In the article Neo-Amish Drop Outs, Kevin Kelly shares a quote from Donald Knuth explaining why he (Knuth) seldom reads email.
Rather than trying to stay on top of things, I am trying to get to the bottom of things.
Getting to the bottom of things — questioning assumptions, investigating causes, making connections — requires a different state of mind than staying on top of things. Deep thought is difficult when you’re frequently interrupted. It’s just as difficult when you anticipate being interrupted even if the interruption never comes.
We don’t task switch nearly as well as we think we do. We think we can switch instantly between tasks, when in reality it takes at least 15 minutes to recover our thoughts, and that’s if we were doing something relatively simple. With more complex tasks, it takes longer.
When I began to understand this a few years ago, I asked a colleague how long it takes her to recover from an interruption. She said three days. I thought she was exaggerating, but now I appreciate that it really can take a few days to get into a hard problem.