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Interruption vs. Distraction: What’s the Difference?

by | Jul 7, 2022 | Productivity, Video

This video is an excerpt from a live training session with Chrissy Scivicque, Career Coach & Corporate Trainer. The full video (“Managing Interruptions & Dealing with Distractions”) is available in the Career Success Library.

The article below summarizes the video content.

I really am very passionate about the topic of time management. And this particular topic of “dealing with interruptions and distractions” is kind of a slice of the time management pie. We’re talking about time protection: how you protect your time and become an active participant in that time protection process.

This is a difficult skill set, because it requires strong communication skills, and some strong leadership skills.

So, what’s the difference between an interruption and a distraction?

I realized that this is a little bit unique. This is my distinction between what an interruption is and what a distraction is. In the real world, we use these two terms synonymously as if they mean the same thing. But I do draw a distinction between them. I just find it easier for managing them and speaking about them, because I do think that they are different things and we, therefore, need to approach them differently.

Here’s my distinction. An interruption is something or someone that wants your attention. It’s like someone coming into your workspace and knocking on your cubicle wall and saying, “Got a minute?” That’s an interruption. Or a phone call; that person who’s trying to reach you. They’re external to you and they’re reaching out, trying to grab your attention.

A distraction is something or someone your attention wants. I know this is strange, but stick with me. This is more internal. It’s this internal desire that’s drawing you towards something or someone. So your mental focus is wandering towards something. A distraction may come from anywhere. For example: “I want to go check what’s happening on on LinkedIn.” That’s a distraction. When you’re working from home, you might have the distraction the dishes in the sink from last night’s dinner, and you know you need to take care of them. It’s not that there’s something or someone that’s demanding your attention in that moment, but your attention is wanting to go elsewhere.

Right now, here in this Zoom environment, I see the chat moving with one eye. I know that you guys aren’t intentionally trying to draw my attention and interrupt me. But it’s a distraction. My mind wants to go there, my eyes want to go there. So it’s different.

These are different things. An interruption is coming to you, whereas a distraction is like your brain being pulled towards something else for a variety of different reasons. I hope this is making sense.

Sherry says, “My two kittens who want my attention.” So, your two kittens could be actively interrupting you or they could just be a distraction, because you’re thinking about how cute they are, and you can’t wait to go and cuddle them.

I realized that it sounds really pedantic that I’m like distinguishing between these two terms. But I do that because I think that we need to approach them differently.

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The Career Success Library is a convenient, affordable online learning center for career advancers including administrative professionals, emerging leaders, and anyone else who wants to leverage the power of ongoing professional development. 

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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