The above is a standalone chart from my recent NISO Webinar, “Managing Change with Project Management Skills.” Notice the dates. The cost of context switching is not news, but there is increasing awareness of how this manifests.
Since Weinberg wrote his book, there have been many additional studies exploring multitasking concluding it is largely a myth. What appears to be multitasking is simply switching between two or more tasks, not giving full attention to any. We now know more about how apparent multitasking negatively affects IQ, brain development, and creative thinking.
There are distinctions between three major types:
The media is full of time management solutions to deal with media multitasking distractions at a personal level. Best practices can include things like limiting checking email to three times a day, turning off telephones or putting them in “Do Not Disturb” (emergency access only), and turning off notifications for personal reasons or because we are concentrating on writing a blog post. Since we all have multiple competing priorities, results improve when we work on one thing at a time with minimal distractions, leave notes of where we left off and what to do next. When we pick it up again, it will take less time to continue.
Project management skills also offer practical and pragmatic ways to implement changes across an organization to minimize the costs of context-switching. Awareness of the cost makes it even more important for management to prioritize and clearly define high-value opportunities. “Less is more” with impact on staff performance and the desire to maximize successful development and time to market.
The first step, and the one where our consulting services often come into play, is using internal and external information to evaluate options and opportunities for decision-makers. Once projects are selected for further review and potential implementation, clearly defining objectives and scope and engaging in a disciplined breakdown of features and/or tasks to accomplish objectives is necessary to establish priorities, estimate time and required resources, and coordinate how team members work together.
This same project planning discipline also makes it easier to reduce context switching costs. As just one example, when complex tasks are broken down, it’s easier for team members to focus on the highest value priorities and complete them within manageable time frames before picking up the next task or module.
The Agile approach takes this a few steps further by recognizing the benefits of assigning team members to one project at a time. There are other reasons for this approach but reducing need for employees to have to have to choose between multiple competing priorities is baked into this style. The principles are also active within projects, prioritizing high-value features to work on sequentially with incremental deliverables.
Managers have the same challenges they have always had to prioritize work. Context switching costs add reasons to either engage in projects sequentially or assign resources differently. Whether personal or organizational, one of the best ways to get more done in less time is to recognize the myth of multitasking, the true costs of context switching, and adopt work habits to counteract both.
Creativity in content, in services, in business models and marketing when they align into new ways of engaging the user draw my attention. This blog explores the innovations, people and trends that intrigue or inspire, offering insights into the future of publishing and scholarly communications.