The Pitfalls of Task Switching

Continuing my efforts to be as efficient as possible with my workday, I’ve been focusing on avoiding “task switching” as much as possible. There are a few different definitions out there, but task switching is essentially the act of quickly switching from one action or task to another. While jumping from a call to running an errand, then going to a meeting and checking email a handful of times in between does make you look busy, there’s often little to show for it at the end of the day. Task switching can also lead to poor performance and the feeling of being burnt out.

In a recent post, I reviewed a to-do list method that has been around for over 100 years. I’ve been using this method on a daily basis for around a month now and it’s been very effective for me. To recap, at the end of each workday I write down the six most important things that I need to accomplish the next day. These items are listed in terms of their priority. At the start of each day, I start working on the first item and won’t move onto the next item until the first is finished.

Using this to-do list method and avoiding task switching as much as possible has really helped with overall focus and the ability to provide critical thought when needed.

Some tips to help minimize task switching are as follows:

  • Turn off all notifications on your phone that aren’t essential
  • Keep your email program closed and only check it at two or three pre-determined times throughout the day. You’ll get a phone call if something is urgent and needs your attention immediately.
  • Be mindful of scheduling too many meetings. If possible, group them together at the start or end of your day so you don’t get interrupted several times throughout your day.
  • Make sure your workspace is free of distraction and wear headphones to help drown out potential disruptions.

In an age of near-constant distraction we need all the help we can get to complete our work in an efficient manner. I hope these methods can be as helpful to others as they’ve been to me.