Here’s a suggestion to help you be more productive: Reduce distractions.

Did you know that research with information workers and college students – those who spend much of their day using a computer – has found that we are interrupted about every 12 minutes while we work? So you will be more productive if you find a space to write away from your interrupters and distracters. Can you write behind a closed door? Should you post a sign, “Dissertation in Progress – Come Back Later?” (That suggestion comes from Kearns and Gardiner). When Stephen King began writing his first novel, he would hide out in the laundry room of his trailer to work without distractions. You can increase your productivity by reducing interruptions of your work.

But did you know that half of these every-12-minute interruptions are self-interruptions – when we distract ourselves with checking e-mails, making a phone call, getting a snack?  What’s on YOUR list? The most prevalent way we interrupt our own work is taking breaks, followed by distractions (when we “react to minimal external stimuli even when immediate action is not necessary”), reminders (to do a different task), stopping to remove obstacles to our work, and deviations from the primary task to other, less relevant, tasks (Jin and Dabbish, 2009). These interruptions can alleviate stress, increase mental stimulation, and even create a sense of accomplishment, for example, when a “reminder prevents forgetfulness through completion of short tasks.” Stopping your writing to pay a bill on-line or to e-mail a birthday greeting lets you check one more task off your list. But it also reduces productivity when these distracting behaviors stop the flow of our thinking and writing because of the time, occasionally significant time, required to refocus and return to the task at hand, i.e., your writing.

So this is why I encourage you to work for 90 minutes without getting up from your chair (or without checking e-mail or going on Facebook). Write 90 minutes without any self-interruptions. Try it. You will be amazed at how much this one change in your behavior will increase your productivity.

Kearns, H., & Gardiner, M. (2006). Defeating self-sabotage: Getting your PhD finished. Flinders, Australia: Flinders Press.

Jin, J., & Dabbish, L. (2009). Self-interruption on the computer: A typology of discretionary task interleaving. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. 

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Some of the information in the BreakWriting postings is drawn from previously published work, and I have tried to properly attribute the ideas and work of others. If I fail to do so, please tell me so I can clarify and correct (Graduate Mentor).