The other day I received the Arment Dietrich PR SmartTalk email and the first thing I saw on opening it was a big number 96, followed by the factoid that 96 is the:

Number of minutes we lose every day to interruptions (the phone, colleagues asking questions, email, etc.)

The statistic was taken from a study entitled, “Things to Do Today…: A Daily Diary Study on Task Completion at Work” which appeared in Applied Psychology: An International Review. One of the first things I noticed upon clicking on the link was that the study was from 2009, so we need to remember that the way we view this sort of thing might have changed drastically over the past two years, especially as some of this involves how we use the Internet for our work.

The gist of the study was that we go to work with a set list of tasks that we want, or need, to complete, by the end of the day. Along the way, we have interruptions. According to the research, these include unplanned tasks, questions from others, including coworkers, answering the phone, responding to email, etc:

On average, 73% of each of the planned tasks were completed by the end of a workday. Reasons mentioned for not completing planned tasks were: no time (e.g. because start-up time was too long: 42%); unplanned tasks that came up (18%); being interrupted by others (17%); and other reasons (23%). The diaries also revealed that unplanned tasks and work interruptions consisted of telephone calls (31%); colleagues walking in and asking questions and unexpected (informal) meetings (25%); broken or lost working materials (17%); unexpected tasks due to clients (13%); private matters (6%); looking for a parking space (4%); and miscellaneous (4%).

Now certainly, things like broken equipment or looking for a parking space are truly interruptions. But what about some of these other things?

Change your thinking

I think in many cases we need to change the way we look at these things. Some of them, if they are happening all of the time, are perhaps not interruptions but business as usual, and we should plan for them as part of our work day.

But beyond that, I’m perplexed that we don’t think of some of these things as opportunities, which is 180 degrees from thinking about them as interruptions.

Phone calls, answering email, questions from coworkers, even unexpected tasks from clients. Isn’t that why we’re in business in the first place: for our customers/clients?

The mindset that sees these things as interruptions is the same mindset that keeps us from viewing Social Media as a real discipline that can help us in our businesses, not only in marketing, but in communicating with our customers. Social media, like email or phone calls, should be viewed as opportunities, not interruptions. If we believe they are important, we will make time for them, and benefit from them. If we view phone calls or face to face conversations as interruptions, odds are the people with whom we are talking probably hear it in our voices or see it in our demeanor. That’s a problem.

Plus, if you do any sort of blogging or need to create content for Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, these “interruptions” are actually “opportunities” for getting content ideas. The questions people ask in person, on the phone, or via email, are all great fodder for great content.

Do you view interactions with your coworkers and customers as interruptions? Or do you understand that email, phone calls, meetings, and the like, have benefits?