Why Does a 2-Minute-Distraction at Work Cost You 25 Minutes?


Do you remember how many times you are distracted during a working day? Now, multiply this figure by 25. This is how many useful minutes a day you lose.


According to the research conducted by Professor Gloria Mark from the University of California at Irvine, a person spends 25 minutes (to be precise, 23 minutes and 15 seconds) to re-focus on the task that he/she was doing before the break. So, each time you are distracted by something you spend some time on this distraction as well as those 23 minutes and 15 seconds. Let’s say you want to read your Twitter for two minutes. As a result, you will lose nearly half an hour of productive work time.

It affects not only your performance, but also the emotional state. Professor Mark argues that constant distraction reduces productivity, leads to stress and a bad mood.

How do we get distracted and why is it harmful?

To conduct the study, Professor Gloria Mark asked observers to watch the unsuspecting employees of several technical and financial firms for three and a half days. They meticulously recorded the duration of the workers’ activity with nearly one-second accuracy. It turned out that people switch from one occupation to another one every 3 minutes and 5 seconds.

Besides, the researchers noticed that in every other case the workers got interrupted by using Facebook, for example. The cases when the workers got distracted to discuss a professional issue with their colleague were not taken into consideration.

It is like playing tennis: we use the brain as a ball and toss it back and forth. But unlike a tennis ball, the brain needs a little longer to return to its original position.

When we are distracted, we redirect our resources in a different way. Some time is needed to look into something that caused a distraction. The same amount of time is then spent to re-engage in managing the original task.

It is not just the loss of time that creates a problem, but also the inability to go deeply into work in such a situation. If a person switches from task to task every 10 minutes, how can he/she focus on it? The person just does not have time to reach a comfortable working mood.

Do not think that you are an exception

Let me guess, you have just been thinking that someone cannot jump from task to task, but you can do this perfectly well. You think you can practice multitasking and stay focused. Do not try to fool yourself.

One of the most influential management theorists of the 20th century, Peter Drucker, warned about this in his book “The Effective Executive,” written in 1967.

Peter Drucker
scientist, economist, writer

“Mozart could work on several compositions at the same time, all of them masterpieces. But he is the only known exception. The other prolific composers of the first rank – Bach, for instance, Handel, or Haydn, or Verdi – composed one work at a time. They did not begin the next until they had finished the preceding one, or until they had stopped work on it for the time being and put it away in the drawer. Executives can hardly assume that they are executive Mozarts”

Let us take it for granted that we are not Mozarts. So how do we focus on the problem without being distracted?

Learning to Focus

You need continuous blocks of time to immerse in the task. Work only on one thing. Even brilliant professionals need to focus to do the job perfectly well.

You are sure to say that a distraction from work can be scheduled. For example: “I will focus on the work and check e-mail only at three o’clock.” But the point is that you can completely forget about checking your mail when you are truly immersed in the work. Having created a plan for yourself, you can easily get into a trap and check your email throughout the day instead of working. And this is a problem many people have.

For example, the same thing happened in the Intel company. The employees did not have time to plunge deeply in solving the problems and do their best. Then the managers of the company resolved to give four “thinking” hours a week to their employees. During these “thinking hours,” the employees were not allowed to respond to letters or get distracted by something that could be postponed. This idea was a great success, and the staff began to catch up with what had been delayed for a long time. For example, one of the employees prepared a patent application.

Now you know the true value of distractions and multitasking and understand that working hours should be planned to be minimally interrupted. Let your colleagues know about your hours of continuous working and avoid bothering you at this time. Maybe, they will even use your experience.

Do not worry that you are not Mozart. Maybe, you are the next Bach.