These days as much time at work is spent getting interrupted as working. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad but interruption is increasing and it is very hard to get back on task once an interruption happens.
A new study from the University of Washington may have a cure. It’s called a Ready to Resume plan and it is a two-step process. The first is to save what you’re currently doing and the second is how to give your full focus on what you’re about to do.
The concept was created by Sophie Leroy who is an assistant professor in the UW Bothell School of Business. Leroy’s co-author is Theresa Glob of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. She said you need to take a minute when you are interrupted to put the resume plan in action.
This lets you completely disengage from what you were working on and give your full attention to the new task at hand. This helps rid yourself of what she calls “attention residue” or that continued focus on what you were working on before being interrupted.
She says our brains are like the early computer that slowed down or performed slowly if too many windows were open and running. Our brains just find it tough to switch seamlessly from one project to the next.
“It’s like Windows staying open in our brains, and it makes it hard to focus on the intervening work. As I am still thinking about Task A while trying to do Task B, I don’t have the cognitive capacity to process those two tasks at the same time and do a perfect job on both tasks. It’s not cognitively possible,” she said.
We need tools to transition more effectively and to be able to resume a task once the interruption is done. The plan — she says — doesn’t have to be elaborate. All you have to do is note where you left off and “where to resume, what challenges are left, and/or what actions [you] must postpone but resume later.”
Leroy says before you disengage from the task you need to take a minute and write down where you are on a project and what you need to do to get started again.
“We have to proactively manage the way we transition between tasks to help our attention be more focused and less distracted or divided among everything we have on our plate. The ready-to-resume plan is one simple way to help when dealing with frequent interruptions. In doing so, we actually also help the person who interrupts because we will be more present in that interaction and our input will be of higher quality,” she said.
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