I had the good fortune tonight to run into a great post over on Joel Spolsky where he is talking about the impact in really any situation where you are heads down focused on a goal and someone comes and interrupts you to ask a question or maybe you get sidelined onto a short lived initiative.
The idea is that it takes you a long time to come back into your zone after an interruption. I found this post very good at working to show both the developer side of the story as well as a possible bigger picture point of view. The challenge is that what if the interruption was not as glorious as the example given.
Sadly I know that we all live in a world of multiple and parallel priorities and tasks. It is often hard to control the inputs that shape and surround our lives. Take Graham over the past 6 weeks. He is having to give input on 8 different engagements of which he is leading 4, I don't have the same issue, but every once in a while I have to switch between a different 4 as well as other business items.
I was always very interested to see executives who could time compartmentalize very well, but I imagine they did not have to deep dive into things like the folks in the trenches. But in a sense, it is these same leaders who have to help insulate and remove some of these issues.
OK so flip flop, but the real message is that we all live in this environment, and we all need to be aware of this issue and respect the nature of our communication and interruptions, 'cause you may get away with low value interruptions once or twice maybe even three times, but you will lose your ability after that.