Minimize Context Switching
I am not able to code all day without any interruptions or fatigue, but I am often able to minimize context switching. On the days that I am able to control the amount of context switching, I have found that I leave the office feeling productive rather than defeated. Here are a few things you can do to maintain focus and minimize the effects of interruptions.
- Use a virtual desktop application. Virtual desktops segment your work area into specific categories with the aim of keeping you focused. They can help reduce the distractions of web surfing, email checking, and other focus-hindering tasks. Virtual desktops range from very sophisticated to surprisingly simple. I use Microsoft Virtual Desktop Manager (Power Toy), where I use one desktop for coding and one for communication.
- Leave breadcrumb notes when switching tasks. This simple habit allows you to refresh your memory quickly with low productivity cost. When the time comes to leave one technical task behind and take on another, take one minute to log your current thoughts in a to-do list so you can reconvene at the next opportunity. For example, if I am coding a Trading Application and I leave off at unit testing the TradeService, I will write, “Left off at testing the retrieveDailyTrades() method; need to investigate why trades after 2pm are not retrieved; then move on to integrating Bloomberg services.” Notes like this help jog my memory, and I am not staring into space the next day thinking, “Where did I leave off?”
- Jot down ideas in real time. Our minds are constantly at work, even if we’re not focusing on the task at hand. When you are coding, you may come up with an admin task that needs to be completed, or a totally unrelated idea may pop in your head. Don’t ignore it, and certainly don’t context switch and abandon the current task. Keep a notepad available (paper or electronic) to jot down the ideas and make time to expand on them later. This can clear your mind and help you focus, while preserving ideas for later consideration.
Working efficiently comes down to some basic ideas: Focus on your tasks, minimize distractions, and drive your primary task to completion. This is easier said than done. Adopting some of these habits takes some discipline initially, but once implemented, huge gains can be achieved. Hopefully some of the above tips can help you leave the office with your head held high and your to-do list shortened.
Thanks to Timothy Andrews and Austin Holmes for reviewing this article.