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Driven to Distraction by Technology

CowboyNeal posted more than 9 years ago | from the time-for-what-now dept.

Businesses 261

Ant writes "CNET says 'The typical office worker is interrupted every three minutes by a phone call, e-mail, instant message or other distraction. The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state. The result, says Carl Honore, journalist and author of "In Praise of Slowness," is a situation where the digital communications that were supposed to make working lives run more smoothly are actually preventing people from getting critical tasks accomplished.'"

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That sounds right. (5, Funny)

duncanbojangles (787775) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133594)

That sounds about right where I wor...

Hold on, I just got an IM.

Actually, that doesn't sound right (5, Funny)

teslar (706653) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133616)

Or at least, it's distorting the facts.
Work keepy interrupting my IMing, not the other way around :)

Re:That sounds right. (5, Insightful)

yog (19073) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133689)

Hmm, it sounds like an overgeneralization to me. "Office workers" is a pretty broad term that presumably encompasses pretty much all white collar jobs. Some jobs have always been interrupt-enabled, such as stock traders and financial analysts, and some are constantly on the phone, like sales and marketing types. Then you have people who are always on their feet, such as teachers and police. Writers such as journalists (like the guy in the article) have traditionally worked in open offices with phones ringing constantly.

This fellow Honore is probably thinking of certain professions such as computer programmers and IT professionals and architects and graphic designers, where you really do need periods of uninterruptedness to get some solid creative work done.

As a programmer, I'm willing to bet that most people in these fields have long since discovered the power of ear buds (and noise-cancelling headphones, my own favorite) to blot out the world around them. To a lot of us, IM and email are just a bit of line noise that we easily put up with. I usually welcome a little interruption now and then, and in fact it helps spur the creative juices sometimes to have a context shift.

Overall I think this article is a bit alarmist, though there's probably something to it in terms of the frenetic pace of life in modern offices.

Re:That sounds right. (1)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133801)

Excellent point- It would be interesting to see how this breaks down by occupation, or even level- People with doors in their office are less likely to be distracted by the chatty office mate who wants to talk for half an hour about nothing. In my experience- the worst are poeople (sorry to generalize- but women) who are getting married. For a solid month an office mate talked to every caterer, photog etc all day at work, and then thought I was interested in hearing about it.
When I have a project I need to bear down on, I usually shut off my IM. I also have started going in to work a couple hours early, and leaving early. In those two hours of silence from officemates and IM/emails- I get more work done than in the rest of the day combined.

Driven to Distraction by Linux (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133595)

A musty atmosphere of neglect pervaded the subbasement of University Library. The books on the shelves were covered in a fine layering of dust. There were dim lights over the small study cubicles at the end of each aisle between the towering shelves. The lights produced only enough illumination for the top of the desks, leaving the surrounding stacks and central walkway shrouded in a perpetual twilight.

I had finally found the copy of the heavy API guide I needed for my work connecting my SQL database to the graphical front end I had been slaving over all weekend. However, the intricacy of the cover of the neighboring book drew my attention and I brought it along to the desk for better inspection under the light. The cover looked a lot newer than the heavily thumbed volumes beside it. Emblazened
across the front was the title "Linux - Unleash the Power of your PC" together with a picture of a fat cartoonish looking penguin. As I opened the book I felt a strange buzzing in my head that quickly passed. I shrugged it off as my attention was drawn to a CD which dropped out and landed on the desk in front of me. It bore the same title as the book, together with something about 'Knoppix' which was a word I did not recognise.

I had heard of Linux though. The University ran Unix on some of their servers, although I rarely chose to interact with those systems. Perhaps I should broaden my horizons though. I liked to think I knew just about everything there was to know about using Windows, but you could never have too many strings to your bow. Almost without thinking I slipped the CD into my pocket and returned my attention to my work.

A date with my girlfriend Paige followed the work in the library. I was one of the few students on my CS course to actually have a partner since, although computers interested me and would one day be my means of making a living, I was careful not to get drawn into the geek subculture that seemed to pervade the department. Some of the guys with their nerdish glasses and unwashed t-shirts grunted at me strangely when I declined to join in their games of Counterstrike, but I reminded myself that while they were shut up in a grimy computer lab scoffing Cheetos I was getting laid on a regular basis.

That night in my dorm room while I was getting ready for bed, I remembered the CD in my pocket and fired up my laptop to take a look. I still couldn't make out what the strange messages flowing across the screen meant. Perhaps if I sounded them out their meaning would become clear. I tried to phonetically pronounce the words but they disappeared too quickly to be replaced with a blank screen. I gave up, turned off the light and climbed into bed.

The erotic dream started with Paige slowly caressing my back and buttocks. The caressing transitioned into an incredibly gentle massage starting at my neck and shoulders and running down my back. My butt cheeks were being massaged apart and I spread my legs and raised my rear as her hand reached underneath me from behind to stroke my erection. Her hand was very warm and felt wonderful as I started to slowly thrust into her hand as she started jerking me off. A huge long warm and moist tongue started playing over my testicles and anus. It felt fantastic. No one had ever licked me there before. I never knew how sensual it felt.

As her hot hand was expertly running up and down my rigid penis something started probing my anus. It snaked its way into my anal opening and it started slowly expanding. Suddenly I had the urge to move my bowels, but I didn't care, as my attention was totally focused on my imminent orgasm. My penis was released as Paige suddenly grabbed my sides and jammed her hips against my butt.

