A Fun Context Switching Game

Scott Francis
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For the Multi-taskers out there, here’s a great post that describes a game you can try at home to measure the effect of context-switching on productivity:

Here’s a quick exercise to show you the cognitive penalties for you, personally, to context.

You will need a pen, a pad of paper, and a timer.

Now on this pad create three columns […]
Now get your timer ready.

In each column, we’re going to write a letter, a number, and a then a roman numeral – in that order. […]
We want to do this to the letter “J”.

Again, we want to do A, 1, I, B, 2, II, C, 3, III….

Start your timer, do A through J, and then mark down your time.

Done? Good.

Now, do that again, but do the letters, numbers, and romans in sequence. So this time do A, B, C and on to J, then the numbers in order, then the roman numerals.

Set your timer, do this, and then mark down your time.

The point is, context switching costs you.  Something to remember when loading up your most valuable players with too many projects.

  • Warren

    Excellent illustration; seems obvious when you think about it, but still a surprisingly common issue. And of course, it also applies within a project; if you’re building coaches you get into a particular mindset, and switching out to do some intergrations, and then to do some higher-level process work, might make life more interesting but will not be efficient.

    • Right – it might make sense to do that switching if the coach ties into the integration and back – following the thread so to speak (might help your brain think of it as one context) – but switching between layers usually has context switching costs…

      I liked the illustration the linked article used too – easy to relate to