When your mind is distracted to the point of not starting an impending task.
That’s not quite it.
The adage is that after being interrupted it takes fifteen minutes to get back into the “flow” of working.
The first fifteen minutes, then, is crucial. Before even starting something. If your mind slides off track at any point before the fifteen minutes is up, gotta start again.
But how often does my mental trigger kick in to read email, refresh feeds, check newsgroups (and, in the past, Twitter and Facebook and New York Times and …) ? In fact, I still get mental triggers to visit news sites I haven’t read in years. Which scares me, frankly. What sort of rut did I get myself into that my brain still brings it up multiple times every single day even if I never (in years, now) respond to it? Is that the side-effect of the addictions of youth? When will it go away?
(To see if you have such mental triggers of your own, close all the windows on your screen and open up a fresh and blank browser window and try and think of nothing. The first thing that pops into your head to type into the address bar?)
Worse than all of the above, how easy is it to slide from the hard tasks of involved research writing/reading/coding to the easy tasks of fixing bugs or renaming variables in my latest toy project? Especially if you can trick yourself into thinking that your toy project can substitute for your real work.
Sometimes, I even get a mental trigger to write things on the internet, things which people already know and which don’t help either the people reading them or person writing them.
Unlike Merlin Mann. (I linked him before, but no hard in repetition.) He says everything on the topic much better than I’ll ever be able to: (albeit this time in an uncharacteristically difficult-to-quote way)
…developing those invaluable tolerances [to “stick with [your work] at the time you’re most tempted to run away”] requires the exercise of some very small muscles. The muscles are super-hard to locate, and once you do find them, they hurt like a bitch to exercise.
Ain’t that the depressing truth.
Well, I’m off to do the dishes. And then get back to work.