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Mental Models - Cognitive Switching Penalty 🚦
TLDR: just do one thing at a time, don’t multitask.
What is the Cognitive Switching Penalty?
The cognitive switching penalty is the impact on your brainpower of task switching.
It’s called a penalty because it’s a punishment from switching from one thing to another - it takes time to “download” the new task context into your working memory.
I like this explanation from Stolen Focus:
When people think they’re doing several things at once, they’re actually …‘juggling. They’re switching back and forth. They don’t notice the switching because their brain sort of papers it over, to give a seamless experience of consciousness, but what they’re actually doing is switching and reconfiguring their brain moment to moment, task to task—[and] that comes with a cost.’
Why is this interesting?
I can’t summarize it better than this, again from Stolen Focus:
So if you spend your time switching a lot, then the evidence suggests you will be slower, you’ll make more mistakes, you’ll be less creative, and you’ll remember less of what you do.
I noticed myself switching all the time, I thought it was just inefficient but it turns out it’s much worse! I need to start using one of those focus apps again.
I’ll leave the last word to Marcus Aurelius:
Concentrate every minute like a Roman … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions.
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Want to go deeper?
📖 Deep work is a good read
To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
🔖 How to save your team from meeting misery is something relevant I wrote a while back
📖 Stolen Focus will make you feel better if you have difficulty focusing
🔖 Paul Graham's well circulated Maker vs Manager post has aged well
😂 Reminds me of a colleague who had a large warning placard on her desk stating:
Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part
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