First, some revelations:Multitasking, defined
Context switching, defined
- Multitasking is trying to accomplish two or more tasks by quickly switching back and forth between them
- Multitasking is like juggling: you keep lots of things in motion for as long as possible, it looks like lots of work, but you’re not actually accomplishing anything except moving things around. You can get better at juggling, but you’re still just getting better at moving things around.
- Another analogy: texting while driving. This is the bad form of multitasking where you shift your attention rapidly between two tasks, each distracting from the other with potentially bad consequences. The good form of multitasking when driving: listening to an audiobook or music.
- We often conflate getting a lot done and doing lots of things at once.
- Queueing one background task while doing another is GOOD.
- Being distracted is BAD.
Common triggers of multitasking
- Context switching is the time, effort, process, etc. required to switch from one task to another.
- For people, this typically involves finding an acceptable stopping point for the current task, performing some steps to actually switch to the next task, and reframing one’s mind to think about the new task.
- It’s a computing term that is commonly applied to people trying to actively change from doing one thing to doing another.
- Also called “shifting gears.”
- It may seem like you're saving time, but you’re not. Those context switches aren’t accomplishing tasks, they’re taking up little bits (hopefully) of time that add up over the hours you work on two or more things.
- Multitasking and context switching train yourself to be busy. “Oh, let me just do this one quick thing” over and over again encourages taking on more work and doing things in an order that probably doesn’t match your priorities.
Know your trigger and declare an alternative response
- Lots of open tabs encourage you to click links, read, or look for deprioritized work
- Leaving your email or calendar open are easy ways to distract oneself
- Notifications on your desktop or phone are just an older form of click bait
- Natural pauses or "downtime" create opportunities to switch to something else
- Any small distraction. Even a conversation nearby can completely pull your attention away from your work
- Staying focused is hard and takes practice, especially in this day and age of constant information overdose.
- Write down your triggers when they happen
- Write down what you want to do instead of multitasking
- Pin them to your work area to make them visible
- Some positive alternatives to multitasking:
- Take a drink of water
- Do some in-place stretches
- Look up from the computer and focus on something far away
- Take some slow, deep breaths
- Put on headphones
- Avoid these at all cost!
- DO NOT switch to another program or tab
- DO NOT pick up your phone or another device
- DO NOT talk to other people around you while you're focused on work
- DO NOT eavesdrop on other convos
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