How to Minimize Context-Switching and Do More Deep Work

Switching between apps, toggling between tabs, juggling multiple activities all at once aren’t sustainable ways to work. Multitasking doesn’t create productivity gains because the constant context switching takes a toll on your brain. Retrain yourself to do deep work in a distracted world.

Published on
4 May

Stop Multitasking

The human brain is an amazing thing. It is capable of incredible feats of memory, pattern recognition, and creative problem-solving. But there is one thing it cannot do: focus on two tasks simultaneously. It’s impossible for our brains to actually perform multiple tasks simultaneously. In our constant task switching, we are simply redirecting our focus from one task to another over and over again, rather than completing both tasks at the same time. Psychologists believe the mental juggling required to conduct task switching has a cognitive load, a “switching cost”. Once distracted, a person typically requires 23 minutes and 15 seconds (according to Gloria Mark, Professor at the University of California, Irvine) to refocus their attention back to the original task. It’s remarkable that taking just 20 seconds to respond to a chat or email can result in more than 20 minutes of lost productivity!

Batch Tasks to Minimize Context Switching

If you're looking to optimize your schedule, the first step is task batching. This involves grouping similar tasks together and tackling them in succession. By doing this, you can cut down on cognitive switching costs, as it's less mentally taxing to hop between related tasks. Not only will this make you more efficient, but it will also help to reduce stress levels.

Planning your schedule with manageable chunks of work can help you stay focused. Dedicate 20+ minutes to a batch of related tasks or a single task before taking a break and switching to the next activity. This will help minimize context switching - which has been shown to negatively impact productivity - and allow you to focus more intently on the task at hand. Clifford Nass, author of "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop" and professor of communications at Stanford University, writes,

“The 20-minute rule is right, which is if you're going to engage in email, commit to doing 20 minutes of email. And when we propose this, people say email's not worth 20 minutes. My God, email's just such a useless activity. So then ask people to clock how many minutes a day they use email - 100, 200, but in little bits and bleeds. So it turns out you're much more efficient at the email, and more importantly, you're treating your brain better when you get off email if you do one focused email patch every interval for at least 20 minutes.”

If you're looking to streamline your schedule, consider task batching. It's a simple yet effective way to optimize your time and increase your productivity.


The next step is to plan your time. Too often, people fritter away their days with no clear purpose. If you want to be intentional about a task, then you know what you are doing and when. Start by estimating how much time you need to complete the task or reach your goal. Then, schedule the steps needed to finish the task according to priority. Get specific and make sure to leave some flexibility in your schedule so that you can accommodate unexpected events. By taking charge of your time, you can ensure that you always make progress towards your goals. By planning your time each day, you can make the most of every minute and maximize your chance for success. Be mindful about what you are focused on and when.

Protect Your Time

Now stick to your schedule, defend your time and flow through your day. It can be difficult to stay on schedule when there are so many demands on our time. Whether it's a last-minute meeting or an unexpected phone call, there always seems to be something that throws off our carefully planned schedules. However, having a plan makes it easier to reschedule the non-urgent and the non-important. Of course, there will always be interruptions, but if we keep our eye on the goal, we can overcome them and flow through our day.

Find Mental Clarity

Manually planning your days and weeks in advance can become overwhelming and tedious. But scheduling your days and weeks in advance front-loads your decision-making on what needs to get done and when, giving you confidence about your days while saving you time and mental energy. Having a schedule can also help you to take advantage of moments of free time, by allowing you to plan activities that you might not otherwise have considered. So if you're looking for a way to reduce stress and make better use of your time, consider scheduling your days and weeks in advance. Give yourself the time and space to work more meaningfully. Your brain will thank you!

Make Time Management Easier

Need help getting started? Smarty makes it easy to plan your best day, every day!

To have days where you’re not constantly context switching, you need to feel confident that you have a plan for everything on your plate. Smarty makes it easy to visualize your responsibilities. By letting Smarty know everything on your mind and relevant deadlines, you have a tool that will automate batching similar tasks together, will recommend what to do and when, and will help you rebuild the plan when interruptions inevitably pop up.

Take back control over your calendar and achieve your goals with this research-backed productivity system.

  1. Brain dump into Smarty and capture everything on your mind.
  2. Tell Smarty the urgency and priority and Smarty will keep track of the deadlines for you.
  3. Batch similarly tagged items and projects automatically with Smarty.
  4. Record estimates with Smarty and monitor your goals over time.
  5. Manually schedule or auto-schedule tasks with Smarty. Know exactly what to do next.
  6. Analyze with Smarty the hours spent in meetings or on tasks. See where your time goes.
  7. Rebuild your schedule with Smarty/ so you’re always focused on what’s most important.

Smarty reduces context switching by making time blocking, time batching and time boxing even easier. So you can do what you do best, and Smarty will do the rest :)

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