Managing Interruptions

Another critical skill relating to task management involves rehearsing the techniques that can be used to effectively manage interruptions. Strategies discussed previously, such as ignoring, blocking and deferring interruptions, can be the subject of deliberate practice. Similarly, the techniques used to safely resume a task after it has been interrupted are another important focus for skill development.

Prospective Memory Aids

For a human factors practitioner, one of the most fascinating aspects of task management in domains such as aviation and medicine is the informal strategies used by experienced operators to manage tasks and the memory aids they use to support task performance. Many of these strategies involve repurposing aspects of the work environment to serve as reminders for as yet uncompleted tasks. A classic, and unique, example of this is the use of a seat adjustment handle as a reminder that a take-off or landing clearance still needs to be obtained. If the handle is down, the clearance is still needed, and only once the clearance has been obtained is the handle stowed.

Another example is from the medical domain. When a doctor needs to complete a request for a blood test for a patient, they take one of the sticky labels with the patient’s identification details and stick it to their sleeve. Then, once they have completed tasks on the ward, they find a computer terminal where they can use the sticky labels as reminders to complete the electronic requests for blood tests. While these techniques are often highly individualised, they can certainly be the source of discussion during non-technical skills training programs.

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