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Work Interruptions: Cost and Benefit

The Benefit of Work Interruptions: Take a hike!

Dr. Keshia Pollack with John Hopkins School of Public Health suggests breaking up long bouts of sitting by taking a quick two minute walk every hour. She says that could lower your risk of premature death by as much as 33%. Others say we should take a break every 20 to 30 minutes - really!?!

Governments are wading in: “The province of Ontario recommends that computer users take a 5-minute break every hour. This is a requirement for organizations governed by the Regulation for Health Care and Residential Facilities, and considered a best practice in other organizations.”1

Health officials are wading in: Dr Vijay Viswanathan of MV Hospital for Diabetes said "Offices must introduce workouts to their sedentary lifestyles. Besides, their work should, as much as possible, entail moving about for basic communications rather than messages and emails,".2

Concentration Disruption

Walking is good! I have nothing against walking. But what happens when we take that two minute walk to break up our long bout of sitting at a computer? First of all, we stop (step away from) what we’re doing. We interrupt our concentration. Statistics tell us that, once there is a work interruption, it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the level of concentration that we were at prior to the disruption.

And where do we go on our two minute walk? Maybe the bathroom, the water cooler, or to get coffee, or (all too often) go say “how’s it going” to someone – and interrupt his/her level of concentration.

Coworker peering over cublice workplace interruption

More Speed and Stress

Research carried out by Gloria Mark, Department of Informatics, University of California and two others reported that  

“Our results suggest that work interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states. Another possibility is that interruptions do in fact lengthen the time to perform a task but that this extra time only occurs directly after the interruption when reorienting back to the task, and it can be compensated for by a faster and more stressful working style.”3

 

 “…results show that interrupted work is performed faster. .... When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster (and writing less) to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. Yet working faster with work interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort. So work interruptions may be done faster, but at a price.” 3 (emphasis mine).

Sustainable Wellness Solution

The British Journal of Sports Medicine guideline, published online, states "Regularly breaking up seated-based work with standing-based work is likely to be more achievable than targeted exercise…," 4

Another advantage not to be overlooked is that when you raise your desk to a standing position, not just your keyboard, mouse and monitor raise but your whole work surface rises too, phone, papers, writing surface. And if you have impromptu meetings at your desk -wouldn't it be nice to look the person you're meeting with in the eye?

The bonus is this, while you are gaining the benefits of "breaking up seated-based work", it comes without the "work interruption" price tag. You stay engaged in your work flow which translates into getting more done. With sit-stand desks there is no need to step away from what you are involved in - no need to loose your train of thought. You simply stand up and, at the same time, raise up your desk to a comfortable standing-while-working position. When you're ready, reverse the process. (Try standing for an hour or two. It'll do wonders.)

1 http://getcanadastanding.org/regulations.php

2 http://drvijaymvdiabetes.com/diabetic-foot-specialist.html

3 Study by: Gloria Mark, Department of Informatics, University of California, Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke, Institute of Psychology, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany  https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf

4 http://www.bmj.com/company/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/COI.pdf

Image: © Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com - http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-executive-peering-over-cubicle-wall-to-greet-blond-coworker-image33852341#res13839478

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