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Interruption: The Not-So-Silent Killer of Productivity

How much of your productivity is eaten by interruption? The answer is scary.

Interruption: The Silent Killer of Productivity


Did you know that the average executive spends 28 hours a week in meetings? Managers spend an average of 21 hours a week in sitting in meetings. That’s more than 2 days in meetings! Now add to this the fact that the average professional spends 13 hours a week on email. That’s the majority of your week!

And it would be nice if the day were split up as cleanly as the statistics, like this:

Your ideal day

But, it’s not. It probably looks something more like this:

Your day

Because we have to coordinate meeting times with others, we are at the mercy of mutual availability. Mutual availability doesn’t care about your productivity. It’ll put a meeting smack dab in the middle of a wide-open stretch of productivity just because it can. And email, chat, text, and other forms of asynchronous communication fill in around the meetings.

These little white gaps of open space are when you try to get your work done...if you’re not interrupted.


We hate to keep delivering the bad news, even the day above is idealistic because the research shows that the average knowledge worker checks email or chat every 6 minutes. And that looks something more like this:

Your day, for reals

The Painful Price of Interruption

Now for the really bad news. :)

Each of these interruptions has a cost. Every time you have to stop what you’re doing to do something else, you pay a toll to the productivity gods. What is that toll? Unfortunately, there isn’t a published rate chart and the price is very elastic.

A team of researchers led by Gloria Mark in 2005 found that the toll of getting sidetracked by other tasks cost 23 minutes and 15 seconds before people returned to their original task and they wandered to 2.3 other tasks along the way.

Another team (Iqbal and Horvitz) found that people paid a 10-minute toll on task switches caused by alerts or notifications and another 10-15 minutes doing other stuff before they got back to the original task. In fact, 27% of the interruptions they studied resulted in more than 2 hours before returning to the original task.

Jory McKay of Rescue Time reported last year that due to this cost, software developers actually spend only 41% of their time doing software development. What are they doing with the other 59%? Paying the toll of interruption by attending meetings or jumping between other tasks and tools.

Paid in Productivity

Productivity is one of those things that is hard to measure effectively because it means so many things to many different people. And you can certainly be productive on the wrong things. However, I don’t think anyone would argue that being in a state of flow represents the highest form of productivity.

Being in flow (aka “in the zone” or “on fire”) is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Being in a state of flow results in a transformation to one’s sense of time. In short, flow could be considered the highest form of productivity.

Experts on the subject state that it takes almost 30 minutes to get back into a state of flow once you’ve lost it. If that is true, what’s the likelihood of getting into a state of flow given the fragmented schedule above?

Nigh impossible.

A Solution

Asynchronous conversation tools can help you become the most productive version of yourself. Just like other conversations, you take turns, except with tools like Volley, you record your turn with Video. This allows us to have productive conversations that don't interrupt each others productivity.

If you turn your back-to-back meetings into asynchronous conversations, your day could look something more like this:

Your meetless day

Certain types of conversations (sensitive, employment-related, emotionally-charged) are better-handled synchronously. For everything else, there's Volley. If this sounds exciting, you should totally sign the declaration and download Volley today.

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