Some things that we do to improve our productivity are big things: use a task list rather than memory, say “No” appropriately, block calendar time, etc.
Other productivity-improvement efforts are subtle. Understanding task transitions is one of those. But, small changes can have big impacts.
A task transition is just what it sounds like – a mental and physical shift from one task to another.
When we are being productive, our task transitions are a smooth process of moving from one thing to the next.
Transition periods between tasks are also full of productivity-stealing temptations. We may interrupt a colleague to chat, get involved with social media, or get immersed in email, thus losing minutes – or even hours – of time.
The opportunities to lose time when you are ending one task and starting another is one reason that multitasking is ineffective. When you are multitasking, all you are doing is rapid-fire task switching.
Most people find it challenging to go from one task to another seamlessly. It is too easy to lose “Flow”, that state of mind in which you are focused on the task at hand and not distracted by anything else. The mind is still in one place and doesn’t want to leave it.
However, effective transitions from one task to the next are easily achieved with a good mixture of forethought and self-discipline.
My recommended method of transitioning from one task to the next has four primary elements:
- Group similar tasks together. You will maximize your Flow state by keeping your mind in one place.
- Decide ahead of time which tasks you will be working on that day, or during a time window.
- Remember that the transition between tasks will be smoother and the adjustment time faster if you have identified the second task ahead of time.
Tackle Task A
- Begin with the most difficult and least familiar task first; the second one will be easier.
- Work the task
- Before putting the task away, jot down a few notes about what was completed and what needs to be done next. Make sure your notes are readily available to you the next time you work on the task or project.
- Update your To-Do list with any next steps.
- Finish the job. Close all open windows on your computer. File or toss all papers on your desk related to the task.
- For particularly long or complex tasks, take a 5 to 10-minute break to put space between the project completed and the upcoming one.
- Do one or two smaller tasks in between two larger ones. However, use the timer app on your phone to help you get back on track quickly.
Tackle Task B
- Review the second task and decide what needs to be done. That will ease you into the task and give you a clear starting point.
- Work the task
- Wrap-up Task B, making notes of progress and next steps
- Finish the job
With a little pre-planning and a functioning system to manage action items, you will find fewer temptations to procrastinate during the intervals between tasks.
You may be happily surprised that you will save time overall, complete more tasks, and experience lowered levels of workplace stress.
If you like my articles, you will love productivity coaching. Contact me for a no-cost-to-you initial assessment.
Are you ready to get serious about doing the right things AND doing things right?
Check out my eBook Corral Your To-Dos: and don’t rely on your brain – at all.
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at email@example.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
This is a great look at how to shift smoothly. I know that when I’m in the zone, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would be proud of me, but there are also days where there are temptation dragons in the seas of transition. Intellectually, I know that if I work my list, I can accomplish great things, but no matter how much flow I’m in ONCE I’M IN, getting started on that next task is so much less appealing than sneaking a look at social media. This was a great Monday morning post for starting the week as I mean to go on!
…and, a PSA for those interested in the Father of Flow, Google says Dr. C’s name is pronounced muh·hei·lee chik·sent·mee·hai·ee.
So often we forget to build in the transition pieces from task to task or appointment to appointment. What you describe here is an essential part of being more effective/productive during the day. I have certainly had the experience of going down the rabbit hole of social media or email responding. BUT, I know what helps me to NOT do that. I’m a huge user of my timer. Before I begin the next thing, I set my timer. It will ding with enough time remaining to wrap up what I’m doing and shift to the next thing. What I love about the timer is that it allows me to be fully engaged in what I’m doing without worrying about the time. Then when it’s shifting/transitioning time, the sound rings. I get to reassess to see if I can continue with what I’m working on, or if I need to make a hard stop to prep for the next thing. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
I also am a time bather, as you suggested. Grouping certain types of tasks or activities together makes it easier to shift from thing to thing.
I love timers, too! They are a simple but powerful tool.
Your “Shifting Gears” step feels very much like a reset for preparing for the next task. I can see how that would be beneficial to get your mind to set aside what you were just working on and gear up for the next project.