What are some examples of interruptions?

Interruptions are a common occurrence in both personal and professional settings. An interruption is anything that causes a break in concentration or the continuity of an activity or conversation. Interruptions can range from minor distractions to more significant disruptions. While occasional, minor interruptions are often unavoidable, frequent or unnecessary interruptions can negatively impact productivity, efficiency, focus, and satisfaction. Understanding different types of interruptions and learning strategies to minimize their effects can be beneficial.

Examples of Common Interruptions

1. External Distractions

External distractions are interruptions that originate from outside sources including:

  • Phone calls or text messages
  • Email notifications
  • Co-workers stopping by unannounced
  • Background noise from conversations or office equipment
  • People passing through the workspace

These types of interruptions divert attention away from the task at hand. Even a brief, external distraction that only lasts a few seconds can disrupt focus and continuity.

2. Internal Distractions

Internal distractions arise from within oneself rather than external sources. Examples include:

  • Lapses in concentration or motivation
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Physical discomfort like hunger or pain
  • Worrying or daydreaming
  • Mind wandering from the task at hand

These internal interruptions make it challenging to stay focused on a task for extended periods. Even when external distractions are limited, internal factors can still interrupt workflow and productivity.

3. Social Interruptions

Social interruptions occur when another person diverts attention and interrupts the current activity. Instances may include:

  • Co-workers stopping by someone’s workspace unannounced
  • Phone calls from friends or family during work hours
  • Being drawn into an impromptu conversation
  • Colleagues requesting help on a task or project

While social interactions are important, excessive social interruptions can impede individual productivity and focus.

4. Technological Failures

Today’s workplaces rely heavily on technology. When equipment fails, it can severely disrupt workflow and continuity:

  • A computer crashing unexpectedly
  • Network connections going down
  • Video conferencing cutting out during a meeting
  • Shared files becoming inaccessible
  • Equipment like printers jamming or malfunctioning

IT issues or technological failures often interrupt progress on tasks and bring productivity to a halt.

5. Meetings

Meetings provide needed time for collaboration, planning, and information sharing. However, excessive or poorly run meetings can act as interruptions:

  • Meeting too frequently which blocks large working periods
  • Meeting agendas that drift or go off track
  • Having too many participants, making meetings inefficient
  • Failing to have clear objectives for each meeting
  • Meetings cutting into time planned for focused work

When meetings lack organization and structure, they reduce individual productivity rather than enhance it.

6. Telephone Interruptions

Phone calls often interrupt focused work. Telephone interruptions may include:

  • Incoming calls from clients or colleagues
  • Cold sales calls from solicitors
  • Call center phone calls
  • Wrong number phone calls
  • Telephone ringing itself, discontinuing work to answer the call

Unscheduled phone calls can disrupt concentration on priorities and derail progress.

7. Email Interruptions

Email has become a primary means of business communication. As a result, email notifications have become a major source of interruption:

  • Audible notifications signaling each new email arrival
  • Checking email constantly, interrupting other tasks
  • Feeling pressured to respond instantly to each email received
  • CC’d emails that are irrelevant to the recipient
  • Getting distracted from priorities to answer non-urgent emails

Frequent email interruptions reduce the ability to stay focused and work productively.

8. Personal Habits

Certain personal habits can turn into self-interruptions:

  • Checking smartphones for texts, notifications, social media
  • Searching the internet when bored or curious
  • Snacking frequently or having an extended lunch break
  • Taking impromptu breaks for smoke or vape breaks

Forming habits that distract or disrupt workflow can lead to personal interruptions and reduced productivity.

9. Office Design

Open office designs have become more prominent. While this can facilitate collaboration, it can also lead to interruptions:

  • Ambient noise from shared workspaces
  • Visual distractions and lack of privacy
  • More opportunities for co-workers to interrupt
  • Greater distractions for those working intently

Open offices often create an environment conducive to frequent interruptions.

10. Poor Planning

Failing to plan out workflows and schedules can result in more interruptions:

  • Unclear objectives or forgetting task priorities
  • Attempting too much in too little time
  • Failing to anticipate needs for focus time
  • Accepting frequent meeting requests without considering impact
  • Poor time management and organization

Lacking plans and workflows means having less control over avoiding interruptions.

