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New Study Shows Office Distractions Can Cause Errors To Double

girl at office desk with headacheNothing is more frustrating in an office setting than when you're trying to focus and meet an impending deadline when, all of sudden, one of those little distractions occurs.

However innocent or unpredictable, it can be one of a number of things as well: Anything from a surprise office meeting or an unexpected visit from a client to a “must-read” joke from a co-worker via IM or that unexpected personal text message you received because you forgot to turn off your ringer… they can all interrupt that goal you’re trying to accomplish.

Researchers at Michigan State University agree as well. They recently revealed the results of a comprehensive new study based on just that. The results show that an interruption of as little as 3 seconds can double the amount of time it takes to complete the task at hand. Additionally, the study found that the amount of errors an employee made doubled compared to a worker who was not interrupted.

Researchers created a computer-based challenge for the 300 people who took part in the study and asked them to perform certain tasks, replicating the experience of being interrupted in an office environment.

"So why did the error rate go up?" asked the lead researcher on the study."The answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought."

Keep these tips in mind if you find your are too easily taken off task at work:

  • How Time Flies: If you’re the type that feels like there is just not enough time in your work day to accomplish all of your tasks, maybe you need to do an assessment of how you’re spending your time.
  • Apps To The Rescue: The recent advances in cell phone technology have led us to the age of Smart Phones. Soon they will be babysitting our children. We may as well embrace this new gift sooner than later, or be left in the dark, like your grandmother trying to figure out how to write you an email without CC’ing all of her contacts. There are hundreds of applications out there for both iPhone and Android platforms, such as RescueTime, Toodledo, Things, Simplenote, and (my favorite name) Remember The Milk. Find one that fits your lifestyle and work schedule.
  • Avoid Distractions: If it’s a distracting noise, co-worker, or if you’re the unfortunate soul whose desk is located near a high-traffic zone in the office, there are a few things you can do. Obviously, you don’t want anybody to think you’re not a “team player” but nobody can knock an employee who consistently gets the job done. If you’re in a noisy office environment, get yourself a set of good noise-cancelling headphones to either drown out the noise, or pump some good motivational music into your heads. People will quickly get the message that you are heavily invested in completing whatever project you’re working on.
  • Don’t Get Caught In The WEB: Opening up a Web browser while at work can quickly derail any chances you have of staying on task. This can be something as simple as checking the weather or traffic to something as ridiculous as confirming a recent statement from Paris Hilton about the State of the Union. There’s a good chance it can wait. Save the personal browsing for those precious hours when you’re at home or on a break.
  • No Text Is A Good Text: Similar to the internet, a single text from a friend or significant other can throw you off your game. Turn it off while you’re in the office and make it a habit to only check on breaks, if that.

If you worry that following these tips might turn you into the office "Debby Downer" keep in mind that the next time you engage in a discussion with the office "Chatty Cathy" as she walks by your desk, you might not only be losing out on valuable time but also giving yourself a higher probability of making a costly error on that report you were writing.

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