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Even a 3-second distraction can break your concentration

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When it comes to remaining productive, the hardest thing for you or your employees is most likely not getting distracted by things around you.

Big distractions, like colleagues talking to you or being called into a last-minute meeting, are obvious concentration-breakers, but what about the smaller, everyday distractions which throw us off our game?

A new study has highlighted that even a distraction as short as 2.8 seconds long can break our concentration enough that we make mistakes and go off track from what we were previously doing.

In fact, researchers from Michigan State University found these teensy distractions are actually disruptive enough to more than double the amount of errors we make.

They proved this by asking 300 undergrads to complete a tedious computer exercise which relied on memory and sequencing. After every sixth step in the exercise, a pop-up box appeared, which required participants to type in a CAPTCHA code before they could get rid of it and get back to work.

These disruptions lasted between 2.8 and 4.4 seconds – after the longer interruption, people more than tripled the errors they made when returning to the task, while for the shorter interruption they more than doubled their mistakes.

So, what does this mean?

Essentially, it could mean your efforts to help employees become more productive and efficient could be in vain if the phone rings, or if they hear the beep of receiving a text message on their phones, for example.

As the study showed, random pop-ups on screen can also be massively distracting – which I would assume is the same for other work-necessary alerts on screen, such as the flashing tab indicating you have a Skype message from a colleague.

Most companies use an internal messaging system for communication around the office – and I’m not suggesting we don’t – but I do think the study is a decent reminder that to really be productive we sometimes just need to shut everything down.

Similarly, colleagues and bosses need to respect their peers’ requests of “please don’t bother me for the next hour unless it’s urgent”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this when on deadline for something, only to be distracted by phone calls being transferred or being Skyped about something which can wait until I’m less busy.

It definitely depends on the office culture, but attempting to dedicate hour-long (at least) chunks of time to being distraction-free is something we should all try.

Sign out of your instant-messaging programmes, turn your phone on silent and ask your colleagues (politely) around you to just leave you alone for the next 60 minutes, and see how it goes.

Image: Shutterstock 

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