Vivek Haldar

Quantum of Work

There’s something about all the recent talk about distraction and concentration and shredded attention that doesn’t quite sit right with me. Most of it focuses on the individual– thinking patterns, actions, changes. But what it misses is the deeply fragmented nature of most modern work itself.

If you are a writer of fiction, or a writer of non fiction who has all their research and notes at hand, then yes, in theory doing what you need to do becomes a battle of will power where you just need to sit still and concentrate and get the words out.

But most knowledge work (I despise that term, buy I’ll use it just because it’s familiar to people) is fragmented by nature. I like to think about it in terms of what I call the quantum of work.

A quantum of work is the theoretical longest amount of time you can work purely on your own without needing to break out into looking up something on the web or your mail or needing input from another person. For most modern workers this quantum of work is measured in minutes.

What’s worse is that sometimes when you break out of a quantum you have to wait to get a response. What are you going to do in the meanwhile? You start working on another thread of work to utilise your time. You keep doing this until you get the response you were waiting for, and get back to the first thread.

Is there a way around this? To work in an uninterrupted manner you have to end up changing the nature of the work.

Is that possible? I’m not sure.

The trajectory from linear long form work to fragmented quantized work had been quite steady and there are absolutely no signs of it reversing.