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interruption science

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Interruption science is the study of how disruptions from current tasks affect employees on the job. 

Disruptions include both self-directed interruptions, such as checking Facebook or Twitter, and external interruptions, such as email notifications, phone calls, texts, instant messages and in-person visits. As part of the larger field of workplace psychology, interruption science explores the impact of these events on employee stress, job satisfaction and productivity. 

At the University of California at Irvine, researcher Gloria Mark found that, on average, workers are interrupted every 3 minutes and that it takes 23 minutes after even a very brief interruption to return to the original task. 

Researchers found that workers could learn to compensate for interruptions by working faster between events. However, the increased speed was found to lead to "more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort" on the part of workers.

Interruption science provides insight into why multitasking is so ineffective. Although people believe they are simultaneously performing multiple tasks, what they're actually doing is continuously switching from one task to another, an activity called rapid toggling. Each time an employee changes tasks, it is an interruption. For the typical multitasker, those interruptions can reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent and cause an effective 10 point drop in IQ. 

See also: email management, goldbricking

This was last updated in July 2014

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