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TimeToFocus: Feedback on Interruption Durations Discourages Distractions and Shortens Interruptions

Borghouts, J; Brumby, DP; Cox, AL; (2020) TimeToFocus: Feedback on Interruption Durations Discourages Distractions and Shortens Interruptions. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction , 27 (5) , Article 32. 10.1145/3396044. Green open access

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Abstract

Many computer tasks involve looking up information from different sources, and these self-interruptions can be disruptive. In this article, we investigate whether giving people feedback on how long they are away from their task influences their self-interruption behaviour. We conducted a contextual inquiry on self-interruption behaviour in an office workplace. Participants were observed to postpone physical interruptions until a convenient moment in the task if they were expected to take time. In contrast, observations revealed that digital interruptions were addressed immediately; participants reported these were presumed to be quick to deal with. To increase awareness of time spent on digital interruptions, we developed TimeToFocus, a notification tool showing people the duration of their interruptions while working on a task. A field study deployment of TimeToFocus in an office workplace found that feedback on the duration of interruptions made participants reflect on what they were doing during interruptions. They reported that they used this insight to avoid task-irrelevant activities. To confirm whether participants’ perceptions of the benefit of the tool could be measured, we conducted an online experiment, where participants had to retrieve information from an email sent to their personal email addresses and enter it into a spreadsheet. Participants who used our tool made shorter interruptions, completed the spreadsheet task faster and made fewer data entry errors. We conclude that feedback on the length of interruptions can assist users in focusing on their primary task and thus improve productivity.

Type: Article
Title: TimeToFocus: Feedback on Interruption Durations Discourages Distractions and Shortens Interruptions
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1145/3396044
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1145/3396044
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: focus, workplace, contextual inquiry, data entry, Interruptions, distractions, notifications, field study, online experiment, productivity
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > UCL Interaction Centre
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10110545
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