A recent study on interruptions in emergency rooms had a surprising finding. (See the full article on CNN here)
I wasn’t surprised at how often doctors were interrupted: 11% of all tasks. In fact, that might be low for any given office worker. Shop floor workers tend to be more insulated from disturbances than the folks at desks, but 11% sounds like it would be in the ballpark for say, a welder or an assembly line worker.
I wasn’t even surprised that interrupted tasks took less time to finish than if they hadn’t been interrupted. People race to catch up or skip steps when they fall behind. In the 210 hour study, the observers saw no evidence of harm to patients, but in the workspace, we have all been victims of quality fallout from process shortcuts.
What I was surprised at was that 18.5% of the time, the doctors did not return to the task. Either that means that the task wasn’t all that important to begin with, that the doctor chose to skip something, or that he or she forgot to finish the work.
Interruptions corrupt quality, reduce productivity, and destroy job satisfaction.
Of course, you can’t just say “No interruptions!” The interruption is related to another task that will likely fail if it is not complete.
Instead, view each interruption as a symptom of a failed process. Track where the interruptions are coming from. You can use my Interruption Log to gather information about the disturbances. The Pareto Chart will help you figure out where most of the interruptions are coming from. (The link takes you to a webpage where you can download a 7-page PDF on Pareto Charts.)
Once you know what the biggest interruption is, use your continuous improvement skills to eliminate the source of the problem. You don’t have to live with interruptions.