Say No To Context Switching. Please.

Context Switching

Thursday is here. And that means, time for a SoGv2.

The idea for today's piece comes as a result of a question that Krishna asked me. He said, how can one become more productive, reduce procrastination and get over the 'chalta hai' attitude that prevents most people from realizing their true potential. I told him that I will write the answer in today's letter. And thus!

Oh, and the standard disclaimers apply.

  • These are things that I've learned over time.

  • I am yet to become a world-winner.

  • They may not be applicable to you (I am lucky to have a large control over my time).

I will talk in terms of rules, inspired by, what else, Fight Club!

Rule 1. You will NOT do anything that is not on the calendar.
Ronak was the first one to point this to me.
This essentially means that EACH thing you do (however small it may be), you will not do unless you have allocated time for it on your calendar. Not just allocated. But you WILL put it on the calendar. Your life would be governed by the calendar!

Here are some examples...

  • Meeting a friend for dinner? Add it to the calendar. Vivek hates me for this. But it's ok. He will understand. He better does!

  • Going for a date? Add it to your calendar.

  • Checking email? Club this entire thing into a 15-minute task and add to a calendar. See Rule 2. And do NOT keep notifications on. The work most of us do is not really life-death and can wait for a few hours.

I use the good old Google Calendar. You may pick whatever you think is right for you. Use the one that your office has forced upon you. But use one. You can NOT do great things if a calendar does not govern your life.

Rule 2. Bunch recurring tasks together.
In one of my jobs, I would take immense pride in being fast with my response to emails. I would reply in like 3 seconds. It is now that I realize my folly.

Rather than checking all those emails as they come, I allocate a 15-minute window to check, reply and snooze emails. If you get tons of email, you could have multiple such windows during the day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one late at night. Etc.

You just bunched tasks that would eat your time without you realizing it!

Other examples of bunching could be catching up with friends (bunch with meals and get all friends to come together), checking updates on SM, reading news, commuting (and podcasts), etc.

See if each bunch could be completed with a Pomodoro and you are sorted. I use Egg Timer.

Rule 3. Track time ruthlessly.
I use Toggl (freemium) for this. As I write this, it is running in the background and it's telling me that I have been at this letter for 25 minutes and 13 seconds. 19 now. As I edit, it tells me that I've been writing for 01:30:48.

Once you know where your time is going, you'd spot time sinks.

For example, in my case, I realized that time it took me before and after a workout was something that I wasn't even aware of. For a 45 minutes work out, I was wasting 2 hours around it (you know, waking up, waiting for potty, shoes, going to the gym, waiting for the class to start, etc and then coming back, recovering, showering, etc). I would not account for it. And the solution? Still trying to find! You have any inputs?

The point is, know where you spend your time.

The ideal scenario is that you must know each minute of your time. I know about 30-minute chunks (where I spend those). I will try and break this into 15-minute chunks. And someday, I would have each minute accounted for.

Rule 4. Outsource everything you can.
I have outsourced things like laundry, cleaning, food. Even shopping. These chores take so much time that you don't realize. I mean, I am told cooking is therapeutic and all that but to me, cooking takes away so much time that it's not worth the relaxation. Rather, find a great food delivery service (that is healthy, organic, vegan, keto, whatever you like) and get them to deliver.

The question is, what all can you outsource?

A simple trick to find this comes from Naval and others. Peg your time at an aspirational hourly rate. For example, to me, each hour of my life is worth Rs. 10000. Next year it will be Rs. 15000. Now, any task that costs / valued less than this, outsource. Anything that costs / valued more, do.

What I eat, if I cook, I will spend about 5000 on it (assuming it takes 30 mins). So, order. Returning a thing that you purchased that you did not like? If it's more than 10K, I will go to the store. Or give it away.

Rule 5. And the key point of this letter. Make sure that you do NOT do context switching.
What is Context Switching? When you shift from one task to another.

Say you are working on checking your emails. Some colleague comes to you and wants to rant about how your boss is being unreasonable. The act of patiently listening makes you shift from your attention from the task at hand.

