Pardon the Interruption!

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January 13, 2016
Dan Moreland

I’ll admit it. I have the attention span of a gerbil. I’m confident that if the Internet were around when I was attending college, I wouldn’t have graduated, likely spending my afternoons surfing the Web, monitoring the news of the day rather than attending classes or cracking the books.

Fortunately, Al Gore hadn’t “invented” the Internet in 1974, so I successfully pursued a degree in journalism from Kent State University, joining the likes of Steve Harvey, Drew Carey and Arsenio Hall as proud graduates of that august institution, which apparently is particularly adept at producing world-class comedians, present company excluded, of course. Take that Harvard Law! You may be the cradle of Supreme Court justices — Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Elena Kagan and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. — but the home of the Golden Flashes is the wellspring of America’s finest funny men!

But I digress. Let’s get back to the point of this month’s column, my inability to focus on any single task for more than 10 minutes. My struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) have served me well at PCT magazine, where on any given day I jump from project to project so as not to get bored: pulling artwork for a feature story; hosting a virtual conference; writing a client proposal; interviewing an industry source for a breaking news story; and regularly reviewing our financials to make sure we hit our numbers. You name it, I do it.

That’s why I was perplexed to learn that it takes nearly 25 minutes for workers to return to their original task once they have been interrupted by a co-worker, according to Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics (whatever that is) at the University of California, Irvine. To make matters worse, the Wall Street Journal has reported “face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more intrusions than email or phone calls” and “employees in cubicles are interrupted 29 percent more often than those in private offices.” Fortunately, workers are coming up with ingenious ways to prevent these constant interruptions, purchasing a variety of products to ensure they remain productive members of society. Here are a few:

CubeGuards. These are retractable banners mounted across your cubicle or office doorway designed to send the message that you’re not to be disturbed under any circumstances (www.cubeguard.com). Installed in seconds, the banners communicate a variety of no-nonsense messages to co-workers including the popular Dilbert CubeGuard that states, “Currently busy. Please do not disturb. Today I will know the joy of uninterrupted productivity.” Unfortunately, the last time I checked the company’s website, the Dilbert CubeGuard was temporarily out of stock, prompting me to order the more pedestrian, “Please Do Not Disturb” option, featuring an image of a Smiley face with a zipper for a mouth. Don’t laugh, I’m serious!

Cube-a-Doors. If a simple banner isn’t sufficient to deter your more aggressive colleagues, particularly those hepped up on three cups of coffee before noon, you can always upgrade to a Cube-a-Door (www.cube-a-door.com). Cube-a-Doors are 4-foot by 4-foot tall flexible partitions that inform your work buddies in no uncertain terms that you’re tired of their constant interruptions and you need some time to focus on your work rather than nod sympathetically as they share their latest family drama. Think of it as your version of Donald Trump’s hotly debated “great wall,” downsized for a more intimate office setting.

CanFocus. And finally, if all else fails, go for the high-tech option by investing in the CanFocus solution (www.canfocus.com), a one-touch system designed to silence and calm both your digital and physical work distractions. With the simple push of a button, CanFocus silences your cell phone, email, computer and tablet, even your colleagues when the device glows red, giving you the ability to concentrate on your work without interruption. As the company’s website states, join the workplace of tomorrow and “Respect the Red.”

Or you could simply work from home unless, of course, you have a dog or cat. Sadly, that presents a whole new set of challenges. Worklife is complicated. Sigh!