Team Management
Team Management

3 min read

The Hidden Toll: Understanding the Impact of Context Switching on Team Productivity


Jan 2024


Do you ever think while switching between tasks?

For most of us, our day starts with checking emails, catching up on collaboration software, and listing out today’s task lists. This involves a lot of app opening, checking & responding to notifications, and importantly switching between multiple tools and tasks. 

Well, 70% of Americans check their phones within 5 minutes of receiving a notification, and the average person receives 65-80 notifications each day. Complimenting that, a study conducted by the University of California shows that it takes, on average, 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction.


This means that, when you shift or divide your attention between different tasks and tools – from unrelated to others, this may result in burnout, a decrease in productivity, and mental fatigue. To sum up, this is what we call context switching.

And during this process, you lose 20% of your cognitive capacity, losing your productivity significantly.

So, stick with us to learn more about context switching and how you can overcome it to improve your productivity levels.


What is Context Switching?

Context switching is all about jumping from one tool, task, and resource to another. However, it’s normal. We all are doing it – but during this process, we end up spending major of our productive hours on unproductive context switching. And, due to this, it’s become challenging to focus on deep work.

According to the American Psychological Association, switching refers to the change in our “mental control settings" when we move to a new task.


What is the Cost of Context Switching?

The cost and impact of context switching vary depending on factors like the complexity of tasks, frequency of switching, intensity of interruption, task familiarity, and more. Different studies and research have shared a few references to estimate the cost of context switching.

A Digital Transformation Challenge: Context Switching | Dynamic Technology  Solutions


A recent study by the American Psychological Association reveals that it is possible to lose as much as 40% of daily productivity due to short periods of mental block created while switching between tasks.

Long-term effects of cognitive functions may arise as a result of continuous context switching. In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was found that chronic multitaskers had lower brain density in the areas controlling cognitive control thus impacting their abilities to focus and process information correctly. (Walch & Della Porta, 2013).

A survey from Cornell University reported that context switching negatively impacts your productivity. It found that -

  • 45% of respondents felt less productive from context-switching
  • 43% of respondents felt fatigued from switching between tasks
  • It takes 36 minutes every day just to switch back and forth
  • It takes up to nine-and-a-half minutes to recover a healthy workflow following an interruption 


Context Switching V/S Multitasking

The two terms that are often used synonymously - context switching and multitasking, although they describe different forms of cognitive processes.

  • Context switching

This entails a change of attention from one given activity to another. For example, the moment one switches from replying to an email to going back to that project the brain has to re-focus each time. The act of context switching incurs a cognitive cost, as it takes mental energy and time to shift focus to the new task or context.

  • Multitasking

This means trying to do several tasks simultaneously. Some activities are done at the same time like walking and talking but writing an essay with simultaneous conversation might not be easy.

In such cases, the brain may turn to other tasks too quickly hence decreasing overall effectiveness and efficiency. It's estimated that only 2% of the population is proficient at multitasking. Ironically, these people are the least likely to multitask. 

Multitasking – Yes or No? Secrets of Effective Multitasking and Tips for  Students


To sum up, context switching and multitasking affect productivity and performance. Multitasking can affect the performance of complex tasks since it leads to a decrease in concentration and an increase in errors, whereas excessive context switching reduces productivity.

These processes, however, must be managed appropriately. In such cases, putting similar tasks together or using time blocking minimizes this kind of switching context. Moreover, most things need concentration and therefore it is most effective to concentrate solely on one task at a time rather than multi-tasking.


How to Overcome Context Switching?

1. Get tasks out of your brain

The Zeigarnik effect is the tendency of recalling the recall of interrupted or unfinished tasks better than completed tasks. This happens because when you start working on something but do not finish, the thoughts of incomplete tasks will keep lingering even when you’ve moved to other tasks.

Our brains are hardwired with closure and they urge you to go back and finish all incomplete tasks first. Want to get rid of this effect? Make a detailed plan and then work accordingly. Studies show that making a concrete plan to return to tasks later helps combat the Zeigarnik effect.


2. Use time management techniques

Using time blocks to plan your day can be an effective means of combating the problem of context switching. You can avoid unforeseen distractions by setting a plan for the tasks ahead in advance.

  • Time blocking: Instead of suddenly shifting, segment your day into designated blocks for different tasks and remain focused on one thing at a given time.
  • Deep work allocation: Book uninterrupted time slots to focus on deep work which is essential for complex and career-advancing tasks.
  • Task batching: Lump all email responses to be dealt with to avoid shifting attention throughout the day.
  • Pomodoro technique: Addressing smaller tasks in specific timeframes by using focused work intervals with short breaks.


3. Use the 80/20 rule

According to Investopedia, the 80-20 rule, also known as the 'Pareto Principle', is an aphorism that asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event.

You must identify 20% of your tasks that are the most effective, and then do them one at a time.

This is important because only 20% of your hard work will result in 80% of the productivity and effectiveness in the final results. This ends up with the common sense that being busy means that you are being effective, therefore it helps to eliminate multi-tasking.

the 80 20 rule


4. Identify & separate complex tasks

Identify and separate complex tasks from one another to minimize context switching. This should be an isolated or reserved, distraction-free time and place where people will focus on this complex venture.

Likewise, prioritize new. Focusing on one challenging task at a time leads to maximum performance and minimal brain activity. You can use the best project management software which assists in task separation and duration estimation for each task.

Using such a tool you can break down and concentrate on complex tasks minimizing unnecessary context switching which improves productivity and streamlines the workflow.


5. Do nothing about everything that comes immediately

In our digital world, disconnecting from our hyperconnected world even for half a day is not usually an option. Just like your job, that might be the case. Therefore, dedicate a certain hour of the day for chats, threads, and DMs, and notify your team when you will respond.

This is a simple way of eliminating trivial tasks that occupy brain space and do not allow summons by everybody. This doesn’t mean that communication does not matter, in contrast, it makes communication much more effective and meaningful.


6. Using agile methodologies

Agile methodologies like Kanban and Scrum are aligned with context switching in project management. These techniques can also be fragmented into sprints that allow teams to focus on certain tasks without interruptions.

Moreover, Kanban’s visual workflow with a WIP limit emphasizes task completion before accepting new ones. Both Scrum and Kanban discourage multitasking and emphasize channeling efforts towards prioritizing tasks and managing goals that altogether enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace.


7. Write down first

While you’re writing a project proposal and suddenly you get a call from your supervisor, you will have to move abruptly to that. Nonetheless, it is worth jotting them down and coming back to them later.

write down first

Choose an online productivity tool like Kroolo that enables users to dump ideas while the stream of work carries on uninterrupted. Working this way helps your team to focus on the work while ensuring that key follow-ups and ideas cannot evaporate. Balancing the zone and writing down notes at appropriate intervals that provide clarity in later attention ensures a smooth workflow.


Combat Context Switching with Kroolo

During the pursuit of productivity, the role of context switching has to be acknowledged. Shifting constantly between tasks, in fact, is more detrimental than it may seem on the surface; mental resources are lost, and productivity is severely affected.

As we have seen, these include time blocking, task segmentation, and using apps like Kroolo—a complete productivity tool that can help you avoid context switching.

Understanding the impact of context switching and implementing above discussed strategies and tools will, in turn, reclaim your concentration, smooth up the workflow, and finally improve productivity and success.

Take a step towards productivity and step back from productivity killer. Invest in Kroolo, streamline multiple workflows, and minimize context switching to enhance your productivity levels.

Sign up today and take a free trial!



Team Management