Why Do I Keep Interrupting Myself

Why Do I Keep Interrupting Myself?:
Environment, Habit, and Self-Interruption

Laura Dabbish
Carnegie Mellon University

Gloria Mark
University of California, Irvine

Victor Gonzalez
Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM)


Self-interruptions account for a significant portion of task switching in information-centric work contexts. However, most of the research to date has focused on understanding, analyzing and designing for external interruptions. The causes of self-interruptions are not well understood. In this paper, we present an analysis of 889 hours of observed task switching behavior from 36 individuals across three high technology information work organizations. Our analysis suggests that self-interruption is a function of organizational environment and individual differences, but also external interruptions experienced. We find that people in open office environments interrupt themselves at a higher rate. We also find that people are significantly more likely to interrupt themselves to return to solitary work associated with central working spheres, suggesting that self-interruption occurs largely as a function of prospective memory events. The research presented contributes substantially to our understanding of attention and multitasking in context.

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