In today’s fast-paced world, many of us wear several hats daily. You may be a “sales representative” but also spend your time as a “content developer” and “team leader”; not to mention you may end up wearing several other hats when you get home. It’s enough to give you whiplash.
You see, the issue isn’t just that we have all these responsibilities, it is that we try to handle them simultaneously.
We never spend the time to focus on the task in front of us. One study found most people average only 3 minutes on any given task before switching to something else.
How can anyone possibly do their best work if they’re running 30 apps, have 15 open tabs on their browser, and 10 text threads? That’s why we’ve put together a guide to creating a work schedule that promotes sustained focus over constant context switching.
What is Context Switching?
In computer programming, context switching refers to storing an active process in its current state so the system’s CPU can shift its resources to other tasks. A user can then instruct the CPU at any time to resume the process from the same point. Context switches consume a lot of resources, and system designers try to reduce the need for them. But these switches are necessary to allow operating systems to multitask.
Unfortunately, humans aren’t operating systems. When it comes to a to-do list, multitasking is a myth. When you think you’re simultaneously engaging in two complex activities, you’re context switching between them. And for people, context switching is a productivity killer.
Productive Time Suck
According to computer scientist and psychologist Gerald Weinberg, taking on additional tasks simultaneously can destroy up to 80% of your productive time.
Here’s how this looks in practice:
Focusing on one task at a time = 100% of your productive time available
Juggling two tasks at a time = 40% of your productive time for each and 20% lost to context switching
Juggling three tasks at a time = 20% of your productive time for each and 40% lost to context switching
With most workers these days trying to juggle 5 tasks at the same time, we’re losing up to 80% of our productive time each day just to context switching.
Seeing those stats should be a rude awakening for some of you. That’s a good thing, pain is usually the first step in growth.
The fact is single-tasking will make you more productive, more creative, and less stressed.
So how can we work on switching to this state of mind?
Work Like You Work Out
When we’re at the gym, we generally focus on the muscle we’re working out. We work a muscle hard one day and then give it a rest for the next day (or more) before coming back to it. This isn’t just to break up the monotony, but also to give your body time to recuperate before straining it again. We know our limits, get proper rest, and focus on consistent motion.
Working out your ‘Focus’ Muscle
If you aren’t used to focusing, it won’t necessarily come easily. Focus is a muscle, just like your quads or your biceps, it gets weak when you don’t use it.
So how can you start to work out your “focus” muscle?
One trick is starting your day with a meditation exercise. Here are 30 meditation exercises you can start right now.
Scheduling for Success
Just like in the gym, at work we know one of the biggest keys to success is planning for it. Visualize to achieve. Creating a schedule that allows for focus is your first step in breaking out of the context switching jail that’s holding you back.
When you start focusing on one activity you may start to experience guilt. You know there’s something else you can be doing and it may or may not be more important than what you’re currently working on.
One way to avoid this guilt is to know you’ve scheduled time to take care of the tasks you’re missing out on. Divide your tasks into two mindstates.
For example, one day is for working with others, and the other is for solo tasks.
By dividing these days you will be able to stay focused in your current mindstate while knowing you will be able to take care of tasks in the other mindstate the next day.
Your dual system will be specific to the type of tasks you have.
There are other ways you can do this, you can split your schedules into weeks. You can create an environment in your office that champions focus.
At the end of the day, the main goal is to offload your decision-making so you can spend more time focused on your most important work.