Mitigating the effects context switching

If you’re like me, you like to finish something before you start something else. Jumping from one thing to another can really disrupt my flow and overall productivity. It takes effort to regain momentum.  Here are a couple of things I do to make the transition less taxing.

Reflect

Context switching can feel like your brain is pumping at full steam and all of a sudden – like a gazelle – have to change direction. The problem is that your brain isn’t a gazelle, it’s more like a passenger train. First you have to slow it down, let everyone off and start it back up again. In between tasks, I usually take a 5-10 minute reflection period. I write down everything I accomplished in that period and where I need to pick back up. This way I don’t spend time trying to remember where I left off later.

Clear Your Head

It’s also a little buffer between subjects which allows you to refocus your energy. Taking a few minutes to clear my head can give you a boost of mental energy before diving into your next task. If you are in meetings all day, give yourself at least a few minutes to breath in between. End a few minutes early and use the time to clear your head. It will help you be better prepared for whatever is coming next.

Close Out of Other Stuff

Another thing I find helpful is closing all my files from a previous task before starting a new one. You might say, “Isn’t it a waste of time to reopen later?”. It may take a few minutes longer to open everything back up, but it keeps away the temptation of going back to your previous task. It also gives you a sense of closure knowing that it is time to move onto something new. Plus, your computer will thank you for freeing up extra memory.

Just Say No

The best way to lessen the burden of context switching is to avoid it all together. Often we take on new assignments or accept meeting invites without thinking about it. Before you say yes, think if the new task is more important than what you are doing. The less you say yes, the more people will respect your time and only ask for your help when it’s truly necessary.

Constantly switching between projects, initiatives, or cases is just a reality of work life. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to slow down a bit and give each assignment the full attention they deserve.