Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work?

Foroughi, C. K., Werner, N. E., Nelson, E. T., & Boehm-Davis, D. A. (2014).  Do interruptions affect quality of work? Human Factors.

Abstract

The aim of this study was to determine if interruptions affect the quality of work.  Interruptions are commonplace at home and in the office. Previous research in this area has traditionally involved time and errors as the primary measures of disruption. Little is known about the effect interruptions have on quality of work.  Fifty-four students outlined and wrote three essays using a within-subjects design. During Condition 1, interruptions occurred while participants were outlining. During Condition 2, interruptions occurred while they were writing. No interruptions occurred in Condition 3.  Quality of work was significantly reduced in both interruption conditions when compared to the non-interruption condition. The number of words produced was significantly reduced when participants were interrupted while writing the essay but not when outlining the essay.

This research represents a crucial first step in understanding the effect interruptions have on quality of work. Our research suggests that interruptions negatively impact quality of work during a complex, creative writing task. Since interruptions are such a prevalent part of daily life, more research needs to be conducted to determine what other tasks are negatively impacted. Moreover, the underlying mechanism(s) causing these decrements needs to be identified. Finally, strategies and systems need to be designed and put in place to help counteract the decline in quality of work caused by interruptions.

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