The Most Effective To-Do Lists Account for Interruptions

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Traditional time management doesn't always work.

Write it down. Schedule everything. Assign blocks of time and color coding, sprinkle with magic dust, then hold your breath and hope there aren’t any interruptions. That’s the downside of traditional time-management planning: It’s only effective when things go…as planned.

Which, in today’s dynamic workplace, is pretty much never. The same variables that make work interesting and satisfying—unexpected challenges, complex responsibilities, a fast pace—also create constant disruptions. Some estimates suggest that employees are interrupted or forced to switch tasks an average of every three minutes. Unplanned breaks take a toll on productivity. They also dampen employees’ enthusiasm for the job.

So, researchers spent two weeks tracking 187 employees from a diverse set of industries. The team: Michael Parke of the London Business School, Justin Weinhardt of the University of Calgary, Andrew Brodsky of the University of Texas at Austin, Subrahmaniam Tangirala of the University of Maryland, College Park, and UCLA Anderson’s Sanford DeVoe.

Their paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, highlights a strategy called contingent planning. Whereas traditional time-management planning overestimates how much will get done and fails to consider disruptions, contingent planning simply assumes things will go wrong.

To learn more, read the rest of the article on Quartz.