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Reduce Context Switching

In any given day, I find that I can be pulled in a lot of different directions to work on a number of pressing deliverables all with short deadlines.  I would imagine that’s true of just about every person’s job, but especially a Product Manager.  I’ve found that if I allow myself to be pulled from task to task or meeting to meeting, I’m unable to accomplish any single task well.

I have established the following tips to help me with switching context throughout the day so that I’m much more effective and productive.

Tip 1: Note taking

I’ve found it especially useful to have a method of taking notes on hand.  I have often found that as I’m just getting focused on a new task or topic, I have a brilliant thought about one that I was working on earlier in the week, or that day.  Any method for jotting down those loose ideas will work but you have to be consistent.  Consistency is important or you’ll waste time tracking down all the notes you’ve tried to capture.    In those moments when the brilliant idea arrives, write it down and know that you’ll come back to it later when you have time set aside for that topic.

Tip 2: Avoiding interruptions

The general thought is that for every 30 second interruption on a task, for example a co-worker asking an unrelated question, you’ll spend roughly 15 minutes getting back into the swing of what you were working on.  If you have the option, it’s usually best to try to avoid the unnecessary interruptions.   I have found that if I block my day to work on specific topics and prevent as many interruptions as possible, I’m much more successful at production.

Tip 3: Keeping tasks prioritized

At any given moment, I try to keep a mental list of the things that I know need to be accomplished per day.  When task switching happens it is because that task has become the highest priority item I need to be working towards.  Having a prioritized list also helps to prevent the mental distraction of competing tasks so you can focus on the highest priority item at any given time.  By keeping a prioritized list it will also help with preventing procrastination as well.

Tip 4: Schedule time for switching gears

When task switching has to occur, it’s usually a good idea to give yourself an extra bit of time for a break and to switch gears.  I’ve found that if I schedule a full day of back to back meetings on very different topics, I end up lagging further and further behind with each topic as the day progresses.  In my first meetings I am fresher and more able to jump in, but by late afternoon, I can lose 15-20 minutes of a meeting to mental tiredness.  Try to plan a couple of 5 or 10 minute breaks between meetings.  This will help your brain say focused.

Tip 5: Reduce extra distractions

I’ve found that when I want to be uninterrupted working in a private office, or from home is usually the best way to ensure uninterrupted time.  If you are unable to secure a location that’s completely interruption free, try communicating with the people around you to help you to be more effective.

Tip 6: Asking if it can wait till later

If it’s possible to avoid task switching, try to push off picking up the new task, if it isn’t the highest priority task, to a normal natural break in your day.  For example, try to keep the same task in the morning and switch to a new task after lunch.  Using meetings as switch points also works well since each meeting has a break point built in.

Do you have tips? Let me know.

For more on project management check out our other blogs.

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