Gary Audin
Gary Audin is the President of Delphi, Inc. He has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security...
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Gary Audin | August 26, 2011 |


Digital Distractions, Hindered Productivity

Digital Distractions, Hindered Productivity Combinations of tools like Presence and training can go a long way to reducing the wasted time and lost productivity due to digital distractions.

Combinations of tools like Presence and training can go a long way to reducing the wasted time and lost productivity due to digital distractions.

Getting work done with all the communications distractions seems to be more difficult then ever. It was bad enough when people walked into the office/cubicle when you were already busy. Now with the digital world imposing its will on nearly everyone, the digital distractions are worse than the in-person distractions. Being busy (i.e., working) does mean productivity.

Most people mix social networking with business communications. We have both operating simultaneously; there is no border between them. Enterprises are now creating their own internal social networks which will add to the digital distractions problem.

We constantly hear how communications and collaboration (Unified Communications) will make us more productive, reduce travel costs and create better relationships. Yes, there is this up side. But there is also a down side: interruptions and distractions. Distractions limit the time of focused work. Distractions can cause lost time in restarting the work effort. Distractions can lead to errors. Distractions cost money in lost productivity.

The distractions will not stop. Part of the solution to distraction is using technology like Presence. Another would be using a common device for all digital communications. There are also behavioral changes for both the contacting and contacted communicating employees.

What is the Problem with Multiple Communications Channels?
We e-mail, IM, tweet, have desktop phones and smart mobile phones and PCs, check Facebook, receive LinkedIn messages, have a Skype identity, use tablets. We have multiple devices and usually have two or more active at a time. It is nearly impossible to avoid being contacted by one or more persons or systems at a time while also trying to be productive. It is common that most of the channels operate independent of each other.

There have been many articles and blogs discussing the change in the behavior of younger people who participate in social communications. But this phenomenon does not stop with them. Older generations are being affected and their work productivity suffers. For articles and books on this subject, see "8 Must- Reads About Digital Distraction and Information Overload," by David Lavenda.

What are Business Interruptions?
A paper, "Work Interrupted: A Closer Look at the Role of Interruptions in Organized Life," by Quintus R. Jett and Jennifer M. George of Rice University, published in the Academy of Management Review. discusses four forms of interruptions. The following table is derived from their paper:

So what is a digital distraction? It is the psychological reaction produced by some external stimulus, a communications function and/or device, or other activity that interrupts the focus and concentration of the primary work of an individual. The digital distraction consumes employee time and changes their focus.

The distraction lasts longer than the actual distraction event. It takes time for the individual to refocus on the primary task, and the refocus may require a brief relearning period and may also result in errors, or work being performed a second time to ensure accuracy.

Digital vs. Personal Distractions
A survey, "I Can’t Get My Work Done! How Collaboration & Social Tools Drain Productivity," published by, clearly demonstrates the growth and adverse affects of digital distractions. is a provider of social email software.

The survey found that digital distractions are more common than in-person distractions. Part of the difference is due to the ability of a person to physically notice that the worker is absorbed in work and should not be disturbed. Another reason is that the in-person distraction requires one individual to physically seek out the other individual. found that 57% of the interruptions were digital while 43% were in-person distractions.

When there is no physical or visual contact, the person or function that causes the digital distraction does not necessarily know the status of the individual that is being contacted. This lack of status knowledge allows the contacting individual and system to assume that the individual to be contacted is free to accept the interruption. The contacting individual does not know the effect the interruption will have on the productivity of the contacted individual.

Breakdown of the most common workplace distractions (By Activity)
From "I Can't Get My Work Done! How Collaboration & Social Tools Drain Productivity"


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