Dealing with Distractions During Work

Distraction is often a click away. Activities that require deep thought -such as programming and writing – often require extended periods of uninterrupted focus. My Master’s thesis was an investigation which addressed how well people manage task switching, and how much their productivity is impacted by it. A series of studies were conducted and, based on the results, two outcomes were presented: 1) a software application that supports efficient task-switching through self reflection on one’s work habits and 2) some implications for organizations and user interface designers.

The first study was a controlled experiment which addressed switching behaviors, how much people allow themselves to be distracted by alternative tasks and the impact the distractions had on their task performance. A second study was a survey that examined how people were distracted by email. This survey described power users’ experience with email and how they fractured their workdays by checking  too often. A third study examined what constitutes people “working hard” or not hard.  In this study, the Worksniffer software —created for this task— recorded task switching timing and activity. The results of this study demonstrated that it was possible to identify both general and individual patterns of when people were working and not working. The technology, Simply Work, was a visualization of a user’s task switching built upon the WorkSniffer app. This tool assisted users in monitoring their work habits. The hope was that this tool will help users to maintain deep focus, reflect upon their work practice, and take breaks in a timely manner.