context switching and employee productivity

Context Switching: Improving Employee Productivity

As I write this article, I am struck by a strong sense of irony. Because, while sharing information with you about context switching and its drain on productivity, I found myself engaged in an absurd amount of content switching myself.

I tried to keep track of the number of times I was pulled away from the task at hand. But I lost count pretty quickly. There was an email to answer, a meeting to attend, a sweet photo daycare sent over… you see my point.

“Context switching” is the act of jumping between various unrelated tasks without necessarily completing any one of them. It’s inefficient at best, and mentally draining at worst.

What causes context switching?

Often, I find that my context switching is driven by the tools I use to drive productivity. (Again with the irony.) My email, for example, is configured to alert me when a new message arrives. I get a visual notification, an auditory notification, even a sneak peek at the message content… tiny micro-moments that grab my attention and demand action. While it’s helpful to know when I have messages to read, the notifications can be distracting.

Sometimes it’s a complex workflow that contributes to context switching. For example, to approve a time off request, you probably receive a notification that prompts you to log into a specific application. So you’ve been interrupted by the notification, you have to remember and enter login credentials, then you need to navigate to and approve/deny the request. In that simple task, you’ve interacted with at least 2 applications and clicked 1-10 times or more.

Why is context switching bad for productivity?

At first glance, context switching might not seem so bad. Sure, you have to bounce around your system a bit, but doesn’t everyone?

It sure seems like it. In their recent blog, RescueTime shared research that shows that just by juggling 2 tasks at once, you lose 20% of your productive time due to context switching along.

According to RescueTime, context switching can consume up to 80% of our productive time.

But that doesn’t mean it’s ok, or that we shouldn’t try to change behaviors and tools to make improvement. Because of course we should!

So, what can we do differently?

Adjust your work style

I’ve seen lots of recommendations for developing good time management skills.

Time boxing, for example, can provide structure for those of us who primarily work on tasks that require long periods of concentration.

Booking all of your meetings on 2 or 3 days, leaving the remaining 2-3 open for uninterrupted work time might also be a viable option.

You could also decide to simply work to improve your attention skills through cognitive development. Any of these could work.

Adjust your tools

Workplace technology is only as good as its impact on your productivity and output. With all the technology at your fingertips, why not use it to your advantage?

Modify your notification settings so you only see the ones you deem important enough to grab your attention.

Use a virtual assistant like Cortana or Alexa. Those things are unbelievably powerful, and the skills you can enable are so beneficial to your productivity and wellness.

My personal favorite solution is to invest in an employee experience platform like Akumina’s so all of your micro-moments live in a single place that you can configure to your heart’s content.

With the power of our Intelligent Activity Streams, you can enjoy single sign on access to all of the applications you use each day. See the status of your tasks, your to do list, your email and calendar, as well as urgent communication from your company. The entire interface and its contents are configurable for you and your organization.

We wish you the best in your endeavor to increase productivity for yourself and your team. If you have any productivity tips to share, please find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

As always, we invite you to book a meeting with our employee experience experts to discuss productivity in the digital workplace.

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