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Future of work 6 min read

How to increase productivity -- by decreasing interruptions

"Hey, where can I find that file again?" -- questions like this add up. In fact, 33% of an average employee's time is spent on searching for files and information, as well as collaborating and communicating internally. But there is hope. We have studied where internal distractions come from and researched how to best avoid interruptions at work.
Natalie Tillack

"Hey, where can I find that file again?" It may seem like a harmless question. But when asked often enough by a large number of people, the accumulated amount of time it takes to answer may be more significant than you think [See our earlier blog post on "Distractions at Work: How Interruptions Affect Productivity"]. In this blog, we will look deeper into where these interruptions come from and present ideas on how to decrease them.

Think about it, how many times a day do you reach out to a colleague with "quick questions" about files, documents, and presentations? Or about other types of information that ideally should be easily accessible by everyone in your organization? If you're like most knowledge workers, this happens all the time. In fact, the average worker is interrupted between 4 to 12 times every hour. That's one interruption every 15 minutes.

Not only do these interruptions add up over time. As we’ve shown in our blog, they're also way more disruptive to our focus and productivity than you may think. Our days are filled with distracting notifications from direct messaging apps like slack, phone calls, and email. In fact, research shows that interruptions like that cost the U.S. economy alone a staggering $588 billion a year.

The more interruptions, the less deep work

We're more connected than ever, and we can communicate with our colleagues in real-time. The benefits of this are apparent in terms of increased collaboration, knowledge sharing, and reduced silos. But the downside is that we're constantly interrupted.

Emails, phone calls, and slack interruptions are severely reducing our focus, hindering us from reaching that coveted state of flow when working on complicated tasks. Research shows that the constant blinking and beeping that we're all subjecting ourselves to damages our efficiency, and our actual capability to do so-called “deep work” since it is affecting our attention span and ability to concentrate.

The “quick question” from colleagues

“Got a minute?” We've all said it, and we've all heard it. And we may not even think we're interrupting someone if our question is very simple. In fact,

Around 50% of interruptions come from internal sources.
CHI (2005)

But no matter how simple it is, research shows that it takes up to 23 minutes for the brain to get back on track after being interrupted. In addition to the time lost, constant interruptions also wear down your resistance so that you're more easily interrupted again. Add to that the stress and damaged morale resulting from being disturbed continuously, and it becomes evident that the “interruption culture” that characterizes most modern organizations is destructive. According to a survey by Udemy, over 70% of workers feel distracted on their job, with 16% saying they almost constantly feel unfocused.

Workarounds to cope with distractions

As discussed in our earlier blog post, there are workarounds for how to manage interruptions by communications tools like Slack, MS Teams, or email:

  • Bundling "available time" and blocking time for "focus work": One of our Team users defined company-wide Slack-free times, where employees are not expected to answer to Slack messages immediately. Often, individual employees have their own equivalent, where they turn of notifications and spend time on deep-work.
  • Creating guidelines for how to use team-internal communication tools: Superhuman just published their guidelines on how and when to use Slack vs. email vs. person-to-person. One of our Team users said they try to structure their Slack communication by posting only the topic in a Slack message and holding the related discussion within the thread.

Avoiding distractions at work

But there is hope to actually reduce the need to ask and search. The fact that half of the interruptions come from internal sources, means they are easier to affect and reduce. According to a McKinsey report, approximately 19% of an employee's time is spent locating information and files, and 14% is spent communicating and collaborating internally. This indicates the immense potential for time savings in optimizing how we communicate around and share documents and files.

At Reasonal, we help you reduce internal interruptions and improve team collaboration by

  • Including workflow management into your tools, which means no need to leave the presentation, document, blueprint, or design file, to see open tasks and assign to-dos.
  • Making all relevant information easily accessible to you and your team in a central location at all times. Which means no more need for those not-so-quick questions.

Reasonal collects and centralizes all your communication around files, documents, presentations, and sheets. You will no longer have to ask your colleague or dig through tons of email and Slack messages. Instead, you're able to see all activities, edits, or mentions of every document and file, all in one place. No information is lost, and double work is avoided. Reasonal integrates with your productivity tools of choice to automate workflow and knowledge management, decreasing the need for maintenance of productivity tools while delivering the information you need -- wherever it's needed.

Key Takeaways

Interruptions are detrimental both to productivity and to the wellbeing of your employees, and 50% originate from within your team. With the average worker being interrupted between 4 to 12 times every hour, addressing the problem of constant internal interruptions holds massive potential for increased efficiency and cost savings. A large percentage of interruptions are related to questions regarding documents, file management, and internal information, which could easily be eliminated. So, to sum up: by improving your knowledge management, you will optimize team communication, operations, and save a lot of money.

🥇 Get early access to Reasonal Teams to explore how a seamless and automated file management and knowledge management could eliminate the lion share of your questions

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Natalie Tillack

Natalie Tillack



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