Lemme use cooking as an example. Say you have a stove that has 2 burners. On one, you are making tea. On the other, you are cooking Maggi. Now, your girlfriend comes in and says she want to boil eggs. You can't say no to her. But there are two burners. If you have to boil those eggs, you either ask her to wait (and sleep on the sofa) or remove half-cooked Maggi and put a pan to boil those eggs. While you are doing that, your hunger gets the better of you. You are rational and thus you remove the teapot and place the pot of Maggi on the burner. And now, the girlfriend wants tea as well. So you remove eggs and place tea on that burner. This continues forever and you end up with a gas bill, hunger pangs, an angry girlfriend, a sofa to sleep on and nothing to eat.

Our brain has limited burners. And each burner is occupied with pans (tasks). Each time you take a pan out and put another, you fuck with the dinner. And get closer to the sofa.

Another example. Multiple tabs on your browser. On one, you have Facebook. The other has your mail. The third has a lengthy article that you HAVE to read for work. When you switch tabs, you need to reset your brain to be able to understand what's happening on that tab. From FB when you goto your email and you have to answer a stinker from a customer, you will forget that great video that you saw on FB. And then when you switch to that academic paper, you will forget what you were replying to that customer!

This example? Juggling!

So, in life, when you know that a certain block of time is allocated for you to read, you will do anything but, read. Even if you don't have a book to read, you will read something on your phone. Read the billboards damn-it!

If you are on a date, you will keep the phone on the side and talk to the girl sitting opposite you.

If you are in the email mode, you will not be on FB or twitter or whatever.

If you are thinking, you better think. Daydream. But not scroll the feeds endlessly!

That's about it. In the end, here are some things that I do to help me stay on course. These could be useful to you as well. And these may or may not be scientific.

  • Get the "cap" mode on. Or, like in my case, Airpods mode. If you work in an office that has tons of distractions, tell everyone around you that you can NOT be disturbed when you're wearing that cap.

  • Face a wall. When you sit, rather than the desk looking over a nice view or a bright thing, try to face the wall.

  • Make it boring. Sit at the same place every day. Get used to the scenery. After a while, you will have nothing left to think (and thus get distracted by).

  • Spatial associations. Associate places with tasks. Every time you are reading, you sit in one particular place. When you reply to emails, you will sit in some particular place. If you are thinking, you will be at a certain place. Over time, as you go to those places, your brain will associate that location with that task! If they can make dogs salivate to the bells, you can do better!

  • Tell the world that you are on a mission. And even a 30-second distraction can prevent you from reaching your goal. The gap between good, great, genius and God is often these tiny distractions. Remind yourself every day about the mission you are on.

  • If you are forced to switch context, do NOT move onto the task. Just take a note (use a notepad on your computer or good old pen / pencil). And then revisit it once you are done with the task at hand.

  • Read up on Eisenhower matrix to prioritize tasks at hand. Do read about it.

  • PLEASE PLEASE please mute all notifications.

Phew. This is a long one.

This makes your life mechanical and boring?
Well... you will find this link useful.

That's about it I guess. Hope this helps.
In case you are curious, you may want to read this post that I wrote back in 2016.
Oh, and do tell me how you work and what keeps you on top of your game? What makes you get over your procrastinating habits? Help Krishna. And me.

Thank you for your time!
With gratitude,
2124, Starbucks, Powai, SoGv2-20
Enjoyed reading this letter? Forward to a friend and help them become a better version of themselves.
Got this from a friend? Subscribe to these letters at
Previous letters are archived here and here.

TAGS: Productivity, Getting Things Done.


Oh, and thank you for reading the footer!

Please note that with SoGv2, I have split my letters in three (you get first two by default)...

  1. SoGv2. Sent every Tuesday and Thursday. I am thinking if I want to send these once a week only. What do you think? In each SoGv2, I try to touch upon a thing that I believe can make us better. By standing on the shoulder of giants.

  2. #5onFriday. Weekend read. A weekly compendium of the best of what I saw, what I read, what I recommend. Has things from various disciplines that I am interested in - sports, poker, crypto, travel, fashion, films, writing, events, branding, Apple, entrepreneurship, philosophy, futurism, investing, wisdom, longevity and a million other things.

  3. #1KWAD. Sent on other 4 days of the week. Things that I'd rather put on my personal blog. Sent to only those who choose to subscribe. You will have to explicitly tell me to add you to this list (hit reply).

You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time you like.

And, in the end, in case you have some extra coins lying around, 1ABmUxhpbaXpBDrxtkpH8zFMBWSLCbK3sr.