For many of us, we are living in the most uncertain time in our lives. COVID-19, human rights movements, racism, violent weather patterns. Sadly, it feels like there is more out of our control right now than ever before.

The only thing that’s certain, is the fact that you can control your thoughts, your feelings, your voice, and your actions.

Even if the action is small, you can make an impact on your day, your life, your work, and your community. But, when it comes to getting things done you must take action. 

To do this, you must avoid the curse of Context Switching.

The Course of Context Switching

What is Context Switching?

The term “context switching” originally came about as a feature of a computer operating system. It essentially allowed the computer to multitask by saving its spot while it moved onto another task. While mac users can easily use the F3 key to switch between open windows, it’s not so easy for our brains.  

Imagine you are working on something and you are in the zone. Then, your phone rings. Your brain literally has to switch gears to answer the phone. Have a conversation. Follow up with an actionable item from that conversation. And then try to get back to what you were working on. Even with good intentions. You were disrupted. You’ve lost your flow. And, you lost 20 minutes of your day. Byeee!  

This is context switching for your brain. For every task you add to your brain in a given moment, your productivity is reduced. And I mean reduced, a lot! Research from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience indicates up to 40 percent of productivity could be lost due to task-switching. 

On top of context switching, there has been a lot of research done on the concept of “attention residue” by the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Journal. Think of it this way, if you work in your email with 100% focus and then switch to Slack, your brain isn’t able to operate with 100% focus on Slack. Part of your brain is still thinking about your email. That’s “attention residue”. It doesn’t matter how long you went over to Slack, it matters that you did it at all. 

This is a real challenge both physically and mentally. Think about your workspace. You likely have your computer, some papers, pens, books, a water bottle, notes from previous meetings, a to-do list, a window, your phone. Each one of these things is vying for your attention every moment of the day.

Did you know that our brains actually process paper and computer screens differently? So, when you are switching between the two your brain needs to rewire and form a new pathway to process what it sees. Crazy! 

So when you are context switching, not only does it take more time to complete the tasks at hand, but, you are also more likely to make errors. 

So, what is the one big secret to actually getting things done?

Batch your work. 

Luckily, it’s possible to manage your brainpower by batching your work. When you work on similar tasks one right after the other, you eliminate context switching and allow your brain to focus. You are letting your brain operate at a higher power. 

To Implement:

  • Group your tasks into categories such as meetings, social media, creative time, emails.

  • Assign a theme to your day (example: Meeting Days, Writing Wednesdays, Financial Fridays).

  • Block your schedule to allow yourself time to work on similar tasks.

  • Beware of how many communication channels you have open at any given time.

  • Try to have fewer screens and tabs open on your computer at one time.

  • Allow yourself enough time to get into flow with your work and don’t stop too soon.

In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, he says “focus and the ability to focus is the new IQ on the modern workplace.” And, “if you can cultivate the ability to focus you have a huge advantage.” 

Most of our workplace environments changed in the past few months. We have more on our minds and more distractions at every turn. But, you can control your actions and take these simple steps toward greater focus.

If you need help structuring and organizing your work, I’m your gal. I’ll be bringing you my top productivity tips to help you get back control of your time, accomplish more, and be present when you are done for the day.

You Got This! Sarah

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Hi, I’m Sarah
Sarah Ohanesian Productivity Coach

The productivity coach who creates programs for overwhelmed professionals who are ready to say buh bye to stress, anxiety, mental clutter, and analysis paralysis and hello to clarity, purpose, and success.

I bring systems and quick productivity wins to your day so that you can get back control of your time, accomplish more, and be present when you are done at 5.

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