I woke up to find myself with my rear in the air. Someone was grabbing my sides and hitting my butt. I jolted fully awake as I felt something expanding in my rectum and realized I was being fucked. The cock in my butt was still expanding and was becoming painfully large. I thought I could actually feel it moving around in my guts like some kind of writhing python. I looked over my shoulder and my heart nearly stopped. The fat penguin from the book I'd found this morning was screwing me with obviousl delight.

He probably only stood about 3 feet high, but he was well proportioned. My shock wore off as I realized the cock in my guts was still expanding. I tried to stand up and fell off of the bed onto the floor as the penguin wrapped his flippers around my waist and planted his massive cock tightly into my rump. With the help of my desk I managed to stand up with him firmly clasped to my backside and his legs wrapped around my hips. I tried to pry his flippers from around my waist, but again I failed. He was amazingly strong.

My rectum was on fire and still the bastard's cock continued to grow. I could actually see my abdomen move as his monstrous penis slithered through my intestines causing my stomach to cramp. I slammed my back into the wall to try to crush him. All this did was push him harder into my rectum as his beak stabbed into the muscles of my back. I pitched forward trying to get away from the pointed bill and ran into my desk.

I could see the scren of my still open laptop. It was glowing and the lines of text which again flowed over the screen appeared to be written with florescent ink. Even in my panic I thought I could make out the faint sound of chanting in the distance: "Linux r0x0rs my b0x0r! RTFM n00b!"

I grabbed the laptop and slammed the cover down. A flash of light blinded me and an electrical shock shot up my arms making them tingle. The penguin let go of my waist and hips and fell heavily onto the floor with a thud. Despite lying on the floor and me still standing his cock was still in my guts. I quickly stepped away from him before he could recover. This ended up pulling about another foot of cock out of my rectum. His gargantuan snake of a penis plopped wetly onto the floor like an empty fireman's hose. It was at least four feet long.

I picked up a pitching wedge from my golf bag against the wall and holding the club like a baseball bat walked slowly over to his still prone form. He didn't seem to be recovering very fast. In fact he appeared to be barely breathing. As I approached he slowly turned his head towards me and spoke.

"Using Knoppix CD an invitation makes. Cut off from Open Source vitality withering does commence. Forever be you cursed for this most evil deed."

His pupils started to reflect an eerie reddish glow as he looked up at me. I felt a buzzing vibration in my groin as my cock suddenly shot up to become viciously erect. I blinked and my ears suddenly popped. When I looked back down at the penguin he was not on the floor anymore.

I ran to the light switch on the wall and turned the overhead light on. Using the golf club I lifted the covers on my bed up to look under the bed from a safe distance. Nothing there. I checked under my desk and then carefully opened my closet. He wasn't anywhere in my room. I sat down in my chair as my arms and legs started shaking as the adrenaline rush slowly passed.

My back and rear end were aching. I got up and looked at my back in the mirror over my dresser. There was a puncture wound from the sharp beak but it wasn't bleeding anymore and didn't appear too serious. My anus was another matter. I couldn't see my rectum, so I put my hand to it. I was wide open. I could fit my fist into my asshole. If I squeezed down, I could barely feel my sphincter tighten.

I put on some underwear and then wrapped a towel around myself and went down the hall to the shower. I took a long hot shower and gently cleaned my backside. It seemed that my anus was slowly contracting and returning to normal. Once back in my room I didn't think I would be able to fall asleep, but I was so exhausted I fell into a dreamless sleep.

When my alarm started buzzing I reflexively jumped out of bed, turned it off, wrapped a towel around my waist and with my eyes barely open I marched off to the shower with my shampoo and soap. I didn't wake up enough to remember what had happened the night before until the steamy water hit my face in the shower. It seemed like some sort of horrible nightmare. But I could feel the wound on my back and my anus burned and still felt very loose.

Re:Driven to Distraction by Linux (0, Redundant)

NinjaFodder (635704) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133635)

And this, my friends, is what happens when you start smoking crayons. Light one for me brother!

Re:Driven to Distraction by Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133659)

The original is here. []

Re:Driven to Distraction by Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133852)

Same thing happens to Linux users defecting to Windows, except they get rammed up the backside by Bill Gates.

Actually, *everyone* using Windows gets f****d by Bill Gates, they just don't notice it because his penis is so small...

It's not the technology, its the people! (5, Insightful)

Trinition (114758) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133599)

Where I work, it's not the e-mail or instant message interrupting me so much as it's the person stopping by your cubicle *in person* to ask a question.

Quit being so quick to find evil in technology.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (5, Insightful)

radja (58949) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133631)

I vastly prefer the person coming to me. I can pay no attention to them and mumble something about being busy, and come back in an hour. this does not work with a phone: you HAVE to pick it up, or it'll keep ringing. Phones bust in without looking, a person coming to see you can see that you're busy.

yeah, I don't like telephones...

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (1)

Kiryat Malachi (177258) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133779)

The amazing thing is you can pick that phone up and *immediately* without answering put it back down. Repeat as necessary.

Later, when they talk to you in person, or you actually answer, tell them "my phone has been on the fritz lately" and they'll assume it was a technology problem, not intentional hangups.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133824)

I thoroughly recommend the book PeopleWare to anyone, but especially anyone in management. It contains an fictional anecdote about some chap named Alexander Graham Bell trying to sell this new invention called the Bell-o-phone to people. One of them asks a question; `if I'm busy, does it stop ringing?' to which the reply was `No, that's the best thing. It just keeps on ringing!' Bell was laughed off the stage.

