Lack of context-shifting

Today, and Friday, I did quite a bit of Unix hacking. Mostly system administration-type stuff like upgrading two installations of WebEvent (in the same folder structure on the same machine), figuring out the multiple path names for each old installation then mapping that to each of two new installations, then merging the data together to have one integrated installation. It took about 6 hours on Friday and about 2 hours today.
One thing I noticed in doing this was that the required level of focus did not allow for context-switching. Answering the phone, email, going to the bathroom, quick surf over to Scripting News or, taking a walk – forget about it. I sat there and cranked for hours. And, in doing so, drilled in and learned the necessary bits to finish the task. There was a lot of bit by bit learning, and a lot of it built on the last bit, and most of the time there were a lot of items “on the stack” in my brain. Losing focus would have meant “starting over” from somewhere – not the beginning, but somewhere back before where I was.
Contrast this with sales, for instance. Sales is constant context-switching and mostly complete lack of focus. Juggling the phone, emails, lunch dates, a million deals all in different stages of the pipeline – any one of which could pop up at any minute – you get the idea. I’m actually pretty good that this juggle, which is why the lack of it was so interesting.
Another mode I enjoy is improvising, like presenting to a group of people or leading/facilitating a meeting. Improvising requires a lot of “fast-on-your-feet” thinking and responding, like thinking ahead and creating the next thought while you’re speaking the current thought. In some ways, perhaps improvising is the combination of focus and context-switching.
I certainly enjoyed my two days of focus. I did notice however that it was hard to relate to anyone on Friday night. I just wanted to think and relax. It seemed like focusing that deeply took some of the energy I needed to relate outward. I didn’t have much social energy at all. I wonder if that’s common or just my experience that one night. I can see why alcohol would “help” – at least the first few dozen times.
Meanwhile, I need more exercise. All this sitting still thinking and typing is bad for the body.