Like most people, I am highly skilled at finding sources of distraction, and as we all know our always on world is great at providing these - email, google reader, twitter, and the rest.
And of course there is a fine line between speculative research on a topic and aimless surfing - serendipity can be both a wonderful and distracting thing.
Getting work done requires structure to your day, and while setting an hour or so for email is fine on the weekends, it's not the answer during the working day. Sure I knock off most of my email, twitter and RSS feeds in a concentrated bursts first thing in the morning, but we all know the world doesn't work like that, which means you end up sitting with a set of tabs permanently open in your browser with email, nagios and the rest running just in case something important happens.
They're a distraction - just like a rat in an operant conditioning experiment there's a natural urge to respond to the ping of email in case it brings rewards or punishments.
So, just recently, I've started a new trick. It's astoundingly simple and very productive.
Let's assume that most of your work is web based and that all the documents you need to work with are on a range of web accessible stores (Google Docs, Skydrive, Dropbox, OneNote). Let's also assume that a decent editor and a word processor will satisfy most of your work needs.
Here's my trick, with the aid of virtual box, build an Ubuntu vm. It has Firefox, Open office, gedit etc out of the box and adding abiword, kwrite, or GUI LaTeX tools is straightforward. And it is of course network enabled. And Firefox is just Firefox, meaning Google Docs, OneNote and the rest work the same
Start your VM in full screen mode. Providing you can maintain the discipline to not connect to twitter, email and the rest, you can sit there happily, access the resources you need and work on the document you need to get finished and upload it somewhere. And if you need to flip over to your normal buzzing environment to respond to a phone call, you can.
It does also mean that you have to be disciplined about organising material, be it clippings in OneNote or saving pdf's of relevant web pages in a structured way - no bad thing as it allows you to build up a good set of supporting documents, hopefully with a bit of annotation.
Basically, it's called being systematic about things.
It's the electronic equivalent of closing the study door. Utterly simple, utterly productive ...