By Drew Beamer
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Have you ever gotten to quitting time, and even though you’ve worked all day long, there’s no feeling of accomplishment when the laptop closes? “I worked all day and it doesn’t feel like I got anything done!” It’s a common issue. Not just in the creative field, but in most intellectual work. Whether your team is working remote, in-office, or somewhere in between, it’s safe to assume that staying productive and fulfilled are at the top of everyone’s priority list. However, between email, slack, zoom calls, and other notifications, it’s easy to fall into a trap of perceived productivity through a common issue known as context switching.
What the hell is that? I’m just getting shit done.
Simply stated, context switching is bouncing back and forth between unrelated ideas, accounts, types of work, or different roles within projects. It can be made worse through the speed of the switch and the complexity of the task.
So why is this counter-productive?
It may seem like you’re getting a great deal done through multi-tasking, but here’s a little secret: true multitasking is a myth. As nice as it would be, you can’t fully devote your whole mind to more than one subject at a time. Even if you’re able to perform two different tasks at once, you have to divide your focus to do so, thus weakening the outcomes of your divided efforts. This is less apparent in some types of tasks than others, but the cost of switching focus is still there. According to Inc., we spend an average of only 1 minute and 15 seconds focusing on something before we’re interrupted, and it takes an average of 25 minutes to resume a flow state on that task post interruption. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous studies have confirmed the same overall trend with varying degrees of severity. It’s easy to see how an entire day can slip through your fingers.
Ok, you’ve got me there. How do I fix it?
There are a ton of ways to solve for this behavior, many of which are highly personal, but here are a few that work for us when we stick to them.
- Use your calendar to block time for deep work on your most pressing priorities first thing. Small tasks tend to add up if you’re not careful. Tackle the big stuff first.
- Customize your notifications to the bare essentials. FOMO is real when you see that little red dot. Do your best to keep social media (unless it’s part of your job) at bay. The same goes for how people can contact you with potential interruptions. You need to work as a team when applicable, but you should be in control of your time. Not someone with different priorities.
- Group similar tasks into time blocks. Have a handful of small edits to make on on-going projects? Make 15 minute mini-blocks for each of them in the second half of your work time.
- Triage your email. I know some folks will cringe at this one, but it’s ok to check email a couple times a day to prioritize your responses. If the need is immediate, they’ll call or text.
This is going to be an ongoing learning process for all of us. Most work environments have conditioned us for a fast-paced, context switching, all hands on deck mentality. And while it has its time and place, no one can sustain that pace forever without consequences. In the long run, learning to reduce this pattern will not only help the individuals in your group become more of an expert in their field, it will help them regain their sense of accomplishment, prevent burnout, and help your group create better work overall.
Our next article is going to be focused (no pun intended) on how to structure your time, mind, and workspace to achieve a state of deep work. In the meantime, we’re going to be working on slaying this context switching dragon.
Drew is an Associate Creative Director at FoxFuel Creative. He believes in long strategies and short messages.