Actually the book goes into a lot more detail about the concept of flow, and how much productivity is lost per interruption.

The thing I like about IM is that it is non-realtime (so I can devote as much or as little attention to it as I want) and that it is opt-in - I can set myself to do no disturb mode and people can only contact me with urgent things, or I can go completely offline. You can leave a telephone off the hook, but it's far less socially acceptable.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133830)

Does your phone not have any form of volume control on it? Alternatively, you could always wear headphones. Personally, I've got pretty good at ignoring phone calls (along with emails and any other form of technological interruption) when I'm busy. That includes at home - if I don't want to talk, I don't answer.

It's a lot easier than politely getting rid of the person sitting on the end of your desk who won't take the hint that you don't want to talk to them right now.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133832)

this does not work with a phone: you HAVE to pick it up, or it'll keep ringing.

really? we must have really high tech phones here because of this funny button called "do not disturb" I use it all the time. if I am coding, I turn off the crackberry, shutdown outlook, and put the phone in DND.

works great and they must come down 3 floors to talk to me in person (if they have a proxcard that will get them in the section.)

I suggest trying it. Remember if you are always available to everyone they expect that, do not be available to their beck and call. let them know you are working on important projects (just before DND change your voicemail greeting) and can not be disturbed for at least XX time and will check your messages after that.

It's funny how that if you do not let them control you like a robot, they back off and let you do your work.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (1)

Knome_fan (898727) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133666)

You forget something here.

Technology gives people who would normally be unable to interrupt you in person the great opportunity to now interrupt you using email and im.

Further there are a lot of things that are only possible with technology, for example the oh so funny emails one gets regularly.

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133807)

Technology gives people who would normally be unable to interrupt you in person the great opportunity to now interrupt you using email and im.

How is email going to interrupt you? Almost by definition, it's an asynchronous communication medium (i.e. answer it when you have time... well within reasonable limits...). Now, what I really hate is those people that send an e-mail, and follow up 30 seconds later with a phone call...

Not to mention... (1)

Winkhorst (743546) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133827)

And then there's the woman whose sole goal in life is to find the next cool sound effect for the group PC. She has just gone from a telephone ringing everytime she hits [enter] to a god forsaken emergency klaxon (I kid you not!), and this in a lab environment where there really are warning and emergency buzzers and bells. URRRNT! URRRNT! URRRNT! Someone restrain me before I have at her with a large hammer. No, this isn't about technology, it's about damned unthinking nitwits.

Solved. Work here, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133690)

Welcome to Fortescue Falls, in Karijini National Park [] .

Go for a dip in Circular Pool (in the bottom of the comma shape to the right of the falls) when the pressure of having 4-5 visitors a day (on a busy day) gets to be too much.

BYO power and connectivity (a well-concealed hydro system would be an option, but solar works really, really well up here).

Re:It's not the technology, its the people! (1)

shortscruffydave (638529) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133853)

the person stopping by your cubicle *in person* to ask a question.

The question usually being, "have you read that email that I sent you 10 seconds ago?

Only if you pay attention (4, Insightful)

wrp103 (583277) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133605)

If I ignore (for the moment) an interruption, then it has less of an impact on my productivity. And some of us multi-task fairly well, which would also reduce the impact.

Re:Only if you pay attention (5, Interesting)

Gax (196168) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133633)

I've changed my work pattern in the last few weeks. I try to get my work finished by 4pm, then I spend an hour reading and replying to the various e-mails that have arrived during the day. My productivity has increased significantly and I feel under less pressure to handle several tasks in quick succession.

Re:Only if you pay attention (1)

Zapman (2662) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133786)

New toys: 1) iPod. 2) Shure e2c noise isolating headphones.

Together, they block out 80-90% of the sound distractions. People come up, see the headphones, and re-evaluate if they should interupt me. Many still do, but some back off and send an email.

It also helps my slight ADD nature since I don't hear conversations near me that slightly affect me, so I don't get involved in them.

This doesn't help email and IM, but it's a good start.

I don't believe it (5, Insightful)

ReformedExCon (897248) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133608)

I do believe that there are many distractions that may take our minds of our work. The phone ringing, the pager going off, the bright blue sky outside with flocks of geese slowly migrating back to their Canadian homes. All these things are distractions that may harm productivity.

But I don't think that productivity is being harmed to such an extent that a fuss must be raised over it. Projects are still being finished, people are still getting paid, and products are still being sold. It's not that there are so many more distractions than before, it's simply that we can quantify (and villify) one particular set of distractions.

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes taking a time out to stare out the window at the horizon helps me feel a lot better about sitting in front of the computer.

Re:I don't believe it (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133760)

WTF? A window at work? I haven't seen one of those in ten years. I have to make due with abstract lint patterns on the walls of my hampster cube. Must be nice.

Re:I don't believe it (4, Insightful)

Young Master Ploppy (729877) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133820)

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes taking a time out to stare out the window at the horizon helps me feel a lot better about sitting in front of the computer.

Its not just the fact that it makes you feel better - often someone who appears to be just staring blankly and unproductively into space, may actually be deep in thought about the complex system they're working on.

I often have to think through logic paths, forks, and possible consequences of the tinest changes to such an extent that it takes me nearly fifteen minutes of quiet to get down through my abstract mental models to the required level of detail. Any interruption can completely derail your mental thought processes and waste up to an hour while you deal with the minor interruption, maybe go get a coffee, settle back down again, and start thinking it through from the top again.

In a nutshell - just because someone looks like they're zoning out, doesn't mean they're not being productive.

