Tracking your own context switches

Why I do Time Tracking

At one point, I tracked every context switch during my work day. I kept a legal pad next to my mouse and I would write down the time whenever I switched between coding, emailing, surfing, talking to someone in my cube or walking around to find someone I needed to talk to.

People thought I was odd. They’d ask what I was jotting down when I noted my context switch, so I briefly explained it. “Okaaaayyyyyy?”, they’d say. An unintended side-effect was that people did end up bugging me about random things less. In fact, it was way more effective at that than putting up a sign that said “unless something is on fire, email me”. So it goes.

I never ended up running any aggregate numbers on the data. But, it did give me an idea about the frequency and cost of my context switches. I wish there was a better way to track this sort of thing passively. I’m sure it would still shock me how much time I go in and out of focus.

If you’ve never tried this sort of experiment, it’s worth running for a week or two. You’ll almost certainly notice something worth trying to cut out by glancing over the list of things you’re spending time or wasting focus on.

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