Carl Honore, journalist and author of “In Praise of Slowness” has estimated that the average office worker is interrupted every three minutes by a phone call, e-mail, instant message or other distraction. Some office workers face situations where the digital communications that were supposed to make their working lives run more smoothly are actually preventing them from getting critical tasks accomplished.

It’s a challenge of modern working life: email, Twitter feeds, instant messaging, text messages, come so thick and fast that it’s hard to ignore them.  Some of the information will be important — and that’s precisely the problem. Turn it all off and you might as well quit your job but read it all and you become so distracted that it’s a challenge to get anything else done. Things are made worse by BlackBerrys, iphones and other smart devices that enable workers to stay in touch 24/7.  A few years ago a study undertaken for computing firm Hewlett Packard found that 62% of people even checked work messages at home or on holiday.

It businesses want to improve productivity it is vital that managers help their staff to deal with these distractions and interruptions.   For a start workers should turn off the e-mail setting that delivers a note as soon as it is received. Instead, workers should be encouraged to check their emails a planned times perhaps 3 or 4 times per day.  While this approach may frustrate some who want an ‘immediate reply; it can cut the time down spent on e-mails dramatically.

A similar approach should be taken with smart phone devices too.  Workers should turn them off and again only pick up messages at certain times of the day.

Managing expectations is key to the above.  Too often people expect an ‘instant reply’ but in reality they don’t need it there and then, but if their expectations are managed and they know their email, text or phone message will be responded to, then a vast amount of time can be saved.

Everyone needs some uninterrupted time to think, plan and complete their own work which they cannot do if they are constantly being interrupted.  It is therefore vital that people learn to manage digital communication and not it manage them.