Stupid geese! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133826)

Stupid Canadian geese. With thier honking and lying and thier tasty flesh. They're going back to Canada to plot agaist me that what!

Whereas reading Slashdot... (5, Funny)

zenmojodaddy (754377) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133614)

... hones the creative brain to a razor's edge.

Re:Whereas reading Slashdot... (2, Funny)

Scoria (264473) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133675)

Whereas reading Slashdot...

hones the creative brain to a razor's edge.

Basically, then, you're saying that Slashdot gradually turns a creative brain into grey, thinly sliced lunch meat? Hannibal Lecter would be delighted! ;-)

Re:Whereas reading Slashdot... (1)

zenmojodaddy (754377) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133721)

Nope. Feels more like rubbing the frontal lobes repeatedly on a carborundum slab until all that's left is a thin, sharpened wedge of brain matter, and a pile of detritus.

Lecter, Schmecter.

Re:Whereas reading Slashdot... (1)

Ginnungagap42 (817075) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133876)

I was going to come up with a witty reply, but I got distracted by the story about Alan Kay...

Re:Whereas reading Slashdot... (1)

DohnJoe (900898) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133975)

dude, are you being sarcastic?

Productivity (3, Insightful)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133619)

I once talked to a manager about this. The floor was vast, the only divisions made by medium-height file cabinets and a couple of plants. He knew that the productivity was 10% lower, but the costs and the easiness with which he and the secretaries could find employees had a greater value.

exactly right (5, Funny)

justforaday (560408) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133620)

That's why I just ignore all of it and sit in my office playing Nethack and reading slashdot. Occasionally somebody will pop their head in, but I just tell them I'm busy and I'll come find them in a few minutes. They usually just go bother someone else.

Open offices (5, Interesting)

TedRiot (899157) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133621)

This is exactly what my boss doesn't seem to get, however often I try to explain it to him. I do software development for a living in an open office without even cubicles. I have very hard time to concentrate on my tasks when other people - my boss included - come around every half a minute to ask me when I will have time to do something or just keep having meetings one meter (a little over three feet for those of you who are not familiar with the metric system) behind my back.

Especially this is difficult when I cannot give an instant answer and have to think about it for a minute. I first need to change my way of thinking into the model of the interrupting project and then back to the original project that I'm supposed to be working on. Afterwards I probably have to figure out some things for the second time because they were lost in the process.

E-mails or IM's aren't so bad, they just pop up a little square in the lower left corner of the screen and I can deal with them later. Other people or phonecalls are harder to ignore.

Re:Open offices (1)

qbert980 (891053) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133727)

I had the same problem a few years back when I worked for a web hosting co. I was your basic tech and you wouldn't think that would be much of a problem, right? Well, only if you're doing menial crap, fixing permissions, blah, blah, blah -- but I was one of the few that had root access on quite a few servers, including the MySQL and DNS servers. I tried telling my boss on multiple occasions about distractions, but he didn't listen and the inevitable happened. I ended up deleteing (by accident) a major MySQL database. Oh man did the backup team come in handy then. Even after that incident, my boss refused to move me to a quieter location.

This same jacka$$ said that IM was a distraction and we were not to install it on our desktops.

Is it wrong for me to feel good that the company has since gone out of business?

Re:Open offices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133912)

You're not familiar with the metric system either it seems. A meter is a device for measuring things like a volt meter. A metre is a metric unit of measurement.

Re:Open offices (1)

TedRiot (899157) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133941)

From wikipedia [] : "The metre (or meter in American English), symbol: m, is the basic unit of distance or length, in the International System of Units."

Org problem, not tech problem (5, Insightful)

Linus Torvaalds (876626) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133627)

Set your IM to busy.

Set your mail client to check for new email once an hour.

Switch your phone to voicemail.

If your boss won't let you, then it's an organisation problem, because your boss absolutely needs to understand that this is how to get you to work most efficiently.

Re:Org problem, not tech problem (1)

CrackedButter (646746) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133672)

If you do that then linux is set back an hour every hour. What if it is one of the kernel hackers with a really cool compile? You gonna wait an hour to implement it? Call yourself a geek!

Re:Org problem, not tech problem (3, Interesting)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133726)

Set your mail client to check for new email once an hour.

I find that Outlooks "Display a notification message when a new mail arrives" option is a substantial productivily killer because not only does it flash a window up in your face, but it taunts you to stop working on your current thing by giving you a one button press to view the email.

With this off, the only way to tell that you have email is a small icon in the system tray. If that is still too much then you can either exit Outlook completely or use something like Knockout [] to remove the icon.

The Tyranny of Email (1)

thermopile (571680) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133763)

Well, somebody had to post it.

This is a link [] to an old Slashdot story from maybe three years ago, that very eloquently talks about how the instantaneous nature of email, IM, and business in general these days is affecting people.

After reading it, I have turned off all notifications on my computer, and haven't looked back since. It's nice to be master of your own domain, even if it is a tiny one.

Re:The Tyranny of Email (1)

justforaday (560408) | more than 9 years ago | (#13134006)

It's nice to be master of your own domain, even if it is a tiny one.

In the future, you may not want to put those two phrases together like that... : p

Re:Org problem, not tech problem (2, Interesting)

agsharad (303407) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133781)

I totally agree, it is a problem of organization. The choice to have more information faster is a good thing, but it is a personal decision on how to harness and use it.

