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Context Switching for CIO

October 5, 2022
Context Switching for CIO

Many IT jobs can be pretty daunting because of their technical nature and the amount of brain power needed to process information. The ability to process information is especially necessary for a Chief Information Officer, or CIO, whose job spans different departments within the company. This article offers solutions for remaining efficient and productive despite the number of context switches you must make throughout the day.

What is Context Switching?

As a CIO there’s no doubt that you are familiar with the concept of context switching. Especially now that we are able to access so many of our work platforms/tools in one place, the number of times you have to switch between computer screens and tabs has escalated. Add this to the fact that you’ll also need to jump from working on a project to an important in-person meeting, and you can see how context switching can get in the way of efficiency. Context switching can lead to up to an 80% decrease in your productivity and can lead to fatigue and burnout over time, hence the need for ways to manage the process of context switching.

Have Processes

Your work as a CIO gets significantly more manageable when the teams you work with have processes they adhere to. For example, the engineering team has guidelines on writing commits, pull requests, and PRs. Some processes the software team could adopt are:

  • Focus PRs to one unit of change per PR
  • Write tests and instructions on how to test
  • Link PRs to issues

Other departments you work with can also develop theirs, thus shrinking your workload when they follow their processes.

Create a Structure

As your job requires being well-informed about different topics daily, creating a structure for how you use that information is a great idea. This ultimately allows you to allocate your time better and eases your brain into a more understandable routine. Start by separating the work you must do into time slots.

If you find it easier to concentrate in the morning, start your day with more complex projects. This way, you finish them before the day becomes more active (and the need to context switch arises). As you move through the day, you can begin to meet with individuals or teams to address any blockers they are having. These blockers could be recurring bugs, unclear goals, and other typical problems developers face. To allow yourself more time for work on other days, you should schedule as many meetings as you can in one day. Towards the end of the day, you review the PRs that have been managed. Take notes as you check and allow yourself to think about it until the following day when you can reply/approve the PR.

Alternatively, you could start your day by reviewing and responding to PRs. After that, go ahead with your meetings and any other tasks you have to complete. Just make sure that you structure your day in the way that best maximizes your time.

The Power of Delegation

Learning to delegate work can be difficult if you are new to it and like to be meticulous. However, delegating some work saves you so much time you probably never knew could be freed. Learn to trust the teams you work with to get specific tasks done. For example, you could make the front-end team peer review their work before it gets to you. This way, they find about 80% of the issues and resolve them before the PRs make it to your computer.

Document Properly

We often have the habit of overestimating how long we retain information in our brains. By taking notes in an organized way, you could find patterns in your work and possibly develop faster ways of completing tasks. A handful of people use a D&D character style sheet to achieve their note-taking efforts as it is easy to section information into one. It is up to you to discover what method/tools work best to help you document all you need to. 

Proper documentation also makes it much easier to delegate tasks you’ve started to someone, as they won’t have difficulty understanding what they need to do.

Take Breaks

Overworking yourself can lead to a mental block and dampen your ability to context switch. On the other hand, taking short breaks at intervals throughout the workday has been said to have benefits like

  • Increased productivity
  • It helps you get focused again
  • Increased job satisfaction

Find a Task Management Tool

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you could still have more tasks than you can complete begging for your attention, each high priority with short deadlines. Many task management tools help you plan and distribute your tasks and even turn on focus mode to avoid distractions. Some, like NerdCloud, offer features that let you assign software development-related tasks, such as reviewing PRs that you must complete. Others, like Zigi, enable you to assign your non-coding tasks to lessen your workload.

Bottom Line

As you learn to become better at context switching, try not to let teams suffer. With proper planning, you can be there for the team and just as productive. There’s no fixed rule for performing context switching as a CIO. However, the above list, curated from the suggestions of people who have developed a process of making it easier, might make your journey somewhat more manageable. We hope you find it helpful!