Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity as he reclined against an apple tree in quiet contemplation. In today’s world of back-to-back meetings and overflowing email boxes such uninterrupted moments are rare. Around the world, roughly 196 billion emails were sent and received daily in 2007, up from 5.1 billion in 2001. The relentless barrage of communications and information overload adversely affects worker productivity and personal well-being to the tune of an estimated $1 billion per year for a typical knowledge-intensive company of 50,000 employees. Recent research from the University of California (Irvine) reveals that ‘today’s knowledge workers can expect just three minutes of uninterrupted work on any given task.” The author notes that ADD experts have found office workers increasingly showing signs of “culturally induced attention deficit disorder,” leading to restless, distracted, irritable behavior.

This article examines this issue and explores a program begun by computer giant Intel to determine if creative thought could be stimulated by a daily period when workers could be freed of all distractions. In a six-month project dubbed “Quiet Time,” 300 engineers and managers in two undisclosed locations spend each Tuesday from 8am to noon with their email and instant messaging in off-line mode and “do not disturb” signs hung on their cubicle entrances.

The “Quiet Time” study is not completed as yet but Intel officials voice their hope that the lessons learned can eventually be implemented company-wide. In the meantime company officials have seen their own quiet time reduced as they field questions about their research from everyone from the U.S. Army to the Salvation Army.

Source: Kate Lunau, Maclean’s (Toronto); Jan 21, 2008

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