Context Switching And Multi Tasking

26 Jun 2013

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I find the subject of context switching and multi-tasking incredibly interesting. As a millennial, I recognise that I am frequently texting on my iPhone, cuddled up to hootsuite on my iPad and using my smart TV to watch YouTube videos of Pilates, whilst cooking dinner. I don't remember the age I was when multi-tasking became commonplace. Although I do recall that I always enjoyed chatting to my friends on the phone whilst watching Oasis on "Top of the Pops" and flicking through a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine - much to the disapproval of my Mum!

What is a context-switch?

In the tech industry, you will often here the phrase "context switches kill". Thankfully this refers to computer systems and not people.

"A context switch is the computing process of storing and restoring state (context) of a CPU so that execution can be resumed from the same point at a later time. This enables multiple processes to share a single CPU. The context switch is an essential feature of a multitasking operating system. Context switches are usually computationally intensive and much of the design of operating systems is to optimize the use of context switches. Switching from one process to another requires a certain amount of time for doing the administration - saving and loading registers and memory maps, updating various tables and lists etc."

Studies have shown that frequent context switching in people causes an overall slow-down in productivity - just like computer systems. It's also been noted to contribute to rising stress levels and the inability to mentally "switch off", causing chronic fatigue and insomnia.

How can improv help?

I am sure that improv has helped me to tone down my constant multi-tasking. Many of the exercises I practice during an improv session help me to focus and increase my ability to concentrate - skills which are becoming quite scarce. Improv can teach us to start using these skills again.

How many times have you been in a meeting, supposedly listening to a colleague but actually texting someone else, writing an email in your head, running over errands for after work. The list goes on ... and not because you don't like or respect your colleague but purely because your brain won't stop running around.

I encourage you to carefully consider your context switching habits and to check out this video: Stop Multi-tasking


Next post: Six Ways Improv Aligns With Mindfulness

Previous post: Using Improv To Improve Teams In The Workplace

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