Digitally Distracted


goofingoffatwork.jpgIt sounds like angels are bowling five feet above my head today.

OK, it’s actually roofers working on our office building. But the distracting racket is enough to bring everyone’s productivity to a near standstill every few minutes.

Truth be told, though, I’m already pretty distracted. Deadlines. Email. Voice mail. Facebook. It’s a litany of electronic chaos that always needs to be sorted. Now. And then, of course, there’s always the Internet if I feel like I just need a break from all those distractions.

Oh look, someone just sent me a YouTube video about a squirrel!

(Sorry. I’m pulling it together now. Really.)

So it was no shocker when a recent study found that pretty much everyone else in the United States (and the universe?) feels the same way some of the time—if not most of the time. Email software provider commissioned online market research firm uSamp (United Sample) to conduct a survey of about 500 U.S. employees in businesses of all sizes regarding their work habits and digital distractions. The survey found that most work disruptions are electronic. Almost 60% of those interruptions, in fact, involve email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows between browsers or applications. What’s more, 45% of employees are only able work only 15 minutes (or fewer) without getting interrupted, while 53% waste at least an hour a day due to all types of distractions.

Other problematic stuff the survey uncovered included employees having difficulty working/producing (33%); having no time for deep or creative thinking (25%); suffering information overload (21%); missing deadlines (10%); and losing clients/business (5%) … all because of digital rabbit trails and interruptions.

Can I get an amen?

And all that equals a whopping $10,375 of wasted productivity per employee annually, assuming an average salary of $30 per hour. For a business with 1,000 employees, the cost of those interruptions works out to more than $10 million per year. co-founder and spokesperson Yaacov Cohen said in a statement, “This survey paints a picture of a highly distracted workplace with a particular irony: information technology that was designed at least in part to save time is actually doing precisely the opposite. The very tools we rely on to do our jobs are also interfering with that mission. We’re clearly seeing what psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’ spill over from our personal lives to the work environment. For all of us, it’s time to take back the Internet and find ways to control our digital addiction.”

They needed a study for this? Just look at all the people, whether in business meetings or not, who hover over their smartphones.

Really, now the question is how do we recoup? According to’s press release, 68% of those surveyed say their bosses have implemented policies or technologies to diminish distractions, and 73% of employees have used self-imposed tactics to help stay on track.

I’d love to know what those tactics are. Especially today. I’d also love to know where our work culture is hurtling if what’s fragmenting us was originally intended to help us. If we’re interrupted every 15 minutes now, will that become five? Two?


Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

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