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February 26, 2019

How to use workplace interruptions to your benefit

Interruptions are a constant part of the workday. Workers are constantly getting prodded by notifications from Slack, buzzes from texts, and the omnipresent, nagging knowledge that emails are piling up. These little distractions add up, and push employees further out of the flow of work than they may be aware.

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According to Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, after workers are pushed off track by an interruption to their workflow, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to task. 18% of the time, they’ll drop the task for the day entirely.

The ironic thing about the modern age is that so much of work requires these interruption. Workers need to hunt down a forgotten password, dig up information on their company’s pricing, plans, or product, or learn how to use a new skill or software program. Each of these can send employees down a rabbit hole, complete with plenty of added opportunities for distraction.

Go off digging through Slack or email and you’re bound to find more new messages to check, tiny tasks that cause you to go even more sideways. Or if you need to search online, you’ll feel the temptation to check news or social media. It all adds up to a massive epidemic of distraction. On average, workers spend 19% of their day looking up information, and over 28% of the time combing through email. To see how quickly those distractions add up, check out our calculator.

Meanwhile, workers are constantly pushing off learning, because it’s not an immediate need. In fact, knowledge workers carve out just five minutes a day for formal learning. At a time when learning new skills is more important than ever, workers are essentially treading water.

This isn’t just an issue for individual companies--globally, McKinsey estimates that upwards of 800 million people could need retraining by 2030. At this scale, much of the training will have to happen on the job, at a time when corporate training programs are increasingly scarce.

That’s why, at Sorcero, we’re working to build out technology that helps you train on the job in a way that stays in the flow of work. Whether you’re looking for a little bit of information to do your job better, or a deeper dive into skills essential for your job, Sorcero is building a learning system to slide seamlessly into your existing workflow. We want to keep you in the zone as long as we can, so that switching over to get that information, or learn a bit more of an essential skill, doesn’t add extra distractions to your cognitive load.

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Instead of digging up information turning into another series of side-quests, we want to build a truly integrative experience. According to Professor Mark, those sort of distractions--the ones that are related to the task at hand--are actually beneficial. Your brain pauses to absorb the information, as it reconsiders the task from a new angle. You return with a slightly better sense of the overall picture, and a renewed energy for your project.

In addition, we hope to remove some of those to-dos in the first place. By building out a centralized resource to intuitively access your organization's knowledge, we are attempting to eliminate a major source of intra-organization communication--the requests for little bits of information that aren’t a source of deep or satisfying interactions, but instead are little requests each day that cause the person on the other end to get out of their workflow to answer. By building out learning that happens right in your workflow, we want to make all organizations smarter, more efficient, and better prepared for the future.


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