It's called "contextual jitter" -- in the time it takes to silence your cell phone, you've already lost track of what you were doing.
PROBLEM: Being interrupted is annoying, and, for those of us always with our phones on us, basically a constant. But how detrimental is it to us actually getting things done?
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METHODOLOGY: Michigan State University researchers assigned 300 volunteers a rather complicated computer task -- basically, they had to follow a number of steps, and doing so correctly depended on them remembering where they were in the sequence. Kind of like an artificially imposed train of thought, which would then be broken by the researchers asking them to complete a quick side-task.
RESULTS: All of the participants made minor errors; no one's perfect. But when their attention was shifted from the task at hand for a mere 2.8 seconds, they became twice as likely to mess up the sequence. The error rate tripled when the interruptions averaged 4.4 seconds.
Worryingly, there wasn't any lag time between being interrupted and getting back to work, meaning the participants didn't seem to realize that they had been thrown off.