Casual Fridays -- How interruptable are you?

One of my most difficult challenges as I work at home on Cognitive Daily and other projects is to keep focused on the task at hand. The internet, with its myriad distractions, is just a click away. It used to be that I could just head to a coffee shop with my laptop to get away from the internet, but now even that refuge is gone: My home internet service provider now offers free access from most coffee shops.

I've had to discover new ways to remove myself from the distraction of the internet. I'm often surprised when the latest "convenient" device is unveiled allowing unprecedented internet access from your car, boat, or even your restroom.

Do others find the internet as distracting as I do? What do you do to keep focused on the work you need to get done? Or is the internet an indispensable tool? This week's Casual Friday study will attempt to find out:

Click here to participate

As usual, the study should take just a few minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, January 22 to participate. There is no limit on the number of respondents. Don't forget to come back next week for the results!

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Oh, the irony of reading a post about distractions that entices one into responding and more than commenting, taking a survey too...but...I shall resist and get back to some proper work (Twitter).

Perhaps there is more control from work than I was aware - nothing happened when I clicked the next button:)

You didn't include the reply that the company policy for internet access has a neutral effect.

If it is really distracting you, unplug the your modem. Easier then going to a coffee shop.

By Will Wozze (not verified) on 16 Jan 2009 #permalink

Do others find the internet as distracting as I do?

Yes!!!!!!!! A thousand times yes!!!

What do you do to keep focused on the work you need to get done?

I can't! I keep squandering time! Helllllllllp!!!!!!!!!!

Or is the internet an indispensable tool?

Yes. That's the trouble. I often need to refer to it. Otherwise I could just disconnect the network connection.

I am more ashamed that I got the one science question wrong, and most of the political/financial questions right than that I spent enough time on blogs to know those things :P

I'm much more focused when I telecommute. It think it's because my home office is actually better equipped and more comfortable than my work office. I have a printer right next to me, and not out in the bay. At work I have standard issue office chair, while at home I have a Herman Miller Aeron. I have a better PC at home, too. I can play music quietly in the background. Lunch is a couple rooms away and not down two flights of stairs and across a campus.

In either place, I take a quick break every hour or two, and I go look at something online. It breaks up the day, keeps me more productive and I don't feel any urge to go surf between breaks.

By Quiet_Desperation (not verified) on 16 Jan 2009 #permalink

I'm working from home now and my distraction is a huge problem. After today I'm going to start charting where I spend all my time and give the LeechBlock Firefox Add-on a try

Well, I develop web-based applications for a living, so my responses probably skewed the study a bit.

I believe I knew the answers to all the news questions (except possibly the one about Biden's senate seat, which is more local east coast news than national news), but I don't think I learned any of them online. I get my news primarily from NPR and our ever-shrinking daily newspaper. I don't use a news ticker or hang out on as a rule.

Although I was certainly sitting in front of a computer with multiple open web browsers all day on Thursday, I didn't know anything about the plane crash in NY until I turned on the radio as I got in the car. None of my co-workers mentioned it to me either. The military jet that crashed in San Diego last month a mile or so from our office was known and talked about though.

Some feedback on the survey: There was no "I don't use tricks" option for the "Do you use any tricks to avoid distraction?" question. (I put that in the "Other" text box.) For the News Quiz, there was no "Don't Know" response for any of the questions. This was a bit of a problem, since your definition of "news" and my definition are apparently quite different.

Maybe there's a reason for this that you will reveal, but it felt like a flaw in the survey.

Here's my solution: Someone needs to develop software that will lock you out of the Internet after a pre-specified period of time, say, 1-1/2 hours, per day. What do you think about that. Self-regulation just isn't working for most of us. Or maybe after 1-1/2 hours the software could re-direct you to some dumb site that's only about a subject you hate, like maybe the t.v. show Petticoal Junction. Thoughts, Mungers?

What about those who purposely do all they can to ignore the news? I can distract myself with science blogs, celebrity gossip, stupid memes, and counterculture trends any day, but headlines? I like to stay in the dark. I don't see how that part of the survey was relevant.

The question about stopping to check on the news about the plane crash didn't have an option for "my job is to read the news about the plane crash" (I work at a newspaper, and I actually put that story on the page).

Hello Dave! :)

The second part of the survey doesn't make sense for a non-american like me, so I didn't answer those questions.

How to grow my performance at work is what I ask myself everyday. As a programmer I need the internet connection to access papers, tutorials and the language documentation. In the same browser I can see my blog, my personal feeds, my personal e-mails, some stats to follow, my friends at msn/skype and youtube! Sometimes I block myself from my personal things using some plugins on firefox, but the best solution to me was, believe or not, replace the browser.

Nowadays I use firefox to access my personal things at home and Epiphany browser at work. Its funny, but works for me. I think the visual difference between both browsers makes me forget personal things at work and work things at home.

