Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Multi-tasking and Context-Switching

Just a quick post as I haven't posted in a while and I have been thinking a lot about a lot of things but haven't had time to write anything down.

I have so many colleagues, friends, and mentors who have been in academia for years and years. They provide me with a lot of advice (almost all of it welcome) and suggestions. Just before I left IBM, one of my university colleagues told me that in academia I would find I was switching a lot between several different things -- more so than I did in industry. I remember thinking that could not be possible! At IBM, I switched between issues and topics every 30 minutes or so (back to back 30-60 min. meetings for 8 hours straight) with "sametime" (instant messages) and emails interrupting those 30-60 min. sessions for additional completely unrelated questions.

It's true that I switched more in IBM but it's also true that most of those switches were externally triggered (go to the next meeting now, respond to the urgent email request now, etc.). They were also easy to check of a list: that's done; that's done; next?

Now, I am switching between many different topics and activities (more so than I thought I would). In most cases, I have to schedule and initiate those switches. And because everything is so new, it takes me much longer to do some things than it should (or I tend to spend way too much time on some things than I should). And many of these activities are longer in duration and harder to declare as "done". Recently, in a faculty meeting, it was declared that we would meet weekly on the specific topic until we were done. A colleague remarked, "I just wish I knew what 'done' looked like!"

I actually enjoy switching between things. I have to get better at figuring out when to switch and when to keep going and, of course, when I'm "done" with something.

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