Tasks Interrupted: How Anticipating Time Pressure on Resumption of an Interrupted Task Causes Attention Residue and Low Performance on Interrupting Tasks and How a “Ready-to-Resume” Plan Mitigates the Effects

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2017.1184

This paper explores the attention regulation challenges brought by interruptions. In contrast to much of the research on interruptions that looks at the effects on the interrupted task, this paper examines the difficulty of focusing attention and performing well on interrupting tasks. Integrating research on attention residue, time pressure, and implementation intention, we predict that when people anticipate resuming their interrupted work under time pressure, they will find it difficult to switch their attention to the interrupting task, leading to attention residue and low performance. A ready-to-resume intervention, in which one briefly reflects on and plans one’s return to the interrupted task, mitigates this effect such that attention residue is reduced and performance on the interrupting task does not suffer. Data collected across four studies support these hypotheses.

The e-companion is available at https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2017.1184.

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