Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
Interruptions are Causing Mistakes
Posted in Healthy Relatio... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Jan 22, 2013
One of the many things I love about my career is that there is an old-school quality to a good part of what I do. I don’t use technology during a session, although I confess that I am trying to transition to using my phone calendar instead of my ancient paper datebook. For the most part I have a string of uninterrupted 50-minute stretches of time where I can completely focus on the person or people who are sitting before me. Because of the nature of my work, which is confidential, no one pops his or her head into my office to ask a quick question or get my signature. Aside from my own thoughts or concerns, I have the true luxury of being singularly focused for a designated amount of time.

It is not a perfect situation. My clients come with their devices that will buzz or ring and as a mom I understand the need to stay connected, but almost without exception my clients turn off their ringer and allow themselves to be in the zone for this limited amount of time. This is an unusual circumstance for any activity, taking place in 2013. Even surgeons are routinely interrupted during surgery by phone calls or perceived emergencies of other patients. No one wants to wait even a moment for anything anymore.

It turns out that these little distractions are not just minor annoyances but can actually have detrimental effects on work production and performance in general. A study involving 300 participants looked at just how damaging these interruptions can be. In jobs that require attention to detail; such as focusing on a computer document or managing an accounting database, editing and clerical errors is often the result of distractions. The concern is heightened when we look at professions, such as surgeons or air traffic controllers, who literally hold people’s lives in the balance.

The study was funded by the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Records and can be found in the journal of Experimental Psychology: General. What was discovered through the research is that while people are likely to make some amount of mistakes just in the course of completing a task, when they were interrupted they were twice as likely to mess up even when the interruption was very brief. When someone is intensely focused on a task, which was the case with the study participants, any interruption, which causes them to shift focus, will result in an increase in error.

The obvious solution to this ever-present problem is to create environments free from interruptions that allow you to give your complete undivided attention to the task at hand when necessary. It is my contention that even the mere thought that an interruption might occur is, in and of itself, a distraction. Even an old-fashioned land-line can be a huge interruption. A distraction-free environment would be one in which you turned off cell phones and, when the work itself is on the computer, you would shut down messenger tones and all social media or incoming emails long enough to complete the specific job. I can hear the groans now. I know, easier said than done, but wouldn’t it be nice to be in the doctor’s office and have him or her say to the person who answers the phone, “please hold all my calls and just take a message.”

- Cyndi


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My doctor has apologized to me profusely that she had to take a call from another doctor in the middle of examining me, and I accept that, but it also seems that much of the increase of activity in her office is due to governmental red-tape because of the more fully operational ACA.
By Fern RL  Jan 28, 2013
As a parent and grandparent now, this need to be constantly available is a selfish cop-out. Mom just wants to maintain the feeling of control. We need more parents who know how to let go and let their children live their lives. Kids are not at any greater risk today then they were 40 to 50 years ago. We just have instant access to anxiety. The parents who turn their phones/devices off likely maintain an internal distraction/anxiety.
We can drive 60 mph with the kids in the back while just a painted line is separating us from the 18 wheel loaded semi coming the other direction but we can't let our kids learn to take some bumps and bruises.
I bet many of Cindi's clients need her because they are so messed up with selfish and self-serving thinking. The kids will go one whether you have your cell phone on or not. Same goes for the world. Having an RSS feed does not make the world a safer place.
Get a grip.
By Mark in Idaho  Jan 24, 2013
I spent 30 years in a job environment that was, by definition, a series of CONSTANT interruptions. I remember one manager saying to another that they should design a test for potential employees to see how well they deal with interruptions, rather than how well they solve problems. Some of us were actually willing to work overtime WITHOUT PAY, just to be able to work on our cases without being interrupted. I learned to "tune out" the constantly-ringing phone so I could concentrate better on what I was doing, but go in trouble for ignoring the phone. A no-win situation.
By madbookworm  Jan 24, 2013
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