28 February 2021

Managing Chaos con la Time Etiquette

This is an article-interview with Marta Valente and Roberto Bonanomi on the Managing Chaos with Time Etiquette project, an intervention aimed at organisations that work in heterogeneous contexts (teleworking, smart working, open office) and that feel the need to "manage chaos".

Where did the “Managing Chaos with Time Etiquette” project come from?

Extensive scientific literature reports the harmful effects of incorrect communication management and time regarding performance, quality of work, and well-being. (Basoglu et al. 2009; Foroughi et al. 2014; Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010; Baethge & Rigotti, 2013; Galluch et al. 2015; Pachler et al. 2018).

One of the most harmful effects is the number of improper interruptions generated within a complex organisation that relies extensively on digitalisation and operates in heterogeneous contexts (smart working, teleworking, open office, etc.).

Can the harmful effects of improper interruptions be quantified?

Indeed, several studies provide exciting data, but the most complete, for our purposes, is that of Bailey and Konstan (2006).

We selected it for two reasons. 

First, within a single experimental design, the researchers analyse performance, quality of work, and impact on emotions and anxiety levels.

Furthermore, the research uses experimental tasks similar to that of a knowledge worker and is therefore generalisable to our target customers. 

The experiment involves an experimental group and a control group. Both groups are asked to perform a succession of "main" tasks. In the experimental group, "peripheral" tasks interrupt the main functions in the middle. In the control group, however, peripheral tasks are performed at the end of a primary task before moving on to the next.

In the experimental group, i.e. the one subject to interruptions, compared to the control group:

  • A waste of 3% to 27% of the time.
  • 100% more errors made.
  • 100% greater increase in state anxiety (measured with the STAI scale).
  • 50% increase in negative emotions (annoyance).

These parameters, particularly the time taken, vary depending on the task's difficulty. For example, when the task consists of simply registering your details, the waste of time is "only" 3%. When performing a more complex task, such as algebraic addition with 4-digit numbers, it is as high as 27% 

It is, therefore, imperative that organisations structure how they operate to avoid disruption.

Isn't it enough to rely on the goodwill of the people who work for the organisation?

Unfortunately, no, as some illuminating research shows (McDowall & Kinman, 2017; Katidioti & Taatgen, 2014; Mazmanian et al., 2013).

It needs to be more because some aspects of communications management are counter-intuitive; with directives on how to behave and how to use technologies, people tend, even with the best intentions, to engage in dysfunctional behaviours.

Isn't it enough to take a Time Management course?

It is indeed valid, but it is not enough because time management is an organizational phenomenon, not an individual one. Organising activities by priority and urgency is only useful if I am forced to interrupt them constantly. We need a shared code of conduct.

Why don't organisations equip themselves with this "code of conduct"?

Because they do not know what rules to adopt. In the past, several companies have adopted measures (such as not sending emails after a specific time), but all have failed (Paczkowski & Kuruzovich, 2016; Bonanomi & Paczkowski, 2019). These measures were perhaps more dictated by the moment's trend; they were not part of an overall rational design.

What solution do you propose?

We propose a solution in 3 steps:

  1. A questionnaire, the Time Etiquette Survey, is available online to detect time savings and benefits in terms of well-being. It also allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed intervention.
  2. A set of few easy (but not at all obvious) rational rules, the Time Etiquette®. These rules are simple but must be communicated and explained as they are often counterintuitive (see next step). 
  3. We have developed the communication necessary to spread the culture of Time Etiquette and training on techniques and technologies to manage one's activities, time and interactions with others, Managing Chaos. 

The training is entirely online, interactive, and usable anywhere and anytime. The project can be implemented incrementally, starting from a single office or extensively across the entire organisation.


In conclusion, this is an out-of-the-box project ready to be implemented, which, depending on the type of organisation, allows double-digit benefits in terms of performance, quality of work and wellbeing. All are documented by extensive scientific literature.


Bailey, B. P., & Konstan, J. A. (2006). On the need for attention-aware systems: Measuring effects of interruption on task performance, error rate, and affective state. Computers in human behavior, 22(4), 685-708.

Bonanomi, R. & Paczkowski, W.F., (2019).  Interruptions in the workplace: Manager-subordinate relationship impact and moderating effects of the manager's personality.  Presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Southern Management Association, Norfolk, VA. 

Bonanomi, R., (2016). Time Etiquette. Un Sistema rivoluzionario per mettere ordina in un mondo dove tutto è urgente. Ed. HURACT.

de Wet, W., Koekemoer, E., and Nel, J. A. (2016). Exploring the impact of information and communication technology on employees' work and personal lives. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 42 (1), 1–11.

Foroughi, C. K., Werner, N. E., Nelson, E. T., and Boehm-Davis, D. A. (2014). Do interruptions affect quality of work? Human Factors, 56 (7), 1262–1271.

Galluch, P. S., Grover, V., & Thatcher, J. B. (2015). Interrupting the workplace: Examining stressors in an information technology context. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 16(1), 1.

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Jackson, T. W., Dawson, R., & Wilson, D. (2003). Understanding email interaction increases organizational productivity. Communications of the ACM, 46(8): 80–84.

Kim, J., & de Dear, R. (2013). Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36, 18-26. 

McDowall, A., & Kinman, G. (2017). The new nowhere land? A research and practice agenda for the “always on” culture. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance4(3), 256–266.

Mark, G., Gudith, D., & Klocke, U. (2008). The cost of interrupted work: more speed and stress. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 107-110). ACM.

Mazmanian, M., Orlikowski, W. J., and Yates, J. (2013). The Autonomy Paradox: The Implications of Mobile Email Devices for Knowledge Professionals. Organization Science, 24 (5), 1337–1357.

Paczkowski, W. F. and Kuruzovich, J. (2016). Checking Email in the Bathroom: Monitoring Email Responsiveness Behavior in the Workplace. American Journal of Management, 16 (2), 23–39.

Rout, U., Cooper, C. L., & Rout, J. K. (1996). Job stress among British general practitioners: Predictors of job dissatisfaction and mental ill‐health. Stress and Health, 12(3), 155-166.

Spira, J. B., & Feintuch, J. B. (2005). The cost of not paying attention: How interruptions impact knowledge worker productivity. Retrieved from Basex.

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