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How do you manage context switching?

  • 24 August 2023
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In my personal experience with mismanaging context switching, despite loving to be involved with building and supporting wherever I can, I’ve found that over time (no matter how tough I think I am), I find myself in moments where I’m not showing up to my work the way I want to.

 

Some of the symptoms I start to notice:

  1. Mental Fatigue: Adapting to different tasks repeatedly can leave me feeling drained.

  2. Efficiency Drop: The mental effort of refocusing makes it difficult to complete tasks in a timely manner.

  3. Quality Compromise: frequently switching roles leading to errors.

  4. Deep Focus Impediment: Frequent context shifts hinder deep focus. 

  5. Workflow Disruption: Constant switching disrupts workflow consistency.

  6. Stress and Burnout: Managing multiple roles introduces stress and a feeling of burnout.

  7. Communication Hurdles: Collaborating with diverse teams complicates communication.

  8. Time Management Struggle: Balancing roles can lead to rushed tasks due to limited time.

  9. Learning Curve Prolonged: Shifting roles elongates learning curves.

  10. Creativity Blockage: Frequent shifts disrupt creative flow, impacting innovation.

 

Whether you are taking on additional initiatives, balancing the demands of family and work, leading multiple teams and/or functions, or all of the above, I’d love to learn:

  • How do you take on more without sacrificing quality?
  • If each day requires several meetings or obligations that range wildly in topic, how do you remain present, focused, and show up in a meaningful way while avoiding burnout?
  • In general, what are your strategies to manage context switching?
  • Is it even possible?

 

Thank you for anything you’ve got!

 

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Best answer by rondeaul 20 October 2023, 16:20

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Ooh, I love this one @Mark Mitchell

 

  • How do you take on more without sacrificing quality?
    • You can’t if you are already at capacity. You have to identify what can be:
      • Eliminated from your workload
      • Passed to someone else to manage
        • Stretch opportunity for someone
        • Does the task belong to you or did you inherit it?
      • Paused and revisited for a later date
  • If each day requires several meetings or obligations that range wildly in topic, how do you remain present, focused, and show up in a meaningful way while avoiding burnout?
    • Look at the meetings carefully.
      • Do you need to attend every one?
        • Can it be recorded and reviewed at a later date (at 1.5 or 2x speed)?
        • Can someone else attend in your place
          • Will they have the authority to make decisions
        • Will there be an email summary that can be reviewed instead of attending
      • Pass on any meetings that won’t bring value or are informational
    • If there are critical meetings take some steps to keep your focus
      • Close Slack, Teams, or other communication tools
      • Close Email
      • If you have multiple monitors, turn off all but the one your call is on
      • Have something for your hands to do
        • Even a fidget spinner or cube will help you keep focus
      • Take notes - I find this helps me stay engaged
      • Use earbuds or a headset and walk around while on the call. You have to listen harder to understand the context and end up being more engaged.
  • In general, what are your strategies to manage context switching?
    • Try to ensure you have a break between meetings whenever possible. I use the feature in Outlook and Google Calendar that shortens meetings (25 minutes for a 30 minute block, 50 minutes for an hour block) so I have time between meetings to transition.
    • Get up and walk around
    • Do some push-ups, crunches, squats or similar to get the blood flowing.
  • Is it even possible?
    • Yes, but it’s hard.
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@rondeaul,

Thank you for your thoughtful advice!! Your insights and practical tips are just what I needed.

Your note on task prioritization and optimizing meetings is really sensible, and I will start to put it into practice. Shortening meeting times and incorporating physical activities just makes sense.

It’s feeling more attainable than ever, my friend. Thank you again!

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Loving the ideas here!

 

One thing I just started doing recently was:

Have a to-do list and schedule each task on my calendar. It’s forced me to be more deliberate about my communications. If something non-urgent pops up, I add it to my to-do list so it doesn’t slip and then I’ll incorporate it into my schedule at the end of the day in my daily schedule session. If something urgent pops up, I work on it until it’s resolved. From there I update my calendar at the end of my day. 
Having dedicated time to plan for the next day has changed the game for me. I love it so far!

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I love that, @emaynez!

 

Where does your list get managed? Is that in google tasks or something?

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I use Arc (a chromium browser - shoutout to @Sara Fowers for getting me hooked on it). They have a list feature which I use as a to-do list. That allows me to know what needs to get done soon and later. I just jot down tasks there as they pop up during meetings and then I dedicate 15 min a day to plan the next day. That’s where I take items from the list and schedule them  

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@Mark Mitchell  My job requires me to context switch CONSTANTLY. Its actually such an odd experience when I get to just focus on a single thing 😂 But I feel like I’ve come up with quite a few things that have REALLY helped me. A lot of them are pretty specific to what I do, but here are some things that are more broad:

 



Arc, for me has been an absolute GAME CHANGER!  I am able to keep my workspaces separate, and switch back and forth with much less stress. As for to do lists - I use my notes section of Arc a little different than @emaynez. But I have loved using google tasks program and chrome extension (which works in arc). 

On thing that I do with Arc that I love but could also be accomplished in Chrome is having a bookmarks folder called “working” for my less pressing things that I had to step away from so that if I have a second and am trying to decide what to look at next I just pull up that folder and see what in there I could spend some time on. 

 



I am big proponent of the Info Dump
I personally do this a lot in my intercom and GUIDEcx internal notes features.

If I am working on something I will make notes of what I am doing as I am doing it even if no one else is ever going to look at it or if its relatively straight forward, because it keeps me on track no matter what the day throws at me.

Something as simple as “I just checked or did this, planning on doing this next” and then after I do the next thing I make note of the result of it. 

When I do this, if I end up being pulled away from it, these notes help me not have to start all the way at the beginning when I return because its very clear what point I got to. And it reduces so much doubled up effort.


This has also made it easier for other people to help me if I need assistance, or to create training on how to do things because its already, albeit very informally, documented.


A lot of times I end up not needing to go back to what I’ve written, but the times where I have had to have made that little effort ABSOLUTELY worth it. And I’ve noticed that the simple act of writing it down as I’m doing it helps me retain things better. 

 


 

I make use of the “save for later” feature in slack a TON. 
if I read a message from someone and I don’t have the time or bandwidth to deal with it in the moment I will save it for later and have it keep popping up for me in the mornings or whenever I set it for until I complete it. 

I also will not open a message from someone if I know I don’t have the time to respond at the moment so that the unread notification will be there when I’m ready 
 


 

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Holy smokes, @Sara Fowers! This is gold the world needs to know!!!

 

You’re amazing, thank you! I’m going to use all the things.

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