Avoid fragmented imbecility: to think hard, ignore email, refuse phone calls, and close the door

A study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard a few years ago noted declines in IQ scores when knowledge workers were distracted by e-mail and phone calls. The decline, chronicled in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Sept. 2009 at 84, was an average of 10 points (See my post of July 14, 2005: cites this study in connection with Blackberries.).

In-house lawyers, bombarded by interruptions of these kinds and others, must be reduced sometimes to fragmented imbecility. People need uninterrupted time to tackle particularly demanding tasks. Nor can they ponder when pulled in several directions (See my post of July 7, 2005: multi-tasking lowers productivity; July 14, 2005: inefficiencies from e-mail interruptions; May 14, 2006: multi-tasking ability highly ranked by Canadian in-house counsel; June 5, 2006: the stress e-mail causes; June 7, 2006: attention density; Oct. 2, 2006: multi-tasking’s drawbacks; Feb. 20, 2008: multitasking drags down productivity; March 30, 2008: distracting use of laptops during meetings; and Nov. 6, 2006: email with 6 references.).

Not just less intelligent, interruptions from email make us slower. Another study cited in the article, this one done by Microsoft researchers, found that when co-workers were “interrupted by an e-mail notification, people took, on average, 24 minutes to return to their suspended task.” Not that they spent all the time on the incoming email, but they got distracted by other mail, other diversions, and other hurdles to getting back to what they had been doing.

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