I know a woman who's an incurable optimist: She shows up for work actually believing she'll get through her to-do list. Slipping into her desk chair, she decides to check her e-mail before diving into the presentation she has to write, and whoosh…she's sucked into a ton of annoying little requests. She sends brief answers and 40 minutes later gets started on her presentation. Just as inspiration starts to flow, the phone rings.

Most of us spend our days in environments that make us feel scattered. If you're an office worker, you're interrupted every three minutes on average, according to researchers at the School of Information and Computer Science at UC-Irvine. A related study showed that it can take 25 minutes to regain your concentration after each interruption, which means that brilliant train of thought you were riding might get permanently derailed.

Caught off guard, we drop everything to solve problems other people not only could but should handle. One quick question leads to another and another, and soon the day is shot.


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