Mastering the art of context switching

Published Apr 30, 2013

In computing, a context switch is the process of storing and restoring the state (context) of a process so that execution can be resumed from the same point at a later time. – Wikipedia

Essentially, context switching means you stop what you’re doing, do something else, and then go back to what you were originally doing. Context switching is important in computing, but it’s also important for people. We do many different things in our lives, and that involves playing different roles. In order to do well in these roles, I think we have to be dedicated, and that often times involves a certain mindset. I’m trying to get better at changing my mindset. I’m trying to master the art of context switching.

When you have to run a web hosting company, you have to keep checking emails. There’s no way around it. Clients might have issues and they need to have them addressed as soon as possible. Occasionally I find myself working really hard on something school-related, like a problem set, and I get a support ticket email. I stop being a student, play a sysadmin role, and then go back. For trivial issues, the switch is immediate. For more complex issues, however, I find that there’s more mental inertia. I have to think about things more in order to find a solution to a problem. In that case, I stop being focused about my school work. Even if I’m working on it, part of me is thinking about the support ticket.

Juggling business, school, and social roles sometimes gets annoying. Context switching sucks. I sometimes find myself not doing anything for hours. It takes me a while to stop thinking about some things and start thinking about others. That’s what I need to work on. How do you get better at something? Find your limit and do as much as you can push it further.