Transcript: The Cost of Context Switching & How You Can Minimize It

March 7, 2023

AMY PORTERFIELD: “The people they studied spent just under four hours a week getting their bearings after toggling to a new application. So over the course of a year, that adds up to five working weeks, or 9 percent, of their annual time at work. I think that's a heck of a lot of time wasted simply going from app to app. And beyond that, constantly readjusting also takes a toll.”  

INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started. 

AMY: I've got a podcast recommendation for you, I mean beyond Online Marketing Made Easy. If you love this podcast, you're going to love the podcast by Scott D. Clary. It's called Success Story, and it's brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network and features Q&A sessions with successful business leaders and keynote presentations and conversations on sales and marketing and business and startups and entrepreneurship, all the stuff we love, right? And you can hear episodes like “Unleashing Your True Potential: A Practical Guide to Boosting Self-worth and Wealth through Authenticity” and another episode, “How to do Content Marketing Properly.” So listen to your Success Story wherever you get your podcasts. 

Hey, there, friend. Welcome back to Online Marketing Made Easy 

I wanted to kick off this episode with a question for you, and depending on what you're doing, you may or may not be able to answer it 100 percent accurately, but you can estimate. And the question is this: how many different applications do you use throughout your work day in order to do your job? Like, is it four, five, ten, fifteen? I know in my business there are a few. Asana is a big one. Also, Slack; Voxer; Searchie, Kajabi—I use both. And I'm constantly using different things on my phone. I use the Notes app. Then, of course, all the social-media platforms.  

So the reason I'm asking you this question is that I recently read an article about context switching in the digital workplace. Now, when I say context switching, I mean toggling between two applications, like going from Slack to Google spreadsheets or from Asana to Dropbox. Those are two more that I use: Dropbox and Google spreadsheets and Docs and all of that. So it's going from one application to another.  

Now, researchers wanted to figure out how much time and energy is wasted when you go back and forth between several different applications, because let's be real: it's not just the physical act of pressing keys that takes effort. The app interfaces are different, the layouts are different, and their purposes are also very different. And it's not like you just switch over and immediately hit the ground running; your mind has to get its bearings. And that's what researchers set out to discover: how much time it takes for your mind to adjust.  

They say that on average the cost of a switch is a little over two seconds, and the average user, in the data, they toggle between different apps and websites nearly twelve hundred times a day. So when you first hear two seconds, you're like, no big deal. But when you think about how much you toggle between apps and websites and all of the things, that's nearly twelve hundred times a day. That means that the people they studied spent just under four hours a week getting their bearings after toggling to a new application. So over the course of a year, that adds up to five working weeks, or 9 percent, of their annual time at work. I think that's a heck of a lot of time wasted simply going from app to app. And beyond that, constantly readjusting also takes a toll. 

So if you're like, “Amy, four hours a week, that's not that big of a deal,” but it's more than that to me. I think, what I just said, I think it takes a toll on us. In fact, psychology and neuroscience shows that context switching increases the brain's production of cortisol, which makes it harder for us to focus. That's what I mean by taking a toll. So it makes it hard for us to focus.  

And I won't lie. I can 100 percent see how that would be true, and I've seen my own efficiency and productivity go down when I toggle between all the things. And because I'm aware that context switching slows me down, there have been a few things that I've actually had to change because it kind of freaked me out, and I don't want my mind—that's another thing. My mind just always feels, like, a little frazzled. Like, “Oh, my gosh.”  

Sometimes, especially because I'm in a book launch right now, I come downstairs at, like, six o’clock, and I work upstairs, and my whole upstairs is kind of like Amy Porterfield headquarters. I've got a lot of opportunities up here, so I pretty much spend the whole day upstairs. And I go downstairs, and Hobie’s down there waiting for me. And sometimes I look like I was hit by a train. Like, holy cow, my mind does not work anymore. And that, I think, is because I context switched throughout the entire day.  

And then think about this. Imagine how I'm showing up for my husband. Imagine how, basically, he gets the dirty leftovers at the end of the day. Like, it's not a pretty scene. And so I also don't want to end my workday frazzled, like I’d got hit by a train. And I think that eliminating some of this context switching helps me not do that on the regular.  

