The Road to Burnout is Paved With Context Switching

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Sophie wrote a great post about a pretty major source of stress: context switching.

Having a lot of work on my plate is fine. Meeting deadlines is fine. Planning long term projects is fine. Debugging code is fine. Writing detailed feedback is fine. Pairing with someone to teach them something is fine (fun even!). Interpersonal conflict is (unexpectedly) mostly fine. It’s when all of these things happen within an afternoon that I find myself reminiscing for the days of silently, calmly designing or coding for 6 hours at a time.

That resonates with me so much. People ask what my routine is, and I always laugh because I have no semblance of one. Just thinking off the top of my head, at any given time I’m:

  • Traveling to or from a conference or client engagement (as I was today)
  • (Finally) responding to emails
  • Managing my employee’s schedule, helping him through code problems, etc
  • Meetings with clients and collaborators
  • Slacking with clients and collaborators
  • Client-related designing and coding
  • Side-project/non-billable designing and coding
  • Running my business (invoicing, migrating bank accounts, chasing payments, etc)
  • Checking Twitter
  • Reading articles
  • Doing tutorials
  • Shipping out books (I’m self-fulfilling Atomic Design)
  • Writing a talk or workshop
  • Recording a podcast
  • Editing a podcast
  • Taking care of personal stuff (my home is also my office so there’s not a clean separation between those worlds)
  • Eating food

If you were to put all those tasks into a bag and pick any 5 at random, that pretty much sums up what I’m doing any given morning. And of course that’s not good. The Slack window in my right eye’s periphery right now isn’t good. The code editor window in my right eye’s periphery right now isn’t good. The 37 tabs across the top of my browser isn’t good. The starting-an-email-and-finishing-it-four-days-later isn’t good.

I’ve read a ton of productivity books, I’ve downloaded and used productivity apps, I manage reasonably decent to-do list and email workflows. But I don’t think I’ve tackled context switching with the necessary discipline. So thanks for the post, Sophie. It’s great to see how other people are managing their time.

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