Get a Life

By Judith Welles

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Get a Life!: Do not disturb

How many times a day are you interrupted in the midst of writing a memo or thinking about a project? The phone rings, new e-mail messages pop into your inbox, someone talks outside your cube or stands in your doorway. Such distractions can take up at least a quarter of your day at work say business researchers.

Once distracted, it may take hours to get yourself back on track. With BlackBerrys and cell phones allowing you to take work from the office to your home, technology is often the culprit in causing distractions of one kind or another. But technology is being developed that may also help us avoid distraction and keep us focused.

BusinessWeek reported that Microsoft has developed an e-mail triage software called Priorities that differentiates between important and less-important messages based on the mathematics of the cost and benefit of interrupting someone at work. Although Priorities may not be available yet, Microsoft has already developed the Outlook Mobile Manager that can determine the urgency of e-mail messages and route them to computers, phones or handheld devices.

IBM is working on instant messaging software such as answering machine that can sense when you are working on the computer by the pattern of your mouse or keyboard. The software will alert potential interrupters that you are not available. Having worked at IBM with instant messages popping up all over my screen with frequent questions and assignments, this would be a welcome addition.

The new technology may be promising, but it also is likely to bring with it new challenges, perhaps helping but also adding to some of the distraction as we adapt. Sometimes I think that we need to use some tried and true methods like you see in hotels – just put the little sign on the door knob or on your computer message, “Do not disturb.”

I’ll be writing more about distractions and ways to avoid them based on a new book published this month, "Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and The Coming Dark Age" by Maggie Jackson -- if I don’t have too many interruptions.

How do you avoid interruptions and keep your focus?

Posted by Judith Welles on Jun 24, 2008 at 12:13 PM


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