You have probably experienced the frustration of not being able to focus when a book, research paper, tutorial, or a cognitively challenging task needs your undivided attention. Depending on your job, the majority of these feelings of frustration might occur at work.

It’s easy for us to understand how a loud office and constant calls to your phone create interruptions for you. These interruptions reduce your ability to focus. You can’t hear yourself think. You are not able to get in to flow.

But maybe after a busy morning your office quiets down. Or maybe you move yourself to a quiet space after the interruptions become too much to handle.

The interruptions disappear. Your issue with focus and attention should now be solved.

Except you will still struggle to focus. Why?

Researchers Laura Dabbish, Gloria Mark, and Victor Gonzalez have found out that external interruptions lead to self-interruptions (Why Do I Keep Interrupting Myself?: Environment, Habit and Self-Interruption). External interruptions are interruptions caused by other people or, for example, software notifications. Self-interruptions occur when you abandon an ongoing task or switch your focus without an external cause.

A classic self-interruption is you switching your browser tab to Twitter or Facebook just because you felt like it.

Even though external and self-initiated interruptions differ in their nature, they are connected to each other. If you experience a lot of external interruptions you are more likely to have increased amounts of self-interruptions throughout your day. In their research, Dabbish, Mark, and Gonzalez conclude that “external interruptions experienced in the previous hour significantly increase the incidence of self interruption in the subsequent hour.”

We get used to a certain interruption level: People working in open offices experience more self-interruptions. People who feed their habit of multitasking experience more self-interruptions.

We are interrupted in our work every 4 to 11 minutes. And half of those interruptions are self-interruptions. The significance of self-initiated interruptions in your ability to focus is much larger than you probably thought.

What are the actions that you will take in order to reduce those interruptions?