we succumb to distraction, we’re attempting to flee a painful encounter with our finitude.” My advice: read it on a good, optimistic day. Your time management won’t work until you realize how little time you have — Mashable — September 19, 2021

YOU WON’T READ THIS ANYWHERE ELSE

Researchers are telling your insurance company that while driving, listening to loud, lyrically catchy music leads to higher levels of affective (emotional) arousal than soft, non-lyrical pieces. And that can lead to more auto accidents. I can’t wait for the commercial: Rihanna is out. Rachmaninoff is in. Time to tweak the car playlist? Listening to singalong hits behind the wheel increases your chance of making errors by leaving you ‘mentally overloaded’, study warns — DailyMail — September 20, 2021

TRIVIA ANSWERS

  • According to Gloria Mark’s research, the median length of attention span was approximately 40 seconds. (Center for Humane Technology)
  • As highlighted in L’Arche de Noé, Bonaparte was actually credited as saying. “A good sketch is better than a long speech.” (PBS)

This briefing was built using Turbine Labs’ Thought Leadership Enhancement Software.

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Founder/CEO of Turbine Labs. I write about information access, overload, and bias, as well as our AI-powered software. (turbinelabs.com / @turbinelabs)