Multitasking Is a Myth, and Context Switching Is Destroying Your Productivity

What is task switching versus context switching?

Task switching is defined as when you shift back and forth between different applications to get work done. Context switching is when you move from one project to another due to distractions that change your focus.

Both are multitasking on steroids.

The cost of task switching, context switching and multitasking

Multitasking at this level is rough. According to,

…research has shown that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. In fact, some research suggests that multitasking can actually hamper your productivity by reducing your comprehension, attention, and overall performance.

Our attention span is getting a double whammy when you add in information overload.

A clever article, Death by Information Overload, in Harvard Business Review points out,

A few years ago, a study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard reported that the IQ scores of knowledge workers distracted by email and phone calls fell from their normal level by an average of 10 points—twice the decline recorded for those smoking marijuana, several commentators wryly noted.

And goes on to note, It takes 24 minutes to get back on task after opening an email (among other distractions).

Digital transformation in the workplace is stressing us out and lowering our IQs! Here are some suggestions for improving your digital workplace and bringing some calm to your desktop and working day.

How to minimize context and task switching

Turn off notifications for good.

Pop-up boxes, pinging noise, and flashing icons are just some examples pushing us from app to app. Humans are programmed to react to these stimuli. Just ask a Vegas slot machine designer about the dopamine hits that keep customers hooked on playing. Technology applications are designed to do the same, using similar tactics.

Let’s say you have to finish a big project by the end of the day, and it’s a tough one. You hear the ping and see the pop-up email notification, you have to click it. You answer that “important” email that just came in, but wait, other emails need your attention, so you answer those too.

You feel accomplished until you realize that you lost valuable time and that project is still due by 5 pm.

Why do most of us work this way? Research by University College London suggests that we’re biased towards perceiving anything challenging to be less appealing. Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura, who initially led the UCL team, said, Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest.

Notifications interrupt your workflow, tricking you into context and task switching and making you think you’re an accomplished multitasker. In reality, you’re just working harder and wasting the time needed for more important projects.

Work smarter. Disable all notifications on your work and personal applications. Designate specific times to check and respond to your emails and texts. You’ll be relieved when you break the unhealthy notification bond. Start single-tasking and watch your productivity soar.

Think differently. Organize differently.

We used to hail multitaskers as the get-it-done colleagues, and we now know that’s a myth. According to the American Psychological Association, …shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.

Realistically, we can’t avoid all task and context switching activities, but we can limit it, especially with notifications turned off. Gaining control requires us to think differently by consciously deciding what projects to focus on and how we organize our digital work life.

Consider working in digital workspaces, where all the information you need for your project exists in that one place, mostly free of other distractions. And in your project workspace, you collect all the information and files related to that project; so you can focus on the task at hand.

Introducing Tabjay to better handle multitasking

Studies show multitasking is terrible for your mental health, focus, and happiness. The right digital workspace frees you of unnecessary switching, ultimately moving you away from multitasking.

Changing the way you work digitally means improving your work productivity and your well-being.

Check out Tabjay, the workplace application built differently so you can work smarter.