It is interesting to note the case of Donald E Knuth (of The Art of Computer Programming fame), no doubt one of the most productive and eminent scientists of our age. He stopped using email 15+ years ago!! ml/ []

And the point is well made. Email can be a distraction and the solution has to come from the consumer of the technology in terms of deciding how to use it.

But what do we do to the itch for checking slashdot every 3 minutes :) ?

hmmmm... three minutes... (3, Funny)

The Jabbit (647747) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133628) the average time between each time I read /.

Nuke Mecca! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133632)

Destroy All Islam

Die, Paki, die.

Re:Nuke Mecca! (1, Flamebait)

muttoj (572791) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133668)

Don't you have something better to do mr. President?

Problem pretty easily solved (5, Informative)

soma_0806 (893202) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133638)

Just run a silent system. No bells or chimes to signal when new email comes in. Have your phone light up, not ring. I never IM, as it annoys the hell out of me in general, so my distractions rarely, if ever, register enough to take me away from my work.

Also, the same studies that say you need eight minutes to charge up say that your brain is only good for about twenty minutes at a clip, and then processing effectivness takes a big dive. Therefore, you can surface every half hour or so to check up on what you've missed.

But the people stopping by... There's now way to fix that, except maybe not showing or begin collecting rare cheeses.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

surprise_audit (575743) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133678)

But the people stopping by... There's now way to fix that

If you have the opportunity to work nights, try it. I hardly ever have visitors, the phone never rings, and if anyone wants to schedule me for a meeting, they'd better be prepared to: a) come in by 7am or I'm on overtime; and b) accept that I'll have put in a full day at work by the time they arrive, so I'll be tired and probably cranky if the meeting overruns much.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

zootread (569199) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133728)

If you have the opportunity to work nights, try it.

If I did that, I'd have my girlfriend trying to come to my office to have sex.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133980)

3) Bring in some beer and chips and maybe a DVD movie and show about midnight, when the party begins.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

SpecBear (769433) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133679)


I turned the ringer off on my phone. There's a red light on it that blinks when someone calls. I found that if I'm deep in thought (and thus at a very bad time to be interrupted) I don't notice it. If I'm idling, or not too far into something, the blinking light instantly attracts my attention. It also blinks when there's a voicemail, so I pick up on that as soon as I emerge from my deep thinking.

As for people stopping by, you can retrain them if you have your supervisor's support. In my case, I'm not supposed to do anything unless I have the request in writing (usually an email). So every time a project manager swings by with some "little request," I listen attentively, answer any questions, and at the end of it say, "OK, great, can you put that in an email for the records?" Eventually they get tired of having to explain something twice and just send the email.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133849)

Eventually they get tired of having to explain something twice and just send the email.

Or they get back at you by making their e-mails so terse or so cryptic that you'll have to follow up with a phone call or a visit to really figure out what it is what they want...

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (1)

RichardX (457979) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133966)

I turned the ringer off on my phone. There's a red light on it that blinks when someone calls.

Pff.. Blinkenlights are so noisy!
Real.. err.. people-who-don't-want-to-be-disturbed use the Kraftwerk approach - No ringer, no lights, nothing. Schedule a time for someone to call you, pick up the phone at precisely at that moment, and if they're not on the other end they've missed you.

From Wikipedia's entry on Kraftwerk [] :
The band are notoriously reclusive, so much so that it is rumoured that their own record company do not have their phone numbers. Another notable example of eccentric behaviour was reported by Johnny Marr of The Smiths, who, in trying to contact the band for collaboration, was told that their studio telephone did not have a ringtone, as during recording the band did not like to hear any kind of dissonant noise. Instead, Marr was instructed to phone their studio at a certain time on the dot, and the phone was answered by Ralf Hutter at that moment, despite showing no sign of ringing.

Re:Problem pretty easily solved (2, Funny)

dreemernj (859414) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133927)

I do tend to shut off all bells and whistles in my office, and when people stop by I will usually show them a t-shirt I think suits them and they don't come bothering me any more after that. Roses are #FF0000 Violets are #0000FF Then your Co workers will think, There's something wrong with you.

+1 Damn Straight, that article (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133640)

Describes my whole life -- in recent years, anyway -- quite well.

Operating Room support (3, Interesting)

fordede (18922) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133641)

I'm a clinical engineer in a very large US hospital, in the operating room. In addition to the distractions above, we also have the old fashioned overhead pager to deal with. I used to have a pretty long attention span, but I think I have acquired ADD. I can't work on anything longer than a minute at a time and usually try to be doing two things at once so I'm not waiting. Ever. It gets better at the end of the day, but when cases are getting started, there are usually 3 things I have to do at any one time.

My strategy is to ignore eamil and my personal phone line and just worry about the emergencies for the first 5 hours of my day, then try to do the actual engineering work with whatever time is left. Works ok, but it would be nice to have more free time. Unfortunately, I just can turn off my pager.

Priorities (4, Insightful)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133646)

And that is why I simply don't answer the phone 80% of the time unless it is a call from somebody that I know would be needing help with a priority project/subproject/whatever. Ditto with emails - however I appreciate that email makes it easier to screen incoming information and quickly decide whether it is worth reading right away.

If I'm deep in thought, off goes the email, and the phone certainly gets ignored.

Work on the stuff you know is important, or at the very least work on the stuff your boss tells you is important. Don't just switch tasks every time somebody adds something to your to-do list. The guy calling on the phone will get taken care of in time. Time management gurus call this taking care of the important rather than just the "urgent." This is the only way things get fixed in the long-term - often the guy screaming for help on the phone is looking for a short term solution.

