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I really like being able to focus on one activity and only that for a prolonged period of time. I could spend days on end doing one type of activity as I feel that the longer I focus on it, the easier it becomes doing it because I sink into it and become absorbed by it. It feels like a locomotive picking up momentum and wanting to exploit it as much as possible rather than having to step on the brakes and change the tracks.

Conversely, I am pretty bad when it comes to shifting from one activity to another. It almost causes mental pain to have to shift and I see it as a logistical inefficiency. Examples include shifting between projects in the same day at work, shifting between types of work when I do home improvements (which I try to manage by scheduling so as to minimize shuffling because I have no boss there), shifting from work to home activities and vice versa, getting out of bed on weekends (transitioning that often takes hours) etc. Also takes me forever to get ready when I need to go somewhere.

Needless to say, life activities are diverse and complex and doing just one thing is not realistic. Therefore, it is good to be mentally agile and be able to transition from one chore to another quicker and more painlessly. Could it be that I am just lazy and looking to exploit the momentum to the greatest extent possible (which has its advantages because lazy people often devise clever solutions to be able to do less work)? I am looking for suggestions how to be quicker in this regard.

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2 Answers 2

Before trying to become a more agile "task-switcher" you may want to consider these observations (I wish I had references but I don't at this time):

  • People are more efficient when they don't switch tasks. You should stay focused on the problem at hand. That is why software development methodologies like Scrum puts emphasis on the fact that you put tasks into time-boxed sprints (often 1-2 weeks) where no other task should interrupt you. You decide what to do, and then you do it.

  • Avoid multitasking. Only very few people have been shown to be able to handle multiple tasks at the same time in an efficient manner.

  • Interruptions (like someone starting to talk to you while you are busy working with a complex problem) may cost you 20-40 minutes to get back on track again.

In conclusion, the human brain simply doesn't seem suitable for rapid task switching.

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It can be difficult to focus on a very boring task for more than a couple days, especially when I'm trying to focus on it almost exclusively. –  Anderson Green Apr 14 '13 at 17:57
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you might want to use a few things from GTD arsenal:

  • try to list and prioritize all your projects (in this case project is anything which takes more than one action to complete)

  • for each project list at least one immediate physical action (i.e. something you can start doing right away)

  • when you are shifting between projects, try to "save the state" of the project you are leaving at the moment (write down all things you would like to me reminded of when you return to this project in the future, make sure to mention first physical action you will be doing when you get back)

  • take your time, enjoy the process of shifting (yes, it could be fun).

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