E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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“Interruptive� Technologies Draining Knowledge Worker Productivity, Says Basex

Some time ago I created a weblog post here in elsua around the topic of The High Cost of Interruptions where I mentioned how despite the fact that interruptions may be considered a negative thing, which is what has happened for quite some time now, they can actually be quite productive on their own if managed well and in a timely manner. Indeed, they can be one of the most powerful enablers to help increase the social capital from a given team / community. Along those same lines of discussion I have bumped into a news article that I have been wanting to comment as well on for quite some time now. The article itself is titled: “Interruptive� Technologies Draining Knowledge Worker Productivity, Says Basex.

I haven’t had a chance to read the executive summary just yet, but I found this particular quote quite interesting:

Managers need to recognize that 28 percent of each knowledge or information worker’s day may be wasted due to unnecessary interruptions such as instant messaging, spam e-mail, telephone calls and the Web,

That certainly may be accurate to some extent but has anybody done any study looking at the facts from another perspective? Is there any study along the same lines that would indicate how much time and effort have been saved over and over again from the hundreds of IM conversations that knowledge workers do in order to fix problems, look for information, have interactive discussions with other coworkers and so forth? Has anybody done any study on the huge amount of money and time saved by knowledge workers while making use of the web looking for information they may be able to reuse without having to necessarily reinvent the wheel having to create their own Intellectual Capital out of their own work? Has anybody taken into consideration how many millions of e-mails are exchanged on a daily basis to help people collaborate with one another, share information that would be crucial to the project or the community they are working in?

I bet that if there would be some studies put together along the lines I have mentioned above the results would indicate how much more money knowledge workers are making despite the different interruptions that people go through on a daily basis. At the end of the day I am not saying that all interruptions are good, nor are they all bad, what I am saying is that if we are going to look at that data accurately we would also need to look at how much value add people are providing for their companies while making extensive use of those interruptions. I bet that the results would be so much more interesting and relevant to the issue in here: we need to ensure that knowledge workers know how to manage those interruptions without having to additional education on how to prioritise those distractions. I think it would be much more relevant and productive to show people how to manage them than to teach them how they would need to do their jobs. Because after all, and like I mentioned elsewhere, “We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them“. If we would apply that statement to most of the concerns raised with “Interruptive� Technologies Draining Knowledge Worker Productivity, Says Basex I bet we would be much better off. For sure.

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  1. Luis – I really enjoyed your thoughts on this. Over the years, there have been tremendous gains in productivity due to the technology created…yet these same productivity tools also create the interruptions that harness and slow productivity. I think you have a good idea about doing studies into productivity. I think the truth lies in the middle. Certain knowledge workers have professions that require constant interruption, and where technology has increased productivity to a marked degree, and well beyond the detraction of interruptions…..yet other professions, or other types of knowledgeworkers (such as scientists, programmers, executives have to function in such a way were they manage their interruptions and manage their technology…otherwise, I think it works in the opposite direction…the cost is greater than the productivity. Thank you for this post….very thought provoking! I, myself, had only been looking at the interruption aspect…THanks.

  2. Thanks a lot, Tom, for dropping by and for the feedback comments ! Great input ! I agree with you 100% that there are certain professions that would tolerate less well the different interruptions than others and I think that indeed those knowledge workers need to be more aggressive about how much they would want to tolerate them. I can think about multiple ways of tackling this, perhaps, indicating a particular time of the week where interruptions would be welcome and then for the rest of the time just focus on the tasks at work. Or just decide when you are going to have an open window for people to come and ask you questions. I think that those professions should be taking into consideration how they could get affected by them and what the consequences would be of not being able to manage their interruptions.
    Perhaps it is not happening at the level we would hope for, perhaps we are just getting so many of them that it is impossible to manage them any longer. One thing for sure is that depending on the needs of the knowledge worker he / she needs to be able to put a hard limit on them if they would want to get their jobs done and it might well be where we are still struggling, in some professions, in setting up the limit. I know it is not an answer solution but we need to be able to find ways to address this and before it is too late. Maybe technology could help out a bit in this particular case, who knows.

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