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One of the most alarming productivity studies I’ve come across was conducted by Gloria Mark, in partnership with Microsoft.
In the study, Gloria tracked how 40 knowledge workers spent their time and attention when working in front of a computer. While she discovered a few interesting nuggets when poring through the experiment logs—like that our ability to focus suffers when we get less sleep and are stressed out—to me, the most fascinating finding had to do with how frequently we’re distracted or interrupted as we work.
The average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of a computer. This is remarkable. While it’s easy to recognize that we live in an age of distraction, to me, this number is astounding. It’s pretty hard to do good, deep work when you can’t even focus for a minute.
In the timeline of our work, our best thinking happens after this 40 second mark.
I’ve started to think a lot more about distractions since stumbling on this statistic. Once you become aware of how rare sustained, focused attention is, it’s impossible to look at your work the same way—it’s like noticing the arrow embedded in the FedEx logo for the first time.
This further supports the fact that we need to eliminate as many distractions and interruptions from our work as possible. The disruptions—including email notifications and alerts—are infinitely easier to deal with before they come up, rather than after. Downloading apps like Freedom or Cold Turkey, or disconnecting from the internet completely while doing your most important work (you spend 47% of your time on the internet procrastinating), can go a long way in helping you charge past this 40 second mark.
Taking just a few minutes to tame distractions ahead of time can save you hours of lost productivity later on.