The difference between interruptions and distractions and what they are costing you

You may have enjoyed some of the ways live TV has been gatecrashed by little people of late. The now infamous “Mummy, what’s his name?” clip shows both the challenge of home working with young children and the brilliantly professional and kind response of the BBC reporter in response.

Interruptions (whilst always interfering with our productivity) have ramped up to a new level during home working. Whether it’s hungry children, delivery drivers or even the home phone cutting through your day - we cannot escape the interruptions at home.

Work-place interruptions can be just as frustrating, but our tolerance for them seems to be higher. Perhaps as they happen in our workplace, we feel less guilty about them?

However, a full 5 months of working with unsolicited interruptions is enough to drive anyone to distraction. And here’s where the two collide.

Interruptions are essentially another train of thought  gatecrashing your focus. They can break our concentration and flow, which depending on the task can be difficult to recover easily. 

Once that flow is interrupted, it can be easy to use this as a cue to take a mental break, which is where we can find ourselves lost in distraction.

Distractions these days, often arrive in a digital form. I’ll just check the news, Twitter, my email, the weather in Istanbul….

These digital distractions are dangerous. According to Gloria Mark who studies digital distraction at the University of California, each digital distraction takes 25 minutes to mentally recover from (excluding the time you spent distracted).

Whilst constant interruptions can have the same effect as a loss of a night’s sleep. Frequent distractions activate our adrenaline and cortisol production by creating a hyper-alert state in our bodies. 

Whilst this ‘fight or flight’ state is great for short bursts of intense activity, this heightened sympathetic nervous system state is not one that are bodies’ are meant to sustain. The effects on our sleep and heart rate, as well as our ability to give well thought through, considered responses to situations are adversely affected by this.

So how do we fix this? Well, some things aren’t going away fast. Home working for many is likely to be an ongoing situation, and those interruptions are manageable, but with less predictability. 

We spoke to our Shapes Practitioners and Partners and have produced a great Summer Holiday Survival Guide. It features plenty of expert tips, advice and useful sites for managing your work and family throughout this time. Keep your eyes peeled for an email with this next week!

We also spoke with Katherine Hickman recently on our You Are Not A Frog podcast. She gave some great insights and advice into managing your phone use, not just for better productivity but for better mental health too!

There are many great benefits to taking some annual leave, particularly if it’s been or continues to be a busy time for you. The interruptions, distractions, deadlines and demands will always be there - it’s important that you’re mentally fit to face these challenges. 

There’s a great Zen quote that summarises this sentiment:
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”


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