While focusing, minimize the probability of context-switching

Published 2021-06-23

A context switch occurs any time you are compelled to make a decision that is outside your current context. If you are trying to do focused work—say, reading, writing, or coding—and suddenly you have to choose a new song to listen to, or decide whether to respond to a message, you’ve just undergone a context switch. Focusing well is a matter of minimizing the frequency, unpredictability, and scale of out-of-context decisions. To do this, you should:

  • Remove auditory distraction. If you have access to a totally silent environment, that works best. Alternatively, you can mask unpredictable sounds by listening to a playlist or looping audio track that supports focus and does not require active monitoring. For example, listen to brain.fm, lofi hip hop radio, or Ravenclaw common room. The worst thing to do is choose your own music on Spotify.
  • Remove visual distraction. Work in an environment that is visually static—e.g. an indoor room with nobody in it, facing away from the window. If there’s a lot of movement in your visual field, your eyes will naturally be drawn to it. Also, remove objects that prompt use—like your phone, or a bag of snacks—as well as objects that prompt feelings of frustration or stress—like dirty laundry, unprocessed garbage, etc.
  • Remove physical distraction. Be as comfortable as possible. When choosing earphones, reading glasses, a chair, a desk, etc, prioritize comfort over almost everything else.
  • Remove social distraction. Be alone if you can. Turn off notifications. Log out of Slack, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc.

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