So I said that I've done a few things that have changed this. The first thing I do is that I plan out my ideal work week. And of course, I learned that from my mentor, Michael Hyatt, from his book Free to Focus. And how I do that is I set themes for each work day. So I work Monday through Thursday. So, for instance, Tuesdays are my video days, so I only focus on video on Tuesdays, and I'm able to stay in the zone. And because I sometimes struggle with video, having this set theme from the beginning allows me to wake up in the morning and think, “Okay, let's get into the right frame of mind. I may not love making tons of videos, but today is video day. Let's get to work.” So I love waking up and knowing what my day is going to look like. I love working on my day the night before so I wake up and I'm like, “All right, here we go.”  

Another thing that I've done is I put some guidelines in place for my team, specifically around Slack, so that they don't feel like they need to stop what they're doing and check the app every time there's a notification. I do not want them doing that, even if the notification is from me. So I don't expect my team to be in Slack 24/7, nor do I expect them to respond to me or anyone else at a moment's notice. In other words, I intentionally encourage my team to stay out of Slack because guess what's happening when they're going back and forth on Slack all day? They're not able to focus on their work. And here's the thing: as the leader, it's important that you give permission to your team not to be at your beck and call and not to have to answer you back right away. You want them to know that they don't have to be tethered to their managers and that you do not expect them to respond right away to every ping that they get. So that's important.  

And then, the third thing that I think has really helped me and can help you as well is you can look at all the different tools you use in your business and all the different ways you communicate and manage projects and ask, “Is there any way I can simplify this?” So let's say that you use Voxer for text messaging, Slack, Asana, Zoom, Gmail, Loom, and Google Drive. Well, that right there is a context-switching nightmare. So simplifying and streamlining your communication systems in the business can also help with the context switching. So maybe you don't need all of that. I don't know. It's just something to think about.  

And then, finally, the most important thing you can do is to give yourself permission to stay focused and in the zone. Setting timers is a really great way to do that. And you're just working until the timer goes off, meaning you're working on one specific thing. You’re not on Zoom, or you're not in Asana or on Slack. I'm in a Google Doc. I'm working on x, y, z. The timer’s on for twenty minutes. Go time.  

I remember when Brendon Burchard was writing his book, and he shared with me that when he wrote his book, it was on a computer that had no Wi-Fi and no apps. It was just a word-processing doc on his computer. There was nothing to distract him while he was writing his book, and it really streamlined his focus.  

So can you imagine if we sat down at a computer and it didn't have social media, it didn't have all the apps, and it just had the one thing you needed? I think someone needs to invent that. Or maybe there is something like that, where you can't move around. I don't know. It sounds a little wild, but I love it.  

So if that means that you have to put your phone somewhere out of reach or shut down all your apps or set a timer in order to stay in the zone, do what you need to do, because I really do think that context switching, beyond losing five weeks a year—if that doesn't, like, blow your mind—beyond that, what is it doing to your mental health? And that's spike in cortisol, that's a big deal. So I think this conversation was important to have, and that's why I'm here with you today.  

All right. So those are just a few things that you can do to minimize context switching. Just a quick review. Number one, theme your work days. Number two, before you get out of bed in the morning, know what your day's going to look like, meaning the day before you set it up. Set some guidelines for yourself and your team around using these apps, like, the expectations. Look at all the tools you're using in your business. Simplify if you can, and give yourself permission to stay in the zone and create an environment that supports that, and let your team know you want them in the zone as well.  

Okay, so I got some homework for you. I want to hear what you plan to do in order to reduce the amount of context switching so we can help your mental health and your productivity. So, you know I'm @amyporterfield on Instagram, right? I just want you to DM me. Tell me one thing you're going to do in the next twenty-four hours to help with this, because I'm telling you, you're going to be happier at work and more efficient if you take this stuff seriously.  

All right. I hope you love this Shorty episode. I think it's an important topic. I want to hear from you. Go to @amyporterfield on Instagram. And I can't wait to hear what you think.  

All right, my friends. I'll see you on Thursday for a longer episode, same time, same place. Bye for now.  

Listen, it's time to get out of those spreadsheets. I hope that's music to your ears. With HubSpot CRM, or customer-relationship-management platform, you'll have real-time data at your fingertips so your teams can stay in sync across the customer journey. You can build better content, generate more conversions, and get the context you need to create remarkable experiences at scale, all from one powerful platform. That's why more than one hundred fifty thousand companies use HubSpot, including mine, to run their businesses better. Plus, HubSpot’s user-friendly interface sets you up for success from day one so you can spend less time managing software and more time on what matters: your customers. There's no better time to get organized, so get started for free at today. 

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