My Life with Context Switching
we're in a hate/hate situation here
Okay, let’s get started.
First I need to take care of that reminder. It should be quick, so I’ll just get it done before I get started on my deeper work.
Alright, this should be simple. All I need to do is copy this thing here, then paste it over there, and then—
Wait, hold up. What’s this Discord notification? Hmm, I should probably check that right now. Oh man, I really need to respond to that ASAP. I’ll do that now and then get back to the other thing. No big deal.
But you know what? I might as well crank through the other notifications while I’m in here. They won’t take very long, then I can get back to the message I need to respond to, and then the, uh, other thing. What was that thing again? Hmmm. Oh, that’s right, now I remember. The reminder. Got it.
Where was I?
Lol, oh yeah, Discord.
Okay, I don’t need that, don’t need that. Hmm, this is interesting. I’ll mark that unread and check it out later on today.
Cool. Just gonna fire off a quick reply to this person. And this person. Uhhhh, no, not that one—I’ll get back to him this afternoon.
A text from the family group chat. It’s a pic from my mom. I’ll give it a quick heart reaction.
Okay, back at it.
And another one. Oh, that one’s just a heart reaction from Allison on the same pic. No biggie.
Okay, back to Discord. One more quick reply. And another. Annnddd, whew. Done. Still got about an hour until my meeting.
Time to get some real work done.
You know what would be nice, though? Some music. Let’s find something on Spotify that’s good to work to. Nice, there’s a new song from The Smile, that group featuring Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead.
Ohhh, I like this already.
Cool, so now I’ll get a Google doc going real quick using doc.new. Props to Stew for that tip from his crazy viral tweet last year:
Before I get started, I should flip over to Asana first to refresh my memory on what I’m trying to accomplish with this strategy doc.
Ah crap, I totally forgot I need to take care of that reminder. It’s just a quick email I need to send.
Ugh, just ignore that.
Actually, I’ll do the email later. Back to the strategy doc. C’mon, focus, Lyle. You only have so much time before the meeting.
What the hell is this song playing right now? I should find something I know already so I can just let it play. Hmm, let’s see. Maybe a Hans Zimmer soundtrack? The Dune one is so good. Nah, I’ll stick with my usual go-to—the Mr. Robot soundtrack.
Now back to the doc.
Ignore that too.
Hmmmmm. What to start with? What to start with? Just start typing something, man. Anything.
*15 minutes later*
Great, so I have a couple of rough paragraphs now. Better than nothing, I guess. I should use the bathroom before the meeting, though. At least I’ve got something started.
*5 minutes later*
Not sure why this popped in my head while I was using the bathroom:
Alright. Deep breath. Annnddd exhale. Meeting time.
This is about how my workdays have been going lately. I feel like a frenetic, flailing mess.
Then there are the times when I’m attempting to get work done when I also need to be on with my daughter Em. Not only am I context switching on my computer, but because she has cerebral palsy, I often have to get up to help reposition her or push a meal through the syringe attached to her feeding tube. It’s nearly impossible to get any deeper work done.
Instead of having a bit of discipline and trying to work more efficiently, I’ve been staying up until one or two in the morning. That way I have several hours when the house is quiet. The problem is I’m usually ready to just veg out and relax by then. Sometimes I push through it and get some stuff done. Other times, a movie, show, or YouTube rabbit hole wins out.
No wonder I’m fried by the end of the day.
My creativity has suffered. Maybe you don’t notice it as much as I do. Maybe those who did have already unsubscribed. I don’t know, I don’t keep track of who unsubscribes. I wouldn’t say I’ve been phoning in this newsletter. But I haven’t exactly been knocking it out of the park either. Like, I probably wouldn’t write those two cliché lines in the previous two sentences back-to-back if I wasn’t writing this at 11:45 pm the night before I’m publishing this piece.
It’s amazing I get anything of substance done.
I’m trying to do too much. I’m always adding new tools, new apps, new communities. New this, new that. New, new, new. It’s too much. Yes, part of the solution is letting go of things like inbox zero. But it’s time to cut something—many things. It’s time to prioritize.
It’s time to take my time bac—
Hmm, maybe I should check that really quick.
By the way, if you have any tips or suggestions on how to tame my context switching problem, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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The app cold turkey is amazing. It blocks certain apps and websites on my computer according to a schedule I predefine. (The only thing I can do on my computer before 9am is write.) I also use the screen time “downtown” feature to lock certain apps on my phone starting at 5pm (so the only thing I can do on my phone after work is read).
Even still, I’m so with you. There are too many ways to get ahold of me during the work day and I find it frustrating. I send all the notifications I can to my email so I have one place to check everything. And I have all notifications on my phone turned off except for calls and texts from my husband (I set my default text tone to silent, and then assigned a special text tone to my husband so that his still come through). I leave my phone in a drawer during the workday and only get up to get it if it rings.
But then there’s slack and discord... what stupid inventions for work! Call me if there’s an emergency, otherwise schedule a meeting when we can all collab on it or I’ll get to it when I answer my email....
I do a couple of things. First, I try to get up before everyone else to write. For me that’s around 5am. That usually gives me about 2 hours before the dog needs a walk, my wife gets up, my phone starts buzzing, etc. To make sure that I use that quiet time to write, I make sure to leave the document open on my computer and if possible, to leave the previous day’s work at a place where it’s natural to continue (so for fiction that means never leaving off at the end of the chapter, but instead pushing ahead to start the next one so that when I sit down to write I’m typing as soon as possible).
During regular daytime hours, I like sprints. For me, 20 minutes with the phone off and internet off too is doable (I write in scrivener so that’s offline, as opposed to Google docs).
Hope that helps!