The New York Times Magazine has an interesting story about the effects of interruptions and distractions on productivity. Clive Thompson describes how technology is both cause (IM, e-mail, and the increased expectation of multitasking) and potential salvation: "a machine can resist that temptation [to click over to e-mail as soon as the new message bell chimes], because it thinks in statistics. It knows that only an extremely rare message is so important that we must read it right now." He describes a future in which our technology tools are like a "personal butler" that can analyze the importance of a message and deliver it at just the right moment.
Until that time, the article also describes a simple mode for increasing productivity at the computer: use multiple monitors so your virtual desktop has more space, letting you glance at other applications without minimizing your primary project window. Don't know how? Check out our Weekend Project on adding a second monitor to your PC.