Congratulations to the great work at Cognitive Daily.

Re Stentor:
It's my job too - I work in Air Traffic Control research. I spent a couple of hours working out what questions I would like to ask him if I ever get the chance.

My job involves a lot of programming - I spend considerable periods of time surfing when downloading or compiling stuff. Like right now.

My biggest timewaster and distraction is not the internet (I guess I'm made of steel), but rather the incessant chatter of my coworkers. A bit of advice to those of you who are easily distracted and would like to be more productive: Shut the heck up and let the rest of get our heads and our minds clamped down to the task on hand.

Love to all,


By Jennifer Thompson (not verified) on 17 Jan 2009 #permalink

I skipped the second half of the survey, as I didn't know the answers to any of the questions and I didn't want to skew the results with some random lucky guesses. I'm generally well-informed when it comes to psychology and neuroscience-related news (which DOES sometimes distract me during work) - but I don't have much interest in politics, celebrities, or Mars....

By Danielle Rudder (not verified) on 17 Jan 2009 #permalink

I struggled with this issue of interruptions and gave a lot of thought to "shifting context" issues. I found it impossible to start and complete large projects because most of my work is based on internet communication. Finally I settled on no email or internet (except outgoing email only) until 4:00 p.m., giving me 2-3 hours on the averarge to manage my email at the end of the day. It took months to commit to that schedule, but I "detoxed" over the holidays and am sticking to the schedule (except obviously on weekend work today). I set an auto-response for several weeks that said I do not check my email until 4:00--and leave that on permanently for new queries (though it throws off come auto-reply services, like consumer relations etc., so I take it off when I am expecting those). I have to say that it is the only system that worked for me. Oh, and I am really proud that I knew the Boy George question, but isn't it ironic that Boy George's defense was that he was to fixated on the internet to unlock his escort? Had he followed my rule, he'd be a free man today.

Not enough differentiation in the questions about internet use and time of day.If your job requires frequent research checks for totally work related data, it's not the same as using work time to hunker down at one's favorite sciblog pages. That's for lunch break, evenings and weekends.
Working at home would be tough - but aren't there non internet distractions to account for in that situation? Running some laundry or handling other domestic chores, etc.
And at the office, we all know workers who are frequently distracted by and absent from work due to a day long series of white paper covered tubes.

Interesting survey - but you missed some questions...

I don't own a cell phone.

I don't answer a ringing phone UNLESS what I'm doing can be legitimately paused for a few moments. To put this in perspective? At least 75% of the time I'll let the caller go to voice mail.

I refuse to let technology decide for me how I should be spending my time.

I use technology a lot - Without access to the Internet I could NOT do what I do for a living... yet - I use it on my terms.

Not boasting so much as expressing relief that somehow I'm not hooked into this concept of constant contact.

I could have written Quiet_Desperation's comment - much better computer environment at home, Aeron chair, fewer distractions. However, I frequently look for information related to work on the internet, and that site often has a link to something interesting, which leads to following more interesting links... and half an hour later, I'm consulting my browser history to try to remember what my initial question was.

You know, this survey didn't work well for me, probably because I have two jobs. At the bricks-and-mortar job, I avoid using the internet, using rewards, and don't spend a lot of time surfing (although I work on websites, so do spend time online working). At my online job, in between calls I watch Netflix movies, keep up with over 500 blogs via Google Reader, and otherwise I'm tuned in.

"The second part of the survey doesn't make sense for a non-american like me, so I didn't answer those questions."

I agree. I had the same problem and therefore worry about how this might be used in the results.

[Not for publication, please]
Your survey question order perplexed me, since I'm not a wage-earner, but I do spend a lot of time (about 10 hours) a day trying to learn more about health, genetics, psychology, marketing, books, graphic design, and software that I use or would help me with software that I use. You ask several questions about work and then ask if the respondent works or is a student.
I do get distracted and go off on tangents. I also get caught up in what I'm doing and forget to take breaks, which exacts a very real and painful toll on my body, which is why I use a timer.
I seldom get news in real time, since I rss news sites, but they're low on the priority list right now. I do get bulletins via email (half of which are hardly newsworthy), but I might not open my email all afternoon, even though it dings every time some lands.
I find the surveys and results interesting.

To be honest I tend to get distracted most at home when trying to get something constructive done (writing, research, etc) although I am really bad at work as well. In my last job I probably spent more time surfing, emailing and IMing than actually working.

I was going to answer the survey on Monday. But then I noticed there was a new post on CakeWrecks. One thing led to another and here I'm just now getting back here. I'll fill it out... hold on, WeatherBug says snow is coming. I wonder how much...

By Abby Normal (not verified) on 21 Jan 2009 #permalink