If you’re trying to actually do a good job on something, it might be a good idea to hide your phone and make yourself invisible on Gchat.
Past research shows that in an office, an employee can be interrupted as many as six times an hour. And it’s no secret that interruptions make you take longer to complete a task. But researchers from George Mason University wanted to know how interruptions can affect quality of work -- after all, if interruptions cause a delay, but not worse work, there may be an argument that they aren't so detrimental to office life.
How was the study conducted? The Human Factors study included two experiments. For one of the experiments, researchers had 26 study participants with an average age of 23 do an assignment where they spent 12 minutes outlining an essay, then another 12 minutes actually writing the essay. However, some of the participants were randomly chosen to be interrupted while outlining or writing the essay; those chosen to be interrupted were interrupted three times, about three minutes apart, for 60 seconds each time. Researchers had two independent graders analyze the essays to see how interruptions affected the quality of the work. (More time was added on to the outlining/writing phase to account for the interruptions.)
What did researchers find? Indeed, the quality of the essays was worse for the participants interrupted during the outlining phase, and for the participants interrupted during the writing phase.
Researchers also found that word count was decreased when the participants were interrupted during the writing phase, compared with when the participants were interrupted during the outlining phase or if the participants weren’t interrupted at all.
The second experiment was similar to the first one, except for researchers randomized the interruptions during the writing and outlining phases, and the participants who were interrupted during the writing phase were given as much time as they needed (up to 20 minutes) to finish writing. However, the results were similar to the first experiment — the quality of the work was worse if the participants were interrupted at all.
Why are interruptions bad for work quality? Researchers noted in the study that “when an interruption occurs in the planning phase, the participant may be interrupted before fully developing the idea he or she was mentally planning or currently writing.” So when the interruption is finished and the person is able to go back to what he or she was doing, “they may not necessarily return to the last argument (subgoal) on which they were working.” In other words, the train of thought is interrupted -- and an interrupted person may not necessarily go back to what it is he or she was last working on.
Ultimately, the study adds even more evidence that multitasking is not effective. “Adults today are fond of multitasking, and they feel that they can do so with no impact on the individual tasks in which they are engaged,” the researchers wrote in the study. “This work suggests that this is not the case.”