Workplace Interruptions Statistics

Studies have quantified the prevalence of interruptions in the workplace:

  • Office workers face an interruption roughly every 3 minutes, or about 88 times per day (1)
  • 28% of an office worker’s time is spent on interrupted tasks (1)
  • It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption (2)
  • Highly interrupted workers were 20% less productive than those with fewer interruptions (3)
  • Frequent interruptions contributed to around $588 billion in lost productivity annually (4)

These statistics reveal the sizable impact interruptions have on workplace efficiency and productivity.

Harmful Effects of Frequent Interruptions

While occasional, minor interruptions are inevitable, experiencing too many significant interruptions can be detrimental both professionally and personally:

1. Lost Productivity and Efficiency

When workers are interrupted from tasks frequently, it is challenging to make meaningful progress. Being constantly sidetracked makes it harder to execute tasks efficiently. Studies estimate frequent interruptions can reduce daily productivity by 15-40% (5).

2. Difficulty Concentrating

Human focus and concentration work like a muscle. Frequent interruptions result in atrophied concentration abilities. Workers face greater difficulty maintaining focus and completing cognitively demanding tasks without getting sidetracked when interruptions are constant.

3. More Mistakes and Errors

Interruptions while working often lead to increased mistakes and errors. When forced to stop and restart a task, people are more likely to lose their place, miss steps, or fail to recall complex details. This decline in accuracy can result in costly errors.

4. Greater Stress and Anxiety

Excessive unexpected interruptions during focused work can elevate stress. Constant disruptions as employees attempt to make progress on projects can result in frustration. This can contribute to workplace anxiety.

5. Lower Job Satisfaction

Employees who feel they rarely have time to concentrate without interruption often have lower job satisfaction. The inability to work productively and the constant disruption can be dissatisfying. Feeling constantly “scattered” rather than focused leads to decreased morale.

6. Negatively Impacts Quality of Work

When employees produce work in small fragmented periods between frequent interruptions, overall quality often suffers. Important aspects may be overlooked or poorly executed due to the disruptions and inability to effectively focus.

Strategies for Reducing Interruptions

While not all interruptions can be avoided entirely, utilizing certain strategies can help minimize unnecessary disruptions:

1. Plan Focus Time Blocks

Schedule specific blocks of time where you can focus without taking calls, meetings, or other interruptions. Blocking out chunks of high-concentration time makes it easier to tackle complex priorities.

2. Limit Email Checking

Only check email 2-3 fixed times per day instead of constantly. Email can train people to seek frequent task switching and interruptions. Checking less often limits this distraction.

3. Use Signals Like Headphones

Wear headphones (even without audio) to signal you are trying to focus. Or place physical signage like a colored flag on your workspace when you need to concentrate.

4. Hold Fewer Meetings

Evaluate which meetings are truly necessary and add high value. Eliminate any redundant or low value meetings where possible. Also cut meetings that could be accomplished through email or documentation.

5. Institute “Office Hours” for Questions

Rather than physical drop ins, have set “office hours” where you’re available for colleague questions. This reduces random disruptions.

6. Minimize Noise and Visual Distractions

Face your desk away from high traffic areas. Use noise cancelling headphones or white noise apps to minimize ambient noise if needed. Close office doors when possible.

7. Set Expectations with Colleagues

Communicate direct guidelines for minimizing unnecessary interruptions to colleagues. Reinforce expectations of focus time.

8. Improve Time Management

Work on organization and time management. Lack of planning leads to frequent task switching and excessive meetings. Effective prioritization enables more focus time.

9. Take Breaks from Tech

Build in breaks where you completely disconnect from technology and clear your mind. Tech like phones and computers enable constant interruption.

Key Takeaways

  • An interruption is anything that breaks someone’s focus, concentration, or workflow continuity.
  • Common interruption examples include external distractions, internal distractions, social interactions, meetings, technology failures, telephone calls, email notifications, office designs, and personal habits.
  • Frequent unnecessary interruptions negatively impact productivity, concentration, accuracy, stress levels, and job satisfaction.
  • Strategies like planning focus time blocks, limiting email checking, minimizing meetings, and setting expectations with colleagues can help reduce excessive interruptions.


Interruptions are part of every workplace and learning environment. While beneficial collaboration and communication should be encouraged, excessive interruptions hamper productivity, satisfaction, and quality. Understanding common sources of interruptions, as well as techniques to mitigate unnecessary disruptions, enables people to achieve greater focus and continuity during critical tasks. With some adjustments, it is possible to create an environment more conducive to deep, focused work. This benefits employees, students, and organizations alike.

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