The perils of Context Switching for Product Managers
In the era of constant notifications, context switching has become a necessary evil for product managers. On any given day, a product manager might have to communicate with subordinates, sales executives, marketing managers, developers, and designers.
We are under constant pressure from multiple stakeholders to accommodate as many tasks as possible into our day, even at the cost of impacting the quality of work.
It’s completely inefficacious for the PMs. In this post, we’ll discuss:
- What are the perils of context switching
- 5 step framework to minimize context switching & increase productivity
Perils of context switching 👎
- Drop-in productivity
Susan Weinschenk in her article “The True Cost of Multi-Tasking” mentioned that — “ Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.”
Since context switching is always so tempting and takes less than a second — it seems inexpensive at first to respond to a colleague's slack message instantly while finishing your PRD. Sum up all of these switches across a day, and you could be losing more than half of your productive time.
- Reduced effectiveness
Multi-tasking for PMs also results in the reduced overall effectiveness of the tasks. You might have been able to attend to 10 tasks a day but your outcome related to each task will turn out to be of poor quality. Your PRDs might miss edge cases, your discussion with stakeholders will be incomplete and not convincing, and you will be entering into meetings unprepared. This will have a long-term impact on your overall effectiveness as a PM.
5 step framework to minimize context switching
So as a product manager, a role in which you are almost encouraged to accept context switching in your day-to-day, how are you supposed to be effective & productive in your role? I have been grappling with this question for quite a long time & I have been trying to learn from my peers and product leaders around me to answer this question convincingly.
Here is the 5-step framework:-
1. Combine similar themes
Context switching between completely different themes is quite draining and will eventually make you less productive. The ideal way is to combine task-based on similar themes and allot a time slot during your day or one day of the week. For instance, all design-related discussions can be clubbed to one particular day of the week and thus minimizing the negative impact of context switching.
2. Practice a response schedule
We take pride in responding fast to slack messages or responding to emails. However, in hindsight, not all the quick responses result in moving the needle for your tasks or project. Being organized is more crucial than. being quick. This suggestion can feel counterproductive. We are more driven by the number of tasks rather than quality so if we spend a day responding to 15 slack DMs and 10 emails, we will end the day on a high note feeling super productive.
The pitfalls of responding fast are grave. Each time you respond, your context switches from your active task. In reality that results in a drop in productivity.
Instead, create a plan & reserve slots on your calendar to explicitly respond to emails and DMs, then turn off your laptop & phone and close your email and slack.
And don’t worry if anything is super urgent, you will anyway get a call from the respective person.
3. Focus time is sacrosanct
Every PM has a focus time blocked in their calendar but how many PMs end up following it religiously.
It’s a ritual you should never miss and especially for high outcome initiatives, such as defining the product vision for the next quarter. These “focus times” range anywhere from 2 hours to 3 hours, depending on the expanse of the task ahead. Proactively communicate with your colleagues and teammates about this so that you aren’t disturbed during this time slot. Auto-decline any meetings that conflict with your focus time.
This will ensure that you are able to address critical tasks with utmost sincerity and focus.
4. Brutal prioritization in action
PMs are often deciding the priority of the features and are thus expected to master prioritization. PMs need to apply the same principle in utilizing their time. Whether it’s engineering resources or time, both are scarce in nature and deserved to be utilized wisely.
Decline the meetings without any agenda or action item on you. Politely say no once you have decided the importance of the task. The most common way to prioritize is is by using the Eisenhower matrix, which classifies tasks by importance and urgency, then recommends actions based on these classifications.
5. Say goodbye to notifications
Notifications are the easiest way to lose focus and fall prey to the after-effects of context switching. Our digital environment shapes our ambiance and thus it manifests the necessary ingredients to become productive at tasks.
Once you have kick-started focus work then turn off the notification & even if it is for long hours, and ensure that you are sticking to the routine and not taking a break as an excuse to check a few Slack DMs in between.
As a PM, you can’t get rid of context switching but you can definitely make a sincere attempt to minimize the negative impact of context switching by following this framework. Let me know if that helps you :)
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got ideas to contribute to this conversation please comment. If you like what you read and want to see more, clap me some love! Follow here, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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