This week we’re happy to feature our first guest pattern on Long Pressed! Lukas Kawerau at Cortex Futura writes and teaches about Tools for Thought, a category of patterns that has wide reaching implications and is quickly gaining clout in one of our favorite niches - Product Development. Templating Time originally appeared on Cortext Futura as How to Context Switch Like a Pro.
Try as you might, you will never be able to avoid Context Switching altogether. You can reduce it to the bare minimum but eventually you have to shift context - from one part of a project to another, one project to the next, or from work life to personal life.
There is a certain school of thought that advocates you should draw back, reduce exposure to outside influences, and become a hermit. An exaggeration sure, but the sentiment is pervasive.
If you decide you want to learn to meditate and you envision yourself at the top of a lonely mountain, eyes closed in silence breathing in fresh air with every breath, your teacher will question your self-awareness. What good will meditation do you in isolation? Do you not want to participate in life? A true master can meditate in the middle of a busy street without being disturbed.
The same is true for context switching and deep work. You can develop the skills to drop into focus when things around you are crazy. Of course, this isn't without bounds. ADHD is a real crutch. If you're not into the bustle of a coffee shop, nobody is going to expect you to be able to do deep work in one without a great pair of noise canceling headphones.
Apart from trying to minimize the frequency of your context switching in the first place, you can make the process itself faster and less cumbersome. You can reduce your Dynamic Loading times.
The way to do this is interstitial journaling. By taking notes as you work, you can create "hooks" that your mind can grab onto when you return to a project or task and making loading the context into your brain much faster.
While interstitial journaling alone can be useful, you can further improve workflows by using tools to overcome procrastination.
One reason the Pomodoro Technique works so well for some people is that by setting a timer you immediately reduce the horizon in which you have to focus. A decade-long project becomes much less scary if you force yourself to keep going for just 25 minutes and only have to consider what you need to accomplish in that amount of time. Setting the timer can dramatically reduce the amount of procrastination you're doing.
Just setting the timer often isn't enough, though. Apart from the scariness of long timescales, you need to know what you're going to do until the timer goes off. The solution of a lightweight checklist of questions to figure out that help you avoid obstacles that might get in your way.
We tie interstitial journaling, the pomodoro technique, and more efficient context switching back together with the Work Cycles method developed by Sebastian Marshall at Ultraworking. We plan a work cycle by asking ourselves 3 questions.
What do I want to accomplish?
How exactly do I want to start?
What do I want to avoid?
The value lies in being precise with your answers. Similar to Discovered Work, you don't want to write down answers to how you are going to spend your time that can be enumerated into limitless possibilities. "I'm going to write the first paragraph of the introduction of my dissertation" is much better than "I'm going to work on my dissertation". At the end of your time spent focusing you can actually say whether your goal was accomplished.
Knowing how to start (I am going to open up RStudio and look at analysis.R) and writing down your obstacles (If I get interrupted by a delivery I will bring it into the house and immediately return to work) helps you to get started because you've pre-loaded actions that don't need to be considered and distracting in the moment.
Finally, reviewing work you've completed on an interview is crucial as well. You'll want to grade yourself on how well you actually accomplished what was planned. This will give you a chance to write down new thinking in your current context via interstitial journaling, re-scope your time, and observe your working environment - distractions, state of mind, etc.
We recommend at least 30 minutes of work coupled with 10 minutes of planning, or longer for deeper work like coding and writing. You can combine these cycles into longer blocks in order to plan your context switching ahead of time. A/B switches between days don't cost as much when you implement interstitial journaling to save your work contexts.
I have multiple unrelated projects that I need to work on in a single day
I could get this task done if I could figure out how to start and commit a small amount of time without getting distracted
By using templates to guide your interstitial journaling, you can make returning to a project much easier, prevent procrastination, and spot patterns in your work to amplify or counter.
Longer time scale patterns like Objectives and Key Results can help you regain focus when you’re starting from a blank slate, such as at the beginning of the day when you need to decide where to spend your attention.
Over committing to the number of things you can work on each day with this method. 2 is preferred, 3 is possible, anything more is too much.
There are a lot of tools out there that provide the templating needs to implement this pattern and you don't need a special timer for the Pomodoro Technique.
From Ultraworking, you can find a Google Sheets or Excel Template to guide you in work sessions.
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