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Jul 14, 2014 01:16 PM EDT

Interruptions Negatively Affect Quality Of Work

Ongoing interruptions can negatively affect the quality of work, according to a recent study.

Modern office workers are expected to multitask regularly, often juggling multiple projects and priorities over the course of a day, according to researchers. However, previous studies have shown that the typical employee in an office environment is interrupted up to six times per hour.

"People don't realize how disruptive interruptions can be," Cyrus Foroughi, co-author of the study and a PhD candidate at George Mason University's human factors and applied cognition program, said in a statement. "There is value in determining whether interruptions affect the quality of the tasks that many people perform regularly, such as writing essays or reports."

For the study, Foroughi and his colleagues assessed how varying levels of interruption affected writing quality in an essay project writing quality in an essay project. Two groups of participants were given time to outline and write an essay on an assigned topic. One group was interrupted multiple times with an unrelated task, and a control group had no interruptions. Independent graders scored the finished essays on a numbered scale.

The research team found significantly lower quality in essays completed by the participants who were interrupted during the outline and writing phases than in essays of those who were not interrupted. In addition, those participants who were interrupted during the writing phase wrote considerably fewer words. 

"Interruption can cause a noticeable decrement in the quality of work, so it's important to take steps to reduce the number of external interruptions we encounter daily," Foroughi said. "For example, turn off your cell phone and disable notifications such as e-mail while trying to complete an important task."

The findings were recently published in Human Factors. 

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