All the "stuff" | Productivity
17 June 2021
We recently co-hosted a webinar with our friends over at Shift. Sandy Mangat, VP Growth & Marketing at Charli AI, and Michael Foucher, Director of Product at Shift tackled the nagging impact of context switching on productivity.
In this blog, we’ll summarize their insights on how to multitask less or if you must multitask, how to do it smarter and avoid the pitfalls of context switching.
But first…what is context switching…exactly.
We all context switch…a lot.
Context switching might not be something you are actively aware of, it’s become so ingrained in our daily lives that most of us barely notice when it’s happening.
According to Sandy “It’s something we all do, I think we know it by another name, its multitasking, and we think we have the ability to work on more than one thing at a time, but what we’re really doing is switching context really rapidly between things like email and zoom and that blog you’ve been trying to write.”
Based on an independent productivity survey of 1000 professionals commissioned by Charli AI last year, 63% of us are working between two and three tasks at any given time.
Single taskers are very much in the minority, which means most of us are constantly switching contexts, and this can actually turn into a huge problem if left unchecked.
Based on their own experience and user research Sandy and Michael believe this issue can often manifest physically in your digital or physical workspaces. “I don’t know about you Michael, but in our work from home remote work world these days, It feels like everything’s done in the browser. As a result, I’ve got a million tabs open at the moment”
Too many tabs is a real problem
Michael was curious about what the costs of the tab problem might be and came across interesting research from Carnegie Mellon called “When the Tab Comes Due: Challenges in the Cost Structure of Browser Tab Usage”.
Here are some of the issues uncovered in the research:
- We have limited attention so if we have too many tabs, it’s difficult to focus and we feel overwhelmed. And that’s one of the issues that are encountered by having too many tabs.
- People feel limited by screen real estate. Many of us are working on laptops with15 inch or 13-inch screen, and you know you’ve got your browser open and you have so many tabs and you literally don’t even have enough room.
- You have so many tabs open and you might have them in multiple browser windows or that your computer begins to slow down.
- People feel embarrassed by sharing their browser because it looks like there are hundreds of tabs open.
But as Michael points out “people often use a browser, and all the tabs are open, as a reminder system of things that they need to do.”
So how do you keep an organized space without losing some of these crucial visual cues that help you keep track and stay productive?
How to go from Chaos to Calm
#1 Start small and stay consistent
Some personalized tips from Michael based on his experience and talking to some of the most productive people.
“For me, what I’ve done is I take a bit of right at the beginning my day, less than five minutes, and I do it either in digitally or you can do it on paper, just write out a list, I often call it the punch list of things that you want to get done today…And then, the first thing you do is you knock off the shortest ones first.”
- Take 5 minutes at the beginning of your day to create a list.
- Knock off the shortest task first
- Track and limit time spent on tasks
- Take regular breaks including exercise
#2 Organize your Digital Workspace
Minimizing distractions is a big focus for the Shift team, it’s why they built the Shift browser. Michael shares how the Shift browser’s notification features allow him to minimize distractions.
With Shift, you can bring all of your email inboxes, calendars, cloud drives, and apps into one digital space.
“So, I’ve had up to five or six accounts in my Shift at one time. And one of the neat things we have here and we built in pretty quickly after about a year, was this ability to mute notifications so you have as many emails, and calendars attached into one app, it’s going to generate a lot of desktop notifications.”
Even if you have multiple calendars, Shift will always mute notifications based on your meeting schedules across all calendars.
Create your workspace
When the pandemic forced us all into remote work it made one thing very clear, built-in laptop cameras are pretty terrible. You’re on zoom calls all day and looking at yourself in this grainy view.
So part of what Michael did to improve both his physical and digital workspace was to ditch the built-ins and put his DSLR to good use after all travel was on hold so it was not getting used.
“So I figured out how can I connect my DSLR up to my computer and did some research get a capture card got a decent microphone, none of this cost very much, and I was leveraging something I already had. And for me, this was part of creating my physical flash digital workspace. So that was a fun little exercise, through, through the pandemic and I think it’s definitely helped me.”
Communicate better remotely
Communication is so important to productivity for modern workers. Sometimes more than half our day is spent on email, Slack, or zoom connecting with our teams to move the ball forward on projects.
Being remote has created challenges for many teams, sometimes you can get stuck in long back and forths over Slack or Email, or maybe that zoom call could have been an email. It’s tough to figure out how to maximize productivity while minimizing the amount of context switching between communication apps and your actual work.
For Michael, he immediately created a strategy for remote communication with his team. Instead of the long Slack chats, he wanted a way to replicate the office shoulder tap, to recreate the magic of a quick response. “For me, I have this slower sort of text snippet tool, where if I need to ask someone a question. I just drop it into Slack and say hey do you have a minute to chat, and the person if they’re available will say, Yeah, I’m sure. And then I immediately have another text snippet that has my default zoom link, like my private room, and boom, we’re in talks. And the issue or the question gets resolved, almost immediately”
Sandy and the Charli AI team went further and established some SOPs for Slack or as she calls it a “Slack Manifesto”.
“We created these guidelines out of a desire to get things done while respecting each other’s boundaries. Giving people guidelines like, set yourself away OR if you don’t always ask ‘@’ people in conversations directly was really key because otherwise, you fall into the distraction trap”
Context switch quickly and effectively
The problem with context switching arises when you’re doing it too often, not completing tasks, or not getting enough time in one context to be productive and focus.
Despite the downfalls of context switching and multitasking, sometimes the reality is that it is absolutely necessary, but as Michael shared there is a way to context switch without creating chaos.
“What we’ve done in Shifts, is you’re able to add your email accounts, and all of your apps in one place, and create a mental model that makes it easier on your brain to move between them in context switch that way, which is great.”
Shift also makes it easier by allowing you to organize your tabs in workspaces or in the context of a particular inbox.
#3 Declutter and keep content organized
Going from chaos to calm for Sandy is all about keeping her most important documents and links organized. As a marketing and growth leader, she has to keep track of a lot of information, from campaign strategy docs to an interesting blog on the latest growth tactics.
She shares Charli’s Three Rule strategy for getting and staying organized.
Rule #1 – Choose a hub for all of your content
Rule #2 – Don’t procrastinate and spend a few minutes organizing content every day
Rule #3 – Embrace one process and then stick to it
#4 Find ways to stick with your habits
- Don’t try and do it all, pick 2 or 3 habits at first
- Put reminders in your calendar for the end of the week tab cleanup or end of the month content dump to Charli or any other tool
- Gamify habits for yourself with streaks, or a simple checkbox system
- Find the right tools like Shift and Charli to help you stay on track
More from Shift and Charli
Watch the full webinar to hear more about Michael and Sandy’s tips and recommendations for combatting context switching burnout, keeping your tabs under control, and getting your content organized.