In fact, I normally prefer email to phone calls. It is less interrupting, and it forces the person who is contacting you to organize their thoughts rather than just randomly spilling them out. Phone is GREAT for conversations, but TERRIBLE for just making requests. Unless you know that the call is going to be very high priority for both parties, I think you're better off just sending an email to schedule a time to make the call, or better still a visit.

But that is just my two cents...

Re:Priorities (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133706)

Yes. To some extent I wonder whether it is cultural and generational. When I was at school we sat in our place in rows and talked when we were called upon. Same for study hall.

In particular, I've purposefully avoided instant messaging. If someone has an inspiration, they'll have a mature thought by the time they can see in a more scheduled opportunity.

Re:Priorities (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133864)

Europe already has an answer for that in situations when email is unavailable.
Text messaging aka SMS :D
Read when convenient. Call back or reply by text. With slow typing you have more than enough time to put what you mean in words.

One exception - it's considered rude to SMS requests/question type messages to strangers - they have to pay to reply. It is perfectly okay to send messages that don't require acknowledgement/reply though.

If you're distracted during the week... (2, Interesting)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133647)

It's nice and quiet in the office during the weekend.

Works for me.

Re:If you're distracted during the week... (4, Insightful)

toonces33 (841696) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133750)

Yeah, I know it is quiet on the weekend. It is quiet in the evenings as well. I used to do this all of the time.

Only one problem with this - eventually this behavior is expected, and essentially you become a slave rather than an employee.

The worst that I remember was a time when I was so exhausted by the weekend, that my Saturdays consisted of lying down to take a nap in the mid-afternoon, and not waking up until about 10pm. At that point, there was nothing to do but just go to bed. Maybe by Sunday afternoon, I was starting to feel somewhat human again, but by then it was time to chuck myself back into the chipper on Monday.

These days I REFUSE to work evenings and weekends any more. Having a life outside of the office is important to me now.

I now have the Friday afternoon rule. If a "crisis" comes up after 3PM on Friday, it couldn't be so important that it cannot wait until Monday.

If I were placed back in a situation where regular work on evenings and weekends were required, I would plan on looking for a new job. Even leaving the industry, if that is what it takes. There is no way I am going back into that hellhole.

Re:If you're distracted during the week... (1)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133795)

eventually this behavior is expected, and essentially you become a slave rather than an employee.

Yep. I should have added to my original post that it is only a short-term solution. If you do it year after year you will burn out. I usually resort to six or seven day weeks when I'm writing something important (grant application or a paper, for instance) that really requires all your undivided attention. After it's done, it's back to the five day week.

Definetly True (2, Insightful)

enoraM (749327) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133652)

We had this problem in our office, where telephone calls were routed to groups of people. Everybody got distracted and decided upon looking at the caller ID wether to pick up the phone.

Favourite office sport became being the last one to pick up, before the answering machine answered.

We descarded the old system and routed all calls directly, forwarding the call quickly (after two rings) to one other phone, if it wasn't picked up. If that one also wasn't picked up within two rings, the call got forwarded to the boss.

We blocked IM at the same time. The changes are appreciated by the employees, who say it's way less stressful.

Driven to distraction (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133654)

by technology focusing news-site would be more accurate

Distraction? (2, Insightful)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133656)

Gotta check out responses to my /. posting.

Re:Distraction? (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133834)

Especially annoying when they appear to be worthless like this one.

Re:Distraction? (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133944)

Exactly. Damn, I did it again.

Exactly why one should not own a MAC (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133657)

Every Mac user I've ever met spends about 60% of his/her time doing useless work because "its so pretty!"

Get rid of the icons and stupid gurggling noises, f11 view everything key and low and behold users might do more work.

Compulsive Email (2, Interesting)

putko (753330) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133665)

It's been documented that if someone knows he's got an email/voicemail, he'll go crazy if he can't at least see who sent it, or knowing that, what it is about.

This is quite terrible, given that most stuff can be ignored, yet we get emails and voice mails all the time.

I think this is one reason why people totally despise spam.

I remember in '91 there was a guy who would go on "vacation" (with the vacation program) even when in the office. You'd mail him and get a note that he was realy busy, and would respond later. If you went and interrupted him, it needed to be really, really urgent, or he'd have a fit.

I thought it was odd then, but now it makes perfect sense.

And they say A.I. is different from natural one (2, Insightful)

tchernobog (752560) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133669)

Where's the problem? Just disable interrupts while you're managing one, and re-enable when ended. People will keep calling until they don't get some CPU share. Else, the overhead for context switching is known to be terrible. Just be sure to schedule calls from your boss in real time priority, if you don't want to get fired.

Solution? (1)

duffer_01 (184844) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133674)

Isn't the solution to simply turn that stuff off when you are required to be creative?

Personnal responsibility (2, Informative)

NinjaFodder (635704) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133682)

Probably flaimbait, but I think it needs to be said...

At what point do people take responsibility for their work? Most of us have actual tasks that we need to accomplish. If we can't get our work done because we're being distracted, can't we just remove the distraction?
-Disable IM when you're really busy
-Check email less frequently
-Let calls go to voicemail occasionally
-Administer the fist of death to those people who constantly interrupt

Sure I'm oversimplifying. You get the point though. I hope...

