Steve Lohr, writing in the Sunday NY Times, provides a counterpoint to Stowe Boyd's elegant defense of Continuous Partial Attention at Etel. Slow Down, Multitaskers; and Don't Read This in Traffic… and who hasn't? According to Lohr's article, recent research suggests that it's wisest to cut out the cacophony. The experts advise checking email only once an hour, for instance.
Perhaps the most striking piece of the article for me was this:
In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.
That's more than twice as long as previous reports. Sounds like serious ADD!
Of course, Stowe would argue that anything important will find it's way to you again, and again, and again… so go ahead… multitask, and don't worry about it. Myself, I shut down the emails and turn the phone off when I need to concentrate.