Research on Interruptions

istock_000004136298xsmall.jpgIn other posts on this blog, I lament the lack of proper research in the entire field of time management, but recently I did come across the following paper that describes some empirical results in a study of interruptions.

The original article that quoted the study was  from the New York Times, and it’s entitled “When Texting Is Wrong.”

In the article, a paper was cited as a reference entitled “The Effects of Interruptions on Task Performance, Annoyance, and Anxiety in the User Interface.”  This, based on research conducted at the University of Minnesota.

The paper concludes the following:

 The key findings of this work are that (i) a user performs slower on an interrupted task than a
non-interrupted task, (ii) the level of annoyance experienced by a user depends on both the category of primary task being performed and the time at which a peripheral task is displayed, (iii) a user experiences a greater increase in anxiety when a peripheral task interrupts her primary task than when it does not, and (iv) a user perceives an interrupted task to be more difficult to complete than a noninterrupted task. The implication of these results is that we need to build systems, such as an attention manager, which help manage user attention among competing applications, thus mitigating the effects of unnecessarily interrupting a user.

Now, I have no idea what an “attention manager” is, and I suspect that the writers are looking at some piece of technology as a solution.

That struck me as a bit odd.  Imagine using one piece of technology, an attention manager, preventing a user from using another, such as a Blackberry.

How did we get to this point?

I think they’d be on firmer footing if they dealt with the face that individual habits create unwanted interruptions, and not the technology itself.

Blaming the technology is a little like blaming an alarm clock for ringing in the morning.  Alarms, Blackberries and iPhones do what they are programmed to do.  It’s crazy to blame them for performing functions that a user’s habits are making them perform.

But I guess that somewhere out there someone is selling an Attention Manager for US$19.95 and is about to make a few millions.

Ironically, buying the manager with a credit card, is a lot quicker than trying to change a habit if a user lacks the necessary skills.