Examples of Context Switching

by EvanJPalmer

poison cup challenge

Context switching is bad – try to do it as little as possible if you want to be productive and really benefit from Kaizen.

What I’m talking about when I say “context switching” is changing what your brain is focusing on. The more often your brain has to drop out of “The Zone” and switch into something then back to the original task, the more engery you’ll burn and the harder it’ll be.

So the typical context switch I’m talking about is when you’re at work, and you’re deep into the Henderson Account and it sucks. You really don’t care about The Hendersons or their accounts, but The Man buying your lifeforce so you have to do it. It’s boring and you remember that movie with… what’s his name… it was his first movie… the budget was like $7000 oh yeah, it was Primer. Has his new film come out yet – quick Google and your mind is no longer immersed in the Henderson Account, but is thinking about a cool movie. The context has been switched and you’ll need to exert effort to get back up to speed.

So this is a thing that you should try not to do. Which is easier than it sounds.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking recently about different types of context switches that happen to human beings. Firstly, we have the mind wandering one, which I talk about above. Here are a couple of other examples, that I think of as context switches.

When you’re working on something almost every alt+tab is going to be a physical manifestation of a mental context switch – whether you’re checking emails or Reddit.

Reddit, Instagram etc- flicking between little images 
So you go to Intstgram or Reddit or Facebook and you’re greeted with tonnes of little snippets of information that is generally not related to each other. You’ll see a picture of a cat, then a status about Cheryl’s boy trouble, then a photo of Mark at a party, then a video of a guy skating. All these amazing unrelated thing are little context switches that make your brain expel energy … and don’t really give you much benefit.

Working on a large project or little tasks
At your work do you generally have a big project to sink your teeth into or lots of little projects that take up your day. I am proposing that the poeple with the larger projects are more useful to the company and are gaining skills at a faster rate than those who are doing smaller jobs, and I put this down to context switching.

Changing jobs and careers
Do you change jobs regularly? Or even careers? I suggest that the more you do this the more energy is expelled making the switch and the more slowly you’ll be gaining useful skills. I’m not suggesting you stay in a job or career you hate, nor am I suggesting we work for the same company our entire lives. What I am thinking is that maybe we should think, until I can do a  job with something like an 80% efficiency, I should not look for more work. Or, once I feel I haven’t learnt anything new for a while, it’s time to move on. Rather than “screw this, too hard” change jobs.

Yeah, that’s all. This is just opinion. Not sure if there’s any real truth in it, but it’s worth considering how this concept could also be applied to sports and physical training. Do you think this could be applied to relationships as well? Is being friends with someone for a long time better than bouncing between groups of friends? Do you get more out of being with the one person for a long time, or having shorter relationships?