Why Getting Interrupted Is a Big Deal

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Productivity's worst enemy isn't laziness — it's the interruption. If you're trying to concentrate and something intrudes on your focus, you might lose that thread for hours or for good. It's no wonder we get so stressed out when we can't control our time and attention.

Scientists in Switzerland have gotten to the bottom of why that is. Interruptions make our brains produce the exact same hormonal response as physical stress does. On a case by case basis, this isn't a big concern, but the researchers cautioned against chronic stress in workers. We already know that stress behaves a lot like an allergy (which may mean we can vaccinate against it). The modern workplace, especially ones that tie us to our desks and devices, can have us swimming in stress all day, and that's without the allostatic load that stems from COVID worries and staying home all the time.

What we'd all prefer instead is working within a flow state. We're at our most productive when we can sink our attention into a single task (multitasking is for pigeons, not people). Even in a remote workplace, there are ways we can organize our time to help enable flow states. One is for managers to fundamentally rethink how we do meetings, which have always been bad for our productivity. Being more mindful about device notifications and breaking down your tasks into digestible, time-limited processes can also send you a long way toward getting more done with way less stress.