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oberien's Blog

Tech blabber about cryptography, rust, and other personal interests

Interruptions cost 23 minutes 15 seconds, right?


You’ve likely read lots of blog posts stating that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to work after an interruption, context switch, or meeting. Thus, “do you have five minutes” ends up not only costing those few minutes, but instead about half an hour. But where does that number come from?

I just wanted to quickly reference this fact to a colleague. Quick search for the reference, copy’n’paste it, in and out, 20 minutes adventure. I quickly found a reference to a paper. For sanity sake, I just wanted to verify where it states the 23 minutes. Open the paper, Ctrl+F for “23”, “no results”. Huh?


Most of the posts mentioning the number refer to the paper The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress. The authors performed a study investigating different effects of interruptions during long tasks.
Contrary to the quoted number, the study found out that the time spent on only the original task was in fact lower when interruptions were present (20.31 and 20.60 min) compared to no interruptions (22.77 min), albeit with much higher experienced stress. The paper never goes into details regarding the recovery time between finishing the interruption and getting back to the original task. The paper never mentions the number 23.

Maybe it’s in a different paper? Related Work? References?

Blog Posts

The search continued. In addition to the 5 papers I (fittingly) read through a total of 23 posts.

So in the end, where do the 23 minutes and 15 seconds come from? They are mentioned in interviews multiple times by Gloria Mark. But I wasn’t able to find a primary printed source. There are many more publications by Gloria Mark, but none of them turned up while searching for the 23 minutes 15 seconds figure. If someone knows a paper or study where that figure originally appears in, please tell me.

Discussion on r/programming.

Here is the reference graph of all posts and papers I’ve mentioned in this post and a list of their links.