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Data On The Damage Of Distractions has linked to an ancient post (by blogging standards- over 1 year!) that shows a study on the cost of interruptions and distractions among office workers. The result: Scary.

Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What’s more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task

A three minute attention span?! That’s worse than a toddler! But we know it’s true. Distractions are going to be more and more prevalent as the internet advances. The constant interaction with email among workers, coupled with chatting inside email apps like Gmail are potential productivity nightmares.

Yet we’ve created environments for work where distractions are not only permitted, but required. Tsk tsk. But Linda Stone believes that worker’s have a love/hate relationship with their interruption-driven environment. Why? We want to be wanted.

We are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything. This can actually be a positive feeling, inasmuch as the constant pinging makes us feel needed and desired. The reason many interruptions seem impossible to ignore is that they are about relationships – someone, or something, is calling out to us. It is why we have such complex emotions about the chaos of the modern office, feeling alternately drained by its demands and exhilarated when we successfully surf the flood.

The rest of this lengthy article from the Times is an extremely interesting read. You might start to see some scary similarities with yourself and the average worker.