Tech Interrupted: The Price You Pay For Being Disrupted

    M. Nora Klaver Posted by M. Nora Klaver, Executive Coach, Bouchard Executive Coaching Ltd..

    Nora is an accomplished executive coach with 25 years of experience developing corporate leaders. She is the author of Mayday! Asking For Help In Times of Need.



    Tech Interrupted: The Price You Pay For Being Disrupted

    Let’s begin with a little quiz:

    1. How often a day are you interrupted?
      1. 1-10 times a day
      2. 10-20 times a day
      3. 20-30 times a day
      4. 30+ times a day

    2.   What have you resorted to doing to minimize these interruptions?

    1. Sigh loudly, answer the question as quickly as possible and try not to let your impatience show through
    2. Hide out in a conference room until the “interruption” disappears
    3. Refuse to turn around in your chair, hoping they’ll just go away
    4. Put up “Do Not Disturb On Pain of Death” signs near your workspace
    5.   Show “The Hand”, silently insisting they wait until you are ready to talk

    Not great options, but often the ones I see the most when I coach technologists and engineers.

    You might be surprised to know that research done in 2006 by Dr. Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, indicates that a typical information worker is interrupted — on average — up to 20 times per hour — that’s once every 3 minutes. Ouch!

    Unwanted intrusions into our space, time and thought processes are especially annoying to those working in high tech, engineering and the sciences. It may be that the level of concentration for these occupations is higher than for the rest of us. Or, that the thread of thought is so tangled, that getting back to where we left off is problematic. Whatever the reason, Dr. Mark’s research also supports that, on average, takes 23 minutes for us to return to our train of thought.

    You’ve been there: working on a deadline (when are you not?) when someone comes into your space to ask a question. Perhaps this person has annoyed you in the past with the same question over and over again. They just can’t seem to remember what you’ve told them, or, as you suspect, are too lazy to do the research themselves, or just stupid, or worse — maybe they just want to poke the bear. Yet, here you are, working diligently to salvage what you can of this project. And here they are, once again, asking for your time.

    So instead of joyfully answering the questions posed, we resist. Our resistance may show up as a flat out refusal, or we may simply arrange things so we are “unavailable” to assist. Whether overt or covert, our efforts to protect our time feel wrong, even though it appears to make logical sense to do so.

    We believe we know the “price paid” for suffering these disruptions. The obvious “fee” appears in slowed productivity, missed deadlines, and increased stress. On the surface, it appears better to resist the interruption. But there are equally expensive prices paid when we openly refuse or resist the request for help or information.

    And really, that’s what we are talking about: requests for help. As author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need , I understand both sides of the request. Usually, and I do mean usually, people are happy to help once a request for help is presented to them. When we have to say no to a request, we feel awful. We hate letting anyone down. So, we do what we can to make ourselves feel better: we make the other person — the one needing help — the bad guy.

    So what is the real price we pay when we resist or refuse  to help? We:

    1. Begin to get a reputation for being resistant and difficult
    2. Are viewed as uncooperative, perhaps even a poor customer service provider
    3. Begin to resent others, and your willingness to collaborate suffers
    4. Are seen as the problem, not the problem solver
    5. Stop seeing people as people, seeing them only as interruptions
    6. Limit new ideas, and cut themselves off from important insights gained from these interruptions.

    So, what can we do? There is no simple answer because it begins with ourselves.

    1. Become aware of what’s really happening: a request for help is being presented to you
    2. Recognize your reaction to the request for help
    3. Decide how much you are willing to “pay” for short-term relief

    Pay attention to the real costs of refusing these requests for help. Think long-term, not short. Trust that doing the right thing will pay off in the end!

    M. Nora Bouchard is a seasoned Executive Coach who gets IT and the people who live in it. She is author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need and her blogs have appears on BusinessInsider.com and forbes.com. She chooses to exclusively coach technologists, engineers and those with analytical minds. Learn more at www.mnorabouchard.com  

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