You’re working on a project and desperately need to concentrate. At that exact same moment a colleague decides that they need to ask you something. They interrupt. It’s urgent – for them, but not for you. Try as you might to politely signal that you’re busy, they’re not for budging. Your flow, your task and your patience have been mightily tested. How do you deal with colleagues unable or unwilling to decipher your subtle (and not so subtle) “Can’t you see I’m busy?” cues. Fanfare. Meet the ‘FlowLight’
Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions
At Positive Change Guru were often asked how to deal with constant interruptions that impact upon workplace performance. There’s no easy answer. We’ve come across everything from clients wearing earphones, the more obvious and slightly strange apparel of ear defenders, closing the door (surprisingly not foolproof) to walking into the rest room – in our experience you can run but you cannot hide, they’ll even find you there. Thomas Fritz, an assistant professor at University of British Colombia may just have created the solution.
Fritz designed the FlowLight whilst working with ABB Inc, an international engineering company. The level of interruption was so great at ABB that engineers had taken to placing traffic cones on their desk in an attempt to ward off interlopers whilst coding. The light, designed to switch to red when mouse and computer activity were at a high level allowed employees to concentrate upon high focus tasks, maintaining flow and to green when activity was reduced, signalling availability.
Why Is Flow Important?
We know from research that constant interruption prevents us from entering into a state of flow, or optimum performance. Worst still, attempting to multi task increases the likelihood of error. What we love about Fritz’s research is that it was trialled with a sample of 449 employees from the 12 different countries (working with the same organisation) creating a real opportunity to change a trigger happy interruption culture. And that’s just what happened. Employees reported making fewer mistakes, an improvement in performance and most impressively of all, a change in interruption culture with a new found respect for colleagues time. With the use of the FlowLight there were 46% fewer interruptions. Fritz even pre-empted the potential for the red light to become a badge of honour and as a result built red light time into each lamp per day irrespective of mouse and computer activity. The next step for FlowLight? Biometric sensors. Watch this space. The takeaway message from Fritz’s research appears to be that whatever you use to signal that you’re busy, it’s essential to get buy in from everyone.
Reducing Interruptions at Work: A Large-Scale Field Study of FlowLight
Manuela Zu ̈ger, Christopher Corley, Andre ́ N. Meyer, Boyang Li, Thomas Fritz, David Shepherd, Vinay Augustine, Patrick Francis, Nicholas Kraft, Will Snipes, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland,ABB Corporate Research, Raleigh, United States
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