Read a very interesting post over at the Coding Horror
blog, called This is your Anti-Productivity Pod
It's a wonderful explanation of what I see the main problem at my work: productivity loss due to an enourmous amount of distraction during the day. I'm working in what we in the Netherlands call an office garden, a huge open room in which about a dozen people work, make telephone calls, talk about their children and last holidays, about politics, about ... well, work-related stuff also. Besides, there's no real hallway, that's on one side of the open room, so lot's of people are passing by. Apart from that, in my function I try to combine being a programmer and sysadmin at the same time. So there's a low bar for people to access me with all kinds of questions. Of course, that's what I chose for when accepting this job, so I shouldn't wine.
However, I try to cope by trying to judge whether questions asked orally can also handled by email: in that case I ask people that the next time they fire up Outlook for these kind of things. Also, I power down my mail client every now and then. Another thing is: I try to be in the office around as early as possible, giving me about an hour of quietness before most of my coworkers arrive.
What I do recognize is the much bespoken rule of 15-minutes-till-flow-arrives. In my case it's maybe in the order of ten minutes, but even then it's very irritating to be disturbed just every quarter of an hour. O, and what also helps is just opening up a window every now and then: the airco is just not capable of preventing headaches cropping up in the course of the day. Well, a whole bunch of them, all by itself small things, but combined they help me tremendously in coping with the everyday noise factor here at the office