Key Traction-Point:

Employees who experienced frequent interruptions reported 9% higher rates of exhaustion—almost as big as the 12% increase in fatigue caused by oversize workloads.

As easy as it is to blame email and instant messaging, face-to-face interruptions account for one third more intrusions than email or phone calls, which employees feel freer to defer or ignore. It’s easy to turn to a neighbor for, say, tips on how to tweak a spread sheet or where to go for lunch. But such interruptions—which many feel it would be rude to rebuff—nibble away at the ability to stay on task.

“Two seconds is long enough to make people lose the thread,” says Erik Altmann, a psychology professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and the study’s lead author. To make matters worse, it takes more than 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task after being interrupted. And an additional 15 minutes to regain the same intense focus or “flow” as before the interruption.

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