Pardon the interruption
By Bob Fortune

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Avoiding random interruptions at work — whether in the field, office or warehouse — will greatly improve work flow and job performance, and reduce costly mistakes.


Which causes the bigger interruption for you?
  • 1. Co-workers/employees
  • 2. Customers

"High tech has broken down our spatial and temporal barriers to negatively influence our mental processes," says author and longtime Harvard professor Ned Hallowell, M.D. "Interruptions from texting, to screen sucking, to a knock on the door from an associate, creates an 'F state' (frantic, frustrated, frenzied and forgetful) and interferes with the successful decisions of a 'C state' (clear, concentrated, calm and collected). 'F states' and 'C states' directly contribute to all work performance outcomes."

I oversaw 90,000 field and 8,000 support man-hours last year and actively had to coach and direct work patterns that minimized interruptions. Whether it is a text and subsequent response or setting one task aside to work on a second, output improves when one focuses on completing one task at a time well. Unfortunately, we live in a world where technology and others constantly are interfering with our thought processes.

"Being busy and high tech are status symbols. However, one has to take control of their day instead of letting the day control them," said Hallowell, author of "CrazyBusy." "'F states' fragment your mental state of mind and actually reduce your IQ ... and the re-engagement time to return to one's previous mental state is lost time that is a hidden and expensive cost."

My failures have been my best teacher. I remember one frantic day when I was chasing money to pay a large payroll when an out-of-town customer rang me and requested her garage trim be painted cottage red and the siding white. In a frenzied state, I communicated that to the crew and continued on my quest to meet payroll — only to find out a few days later that I reversed the customer's request, which was a $1,500 mistake.

Several of my most productive managers complain openly when interruptions reduce their productivity. They intuitively know the learning curve predicts the longer one works on a task, efficiency and output increases.

Obviously some interruptions benefit everyone. A timely and last-minute work order change can save both the company and individual time and money preventing future double-work as well as serving the client's needs.

So whether you are the interruptee or the interrupter, awareness and balance are necessary to effectively contribute to collective output. Use technology to improve your output, not hinder it. And when one of your best associates has his or her phone off, there's probably a good productive reason for it.

Robert Fortune Jr., MBA, is co-owner and co-founder of Fortune Restoration, a painting, masonry and carpentry company in Chicago. His email is