Make an estimate on how many times are you are distracted during an average work day.

Thats how many minutes of concentration youre losing. It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption,according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.

Multiple studies confirm this. Distractions dont just eat up time during the distraction, they derail your mentalprogressfor up to a half hour afterward (thats assuming another distraction doesnt show up in that half hour).

In other words, that 30 seconds to check Twitter isnt just 30 seconds down the drain. Its 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

And all these distractions not only hurtproductivity, they have negative emotional effects.

Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity, Mark wrote in the New York Times.

For Marks research, observers were sent to shadow knowledge workers at multiple tech and finance companies for three and a half days,Mark told Fast Company. Researchers logged each workers activities and timed every task to the second. They foundpeople switch activities an average of every three minutes and five seconds.

They also found that about half the interruptions were self-inflicted. Working on a task and switching tabs to check Facebook, for example, is a self-inflicted interruption. As opposed to, say, a coworker walking over to discuss a project.

We are, essentially, playing tennis with our cognitive energies, volleying them back and forth at a moments notice. Only unlike a tennis ball, our brain takes a little time to switch directions.

People have to shift their cognitive resources, or attentional resources, to a completely different topic, Mark said. You have to completely shift your thinking, it takes you a while to get into it and it takes you a while to get back and remember where you were.

And the problem isnt just the time wasted. Were sacrificing some of our best thinking.

I argue that when people are switching contexts every 10 and half minutes they cant possibly be thinking deeply. Mark said. Theres no way people can achieve flow.

Let me guess. You think youre the exception, right? Youre the one special little snowflake who actually can multitask and manage distractions while staying focused? Careful with that kind of thinking.

The Legendary management consultant and author Peter Drucker warned against it in his 1967 book The Effective Executive.

There was Mozart, of course, Drucker wrote. He could, it seems, 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.

Just to be safe, lets all assume were not Mozart. So how do we stay on task and avoid getting sucked in to distractions?

Start bysetting aside uninterrupted blocks of time for focusing. Work on one masterpiece at a time. Even brilliant people need uninterrupted focus to do great work.

Granted, times have changed since Mozarts era. Back then, you almost had to schedule in time for distractions.

Ill work all day and check the days mail at 3 p.m., the thinking went.

If you got in the zone on your work, you might just work all day and forget to check the mail.

Todays problem is the opposite: If you dont plan on getting in the zone, youll check your mail all day and forget to work.

At Intel, members of the Software and Services group noticed this problem coming up. They were concerned they werent getting enough time to think deeply, and creatively, about problems.

So managers instituted four weekly hours of think time that was scheduled and tracked on a shared calendar. During this time, employees werent expected to respond to emails or distractions that werent urgent.

The program had success early on, with one employee even developing a patent application,according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Its worth knowing the true cost of distractions. Try to fight it by planning time for distraction-free thinking and working. Let the people in your life and organization know what this time is for. Encourage them to do the same. Youll get more important things done. You might not become the next Mozart.

P.S. If you liked this article, you shouldsubscribe to our newsletter. Well email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Filed Under:The Science of ProductivityTagged With:CreativityProcrastinationProductivity

Blake Thorne oversees content marketing for iDoneThis, the easiest way to run your daily standup. Hes a writer and former journalist based in Michigan. Email him at blake at idonethis dot com to chat.

Really important for writers, too constructing a world in your head takes time, and you lose it if you take a break.

I use Freedom to block the internet, and timers to set chunks of time.

Unfortunately, knowing how lost Ill be in my own head sometimes makes it very hard to get started, because it can get very intense in there. Once Im in, Im fine but experience warns me my body is going to be unhappy in one position for that long. We call it flow.

Absolutely brilliant another fun article! Thanks Blake a hugeee fan here! 😀

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