eliterate librarian has an article describing this “disorder”, defined as

you've become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving. In other words, it costs you efficiency because you're doing so much or trying to do so much, it's as if you're juggling one more ball than you possibly can.

Hmmm. Sounds familiar. Her blog entry, quoting another article I didn’t get to the bottom of goes on to say:

How you allocate your time and your attention is crucial. What you pay attention to and for how long really makes a difference. If you're just paying attention to trivial e-mails for the majority of your time, you're wasting time and mental energy. It's the great seduction of the information age. You can create the illusion of doing work and of being productive and creative when you're not. You're just treading water.

This so reminds me of the best thing I got out of our lab’s standards of management excellence course … it was about the quadrant: for every activity, allocate whether it is urgent or not, and whether it is important or not. Now you have four quadrants:

  • Things that are urgent and important
  • Things that are not urgent but important
  • Things that are urgent but not important
  • Things that are neither urgent nor important.

Never, never do anything in the last quadrant, and stop wasting your time doing things in the third! Spend as much time as you can doing things in the second, but obviously you have to attend to the things in the first quadrant first.

I try to obey these principles, which explains a) why I sometimes never reply to email and b) I spend time reading material on the internet (carefully focussed of course).