“Got a minute?” costs the U.S. economy about $588 billion a year

Interruptions and Productivity

Got that stat in the headline from here. Basically the idea speaks to the power (for evil) of interruption, which is common in most workplace cultures, I’d auger. “Hey, got a minute?” At my current job, I actually saw one of those go down on Wednesday — dude comes up to my floor and hits an office of a senior manager. Quick knock. “Hey, got a minute?” It ended up being about 35 minutes. I don’t know what that senior manager was doing beforehand, and I don’t know what the guy was planning to do with those 35 minutes, but both of them went pretty off-task for what was supposed to be a quick convo. By some context and some estimate somehow, those 35 minutes have to represent a loss of cheddar on the back-end.

If you want to think of another super interruption-laden thing in the workplace, consider e-mail. It’s all about push-pull, you know?

There are basically two ways you can deal with this, if you think you’re getting interrupted a lot:

There’s a highly ironic back-end aspect to this. As we should probably understand by now (but no one really does), “Being Busy” is the social currency of the modern age. If you’re not busy, the perception is that you lack value.

Here’s what happens, then: if you free up this interruption time, right, the second tier is that you have some more time back to yourself. Since your time at work is almost never your own, that would seem to be a good thing. But remember: people need to be seen as busy, or be able to present themselves as busy. As a result, they need more tasks.

So what happens is, they focus on the “minor many” — shit you need to do but the end purpose is iffy — rather than “the critical few” (stuff you could do that would benefit your company). “The Minor Many” takes up more time, it’s easier to up-sell the idea of how busy you are to others, and it’s easier. Who wants to focus on “The Critical Few” if it could ultimately expose your incompetence?

The general arc, then?

  • Interruptions are bad, and bottom-line-costly.
  • There are ways to eliminate them.
  • When eliminated, people will look for other things to fill the busy void.
  • They’ll likely pick the wrong things to focus on.
  • We might as well go back to the interruptions.

Business. What a world! 

Ted Bauer