Re:Personnal responsibility (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133818)

Well, usually it boils down to the last option, which, with current law system, isn't completely viable.
One of problems with "creativity mode" is that you hardly ever know when you are entering it, it's quite volatile, and disabling stuff often makes it impossible - simply because instead of being creative you keep worrying about missed calls, or "what happens if something bad happens and I don't know?"
The best would be some kind of prioritization system. Say, you have a vending machine type slot for money at your door. Want to disrupt me? Insert $(current importance of my uninterrupted work). If what you want is really important, you can have your money back. If not, sorry, I collect it :)

We're not yet accustomed to it (2, Interesting)

Aminion (896851) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133683)

Tech causes problem because we haven't yet learned to handle it. Sure, we use it all the time, but that doesn't mean that we're using sound strategies to handle all the information and requests from colleagues.

Just read the article: more and more companies are realizing that they cannot continue with all of the information management like they have used to. At first, these little tricks will seem pretty odd, but once we filter out those that work for everyone involved, they will be strategies commonly used across entire industries.

Interrupts better than polling (2, Insightful)

sita (71217) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133687)

YMMV, but I find that if I, for any longer period of time, turn off notifications for e-mail etc (or if I am forced to use my webmail instead of a fat IMAP client or so) I will spend a lot more time polling my webmail than I would have lost due to "push" interruptions. The same goes for slashdot and the like.

I suppose there are parameters that I could vary (get a more interesting job, for one;).

Not my case (1)

Nuffsaid (855987) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133696)

The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state
Just eight minutes? Seems like I need about eight hours! I really enjoy my stroll to go back home, when nothing disturbed me at work...

bleh (4, Insightful)

Blymie (231220) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133699)

"The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state."

Hey, I won't disagree that it is very difficult to work with constant distraction. As a Programmer, a SysAdmin, sometimes you have to sit and _think_ about the big picture.

You must pause and consider.

However, the above quote shows quite aptly one of the major flaws with Western Medicine. It seems to think that all human beings are identical.

8 minutes? Clearly this is some sort of average, and an average likely deduced by dubious means. It could be 1 minute for some, 16 minutes for others.. and the type of creativity could make as much of a difference as the person involved!

Of course, let's just boil it all down into a neat figure, instead...

Driven insane is more like it. (1)

electron task force (901798) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133702)

It was the constant interruptions by the technologically impared that drove me to the brink of madness. I soon wrangled the approval to telecommute from the dolts upstairs. Now I answer voice mail /email twice a day and spend the increase in productivity building and selling components online and meditating. I feel much more useful now.

Tell me about it. (1)

toonces33 (841696) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133707)

The folks at the office view me as a dinosaur because I refuse to install an IM client. Usually I prefer email, because I can read them when I am at a good breaking point. Then again, if I am really busy for weeks or months at a time, it can be weeks or months before I reach a good breaking point, at which point the email queries are effectively lost, so in these cases email is effectively ignored.

There was a point a few years back where there were so many interruptions that I felt that there was no point in starting a new project.

Re:Tell me about it. (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133782)

Install a textmode one. Minimize on busy, no more interruptions - all incoming msgs are invisible till you reopen it.

Use your head... (2, Interesting)

flajann (658201) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133711)

One simply must manage the distractions.

I myself will simply ignore the email and focus on what I must accomplish. Then when I'm at a breaking point, I'll look at the email.

Simple old-fashioned prioritization.

All thing fall under:

  • Urgent or Not Urgent
  • Important or not Important
That forms a 2x2 matrix, and all problems should be ranked accordingly. Then, it becomes clear what the most efficient way to deal with the issues are.

Telecommute (3, Interesting)

Wiseleo (15092) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133712)

I once had an urgent high priority matter and got sick of interruptions. I normally wear high quality headphones (office music is well...), but...

Next day did not show up at the office and logged on from home through VPN and shut off my phones. Worked my 8 hours and got back to work next day. They had a problem with it, but I said it was billable time and I had to allocate the entire day to one client that was basically a convoluted research project.

The reason why I was surprised at the reaction? I live 3 miles from my office. Any urgent ticket, for which I have real-time notification, would have same speed of response if not quicker than calling me in the office.

Some people just don't get it, but it's a good option if you can make it work. I much prefer working in my home office with a high end sound system rather than the open-doored office in subzero temperatures.

I've been successful another 2 times so far to work remotely and converted most customers for remote access.

Distraction or Destruction? (5, Funny)

RandomRob (882021) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133720)

This strikes a chord with me, too...

I had an employee a few years ago who didn't seem to understand the idea of uninterrupted work. I regularly close my door and get work done - research, coding, whatever - and the rule around the lab is, if the door is closed, you leave the person alone. This one guy didn't seem to understand this - I mean, he didn't WANT to have this apply to him...

He would come up with really annoying ways to interrupt, like hammering on my door really hard, or standing in front of the door talking loudly. The final straw, that resulted in his near-decapitation, was one incident where he emailed me, emailed me five minutes later to complain I hadn't responded, then borrowed a security key to let himself in to my office to ask why I wasn't answering email.


Catch 22 (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133738)

There are some simple things you can do to help:

1) Only open your e-mail program when the network is down
2) Unplug your phone unless you are wearing the headphones
3) Lock your door and accept no callers unless you are not in the office

plug in (1)

b4stard (893180) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133739)

When the task at hand is of particular importance and I fear having my state of deep concentration disrupted by people talking to or around me, I use ear plugs. This I heartily recommend. Ear phones playing your music of choice may also work.

The plugs I use are very discrete and very effective, so coworkers who are not aware of this practice are at times annoyed by my apparent autism. This is however (most of the time) by far outweighed by my increased productivity.
If they really really need to talk to me, they're free to poke me with a stick.

