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Never have we had so much convenience at our fingertips; so many tools to help us get our work done. We have excellent communication options across a variety of platforms. Instant messaging allows us to contact team members across time zones as if they were in the next room. Document storage and file sync-and-share allows us to collaborate on any kind of document or file without having to worry if it is the latest version and, again, we can do this anywhere—on the road, in a meeting, on a train, at home or in the office. Task management software helps us organize our daily and weekly workload. And email remains one of the most used business tools.

On the surface, everything looks great for the knowledge workers in your organization. But if we look a little deeper, there is a problem that is difficult to realize yet can cost a business dearly when it comes to productivity levels. What we are talking about is app overload and the main disruption that this causes: context switching.

What is context switching?

Context switching is most simply explained as jumping between tasks that are unrelated. While some might call this multitasking, the kind of context switching that destroys productivity is the one where you leave one task unfinished to jump to another and leave that unfinished to jump to another task or back to the original. It means you are in a near-constant state of interruption and distraction—failing to give any task your full attention or the time it needs to be completed.

The worst thing? We’ve become so used to the overload of apps and platforms in the workplace that we might not even realize that we are being subjected to this kind of shifting, or don’t see it as the problem it is.

Here are five reasons why you need to actively combat context switching in your organization and save your bottom line:

1.Lost time

For most people, work tasks are created around a timeline. That’s not to say that everything we do is always to a deadline, but productivity can be measured by how long it takes to complete a task. If you are constantly switching context and moving back and forth between tasks, it is inevitable that time will be lost. This can be both a terribly frustrating aspect of app overload, as well as something that directly affects your organization’s bottom line.

2.Needless distraction

You’re finally getting into a rhythm with a piece of work. Suddenly, you get a notification on your phone that snaps your focus; or a message on your IM client which pulls you away from your email to check the new message. Research underlines how it’s that easy for us to become distracted.  

3.Reduced IQ

You read that right. Our brains are not built to multitask. They are designed to focus on one thing at a time. And, in fact, the very concept of ‘multitasking’ is flawed—as in there is no such thing.

What we do when we multitask is just switch from one task to another rapidly. And as Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, points out: “Every time we switch, there is a cognitive cost.” The constant switching encourages bad brain habits, like completing tiny tasks that give us a quick hit of dopamine for instant gratification. This can quickly develop into a dangerous feedback loop that makes us feel like we’re getting a lot done when, really, we haven’t tackled those larger tasks of higher value.

4.Missed information/opportunity

You can’t do everything—as much as you may try. We all know this. When we make a choice it automatically closes off every other choice we could have made. We are always within one single moment of time. And this might be the basis for our urge to multitask and the foundation of distraction in the first place. The problem is, when we try and complete multiple tasks and must constantly shift context, we miss things—be that important details that lower the quality of our work/output or even opportunities that pass us by because we are distracted.

5.Employee morale

When small frustrations happen over and over, this can take its toll on your employees’ psyche. We all wish to be productive and fulfilled at work. If you are constantly forced to switch between tasks, disrupting your preferred routine or working method, then over time your motivation and engagement at work will dip. Losing time, being constantly distracted, having to multitask heavily, and missing opportunities to affect your business positively can have negative consequences for you and your team. 

harmon.ie is the salve to the context switching sting

At harmon.ie, we believe that your enterprise technology should be in sync with the way your employees work and think. harmon.ie Collage, our AI-driven sidebar for Outlook, brings office workers contextual content in a way that helps deflect distraction and unnecessary multitasking brought on by context switching. So, by using Collage you will reduce context switching and instead help your teams concentrate on their most important work.

To find out more about how app overload is a real issue in today’s enterprise, download our special survey report: The False Promise of the App Economy. To try Collage now and see how it can help your employees’ focus, contact us today.

 

David Lavenda
Vice President of Product Strategy