Via Boing Boing I found this NYT article on Life Hackers and interruptions. It’s an excellent update on efforts to reduce the deleterious impacts of interruptions on people who spend lots of time on computers trying to accomplish many things in a short period of time. Well, at least it’s an excellent update on what Microsoft Research is working on.
Interruptions aren’t necessarily bad. As the article points out, an interruption may be someone trying to tell you something that solves the problem you’re working on. Instead of continuing to work on a solved problem, you can take advantage of the new data and move on to your next task.
While it is often stated that people take a long time to return to the task that was interrupted, a recent study more precisely calculates this time period to be about 25 minutes. Many times you return immediately to what you were doing, but sometimes the interruption is so distracting that you forget your previous task and don’t return to it for hours. I find this happens especially when the interruption itself spawns multiple tasks, sort of like being attacked by a MIRV in the old video game Missile Command.
This reminds me of a previous post on multitasking. After I posted about the Task Tracer project at Oregon State, I ended being interviewed by a professor there as part of their research. One aspect of their research is, in fact, assisting users in quickly returning to a previous task.