I don't get interupted (1)

dukeinlondon (745717) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133745)

But I interupt myself way too ofter

window manager (1)

xmp_phrack (795665) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133764)

for a while, i used the Ion3 window manager and GNU screen. having a set of full screen windows aided concentration.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133776)

First Post!

What would be a better solution? (2, Insightful)

Etherael (651533) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133791)

I get it, you're working on something and you're trying to concentrate, come up with the next block of code for an intricate function, and some popup email notification for shonky viagra salesman comes up and throws your concentration a little, annoying.

I don't however think that the best solution is to "unplug" so to speak, because I've had the reverse to, deeply entranced in something complex for hours on end, only to find out that it was useless work because I was emailed twenty minutes into the task and notified we'd be taking a different task, that is similiarily annoying.

It'd be ideal if you could set the computer to know what you're working on, say a project tag for incoming communication attempts, and anything related to what you were working on got through instantly with the potential for interruption otherwise it was stowed away without notification until later. I achieve this now just by making assumptions about who will be contacting me with regards to what, but it's a kludge, and the people you expect to not bug you with something unless it's important aren't always worthy of such faith.

A way to let people know that need to know what you're working on without interrupting you, and giving them the potential to interrupt you if they really ought to anyway, that'd be nice. Unplugging is just taking a step back, and there was a good reason we got to where we are to begin with.

Where did you get eight minutes? (1)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133804)

I thought the statement about "eight uninterrupted minutes for the brains to get into a really creative state" was interresting but where did it come from? I'm trying to talk my manager out of a really bad office design and this kind of information would help.

bullcrap (2, Informative)

ph4s3 (634087) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133815)

These things only bother the ignorant and the self-important. Anyone that's dealt with an office environment where you have 5 ways of being contacted knows that if you want to be highly focused on a project or whatever, you turn all that crap off and deal with it later.

Personally I only answer the phone if it's my wife (w/ small baby at home) or a number I don't recognize which is rare. As for email, IM, etc., they are turned off and only checked twice a day.

And by the way, for any low functioning PHBs that read slashdot: none of that other shit is any more distracting than you walking by my desk, pulling up a chair and asking "so, where are we" every couple of hours. In fact, probably all of them combined are less distracting because I can ignore them easily and don't get pissed off every time they interrupt me. You on the other hand...

Telephones are the worst. (2, Interesting)

Jords (826313) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133816)

Of course, The ultimate way to get around this is to go nocturnal. "Real programmers do their best work between 1 and 6 am" -- C for dummies :D

Office Work != Creative State (2, Insightful)

Nova Express (100383) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133847)

This somehow assumes that modern business offices want you to be in a "creative state." Alas, I can tell that for some of them, this just ain't the case...

Send them to voicemail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133867)

When I really need to concentrate on something creative, I'm thankful that most things used to get ahold of me have an off button or can be exited.

Since switching over my landline to mobile, and taking my number with me - things have been a lot better. I get less calls, and people get the picture that I don't want to be disturbed.
Going this route wouldn't really work people who need to answer their phone, e-mail, or IM on the spot - but has done wonders for when it comes to staying productive for extened periods of time.

When I code.. (1, Funny)

Fr05t (69968) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133874)

I wear ear plugs, and a blind fold.

a simple solution ! (1)

varkman (818678) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133875)

-)Check your e-mail once an hour, not constantely. -)Have different IM accounts for work/private. When i'm working, i don't need to be talking to my niece about who just bought what car etc... -)And only use the phone when it's urgent. If not, an e-mail will suffice. I know this is not something you can do yourself, but a little professional courtesy isn't asking too much, now is it?

tetris (2, Funny)

c0n0 (901224) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133908)

ohmmm...not now Lumberg...I am real busy
Besides, I've got a meeting with the Bobs in a few minutes.

Driven to distraction, its all part of the plan... (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133914)

When something is broken (instant communication & interruptions) and you try to fix it (email, IM, & voicemail) try to repair it, any way you can...
Set your availability to away and if you can, only check your emails and voicemails only so many times in one day. Take your work to a quiet area where you will not be disturbed. Is this realistic? Not if you are chained to your desk.
How much creativity does one gain after 8 minutes of undisturbed work? Is this an average time, or, are the more creative people able to compensate for these distractions and can get into their groove after say, 5 minutes?
I would write more but I am getting a phone call...
You and me are floating on a tidal wave and me are drifting into outer space

RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13133942)

Well, now we know why people don't RTFA!

I don't think so... 2 reasons: (2, Insightful)

jpellino (202698) | more than 9 years ago | (#13133973)

(1) the three minute average is silly. You can work uninterrupted or be in a meeting for an hour - this means you'd need other spans of near constant interruption to hit that average. Most likely this was a survey, "3 minutes" was a choice and it came up most often. People like to complain to inquisitive strangers who are paying attention to them, and you see the events, not the space between them.

(Same problem accurately estimating cloud cover. Here's an exercise: Take a sheet of plain paper. Fold it in half the short way, tear a big circle out of the middle. Open it back up. You have a rectangular paper donut. Tear the round piece in half. Put one half in your pocket, tear the other into about a dozen random shapes and sizes. Lay the donut down. Lay the random pieces into the open hole. Ask passers-by to tell you how much of the hole is filled. You'll get big numbers. 70-80 % coverage. You can prove it's really only 50% - you have exactly half the hole in your pocket untouched.)

(2) the 8 minute ramp-up is almost as silly. Suppose it's roughly right. Office workers are required to be in "a really creative state" to get any work done? Nonsense.
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