(A blog by Ishana Luthra)

“My mind juggles between everything I need to do; and I end up doing half the things, and not so well enough”, said Maria Krovich, a young startup owner from Denmark, on a Skype call with me.

Organizing your every-day work schedule can be cumbersome for most entrepreneurs. You should read this, if you feel your productivity needs a gear-shift and rocket propulsion; literally! UNDERSTANDING SWITCHING COST AND HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR PRODUCTIVITY

Every time you switch from one activity to another during your day, there is a reduction in productivity which is termed as switching cost. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that switching between activities can have a very small cost associated with it. But when this adds up, it becomes a bigger cost – which isn’t ignorable. This happens when people switch between tasks or activities quite often.

So every time you opened your social media profile for leisure and switched between your work window and the social media window, you incur a cost to your business which is small but not ignorable.

The switching cost causes your productivity to go down at large.


Multitasking is great if optimized correctly.

An interesting experiment by two experts namely, Robert Rogers, and Stephen Monsell, in the 1990s at APA answered this question. In order to know whether multitasking helps in increasing or decreasing productivity, a segment of people were given multiple tasks and it was assessed how long it took them to complete them all. The psychologists measured costs in switching tasks. They were also judged on parameters of complexity of the task, familiarity with the task and more similar factors.

It was observed, participants lost time between switching tasks. Also, they lost more time when the new task was fairly more complex. They also lost significant time when they were unfamiliar with the new task and it was complex. They lost lesser time when they fairly knew the next task.

So here’s the key – time lost equals switching cost equals money lost. So selecting the tasks you want to switch between also needs to be a careful decision.

So juggling between nursing a baby, attending a client-call, cooking a meal and writing an email, as a mompreneur, might sound ok to you. But possibility is that, you could increase your productivity by merely rearranging the tasks in order of decreasing or increasing complexity.


My understanding of productivity became more valuable to me – when I needed to answer many emails per day, attend meetings and plan growth simultaneously. Just when you are overworked, you realize you need to make the most of the 24 hours you have.

Following are a few hacks that I discovered, and then tried them myself. Therefore, I’d say, this list is sourced from my experience and specially customized for women-entrepreneurs J :

CREATE MULTITASKING SET OF ACTIVITIES: Switching costs are essential and not ignorable. I created sets of tasks and I allowed myself to switch between. For example, I allowed myself to switch between checking emails (not replying to them), checking my Facebook timeline and following up with employees on chat. Another set of activities which I allowed myself to multitask was banking work and making project estimates. Pairing complex tasks together and easy one’s together, was easy on my mind. This soon made me realize that in the past, I tired my mind faster when I juggled between complex tasks (such as banking) and leisure tasks (such as exploring my Facebook timeline). It could work for you as well, if your to-do list is long.

BULLET THE TO-DO-LIST: I always recommend this to most of my mentees. Writing down what needs to be done either in a numbered manner or in a bullet style is a great idea. Keeping the list in front of you and striking down each item, is a way to motivate yourself every single hour. It has a subconscious impact on your mind, which keeps you energized for the remaining tasks to do. The list also prepares your mind much before you switch a task; thus lowering switching time and cost and making it easy for you to accustom yourself to the new task. Try it, it works.

A NO-MEETING DAY: If your work involves a lot of client calls, meetings or email exchanges then this could help. I decided to have a no-meeting day each week. By not scheduling any calls, meetings or outgoing emails that day (during the week), I gave my entire time to focusing on the other things that day. It gave me an opportunity to work without disruption and lesser multitasking. This lowered my switching cost and increased my productivity more than the other working days too. Of course, just in case there’s something super-duper urgent (like a comet hitting the planet), I gave the no-meeting day a miss.

AIRPLANE MODE: This is my favorite hack and to be honest I stumbled upon this. For a brief period of time, the mobile network in my office zone was low due to repair work. During that week, I received lesser calls, messages and notifications on my phone and my work productivity was higher. Soon after the network was restored, I could feel the difference in my work output. Phones though essential can sometimes take away a lot of our precious time with not so important things. I decided to put my phone on the airplane mode for approximately 2-3 hours, off-and-on every day. This helped me with lower distraction, lower switching cost and higher productivity. Of course, if your work revolves around the phone – this might not work for you.

FOUR TASKS PER DAY – PLAN THE NEXT DAY: This is a great hack if you like to have a clear picture of what you wish to achieve in the following day. This one is from Richard Branson. I always write down my to-do’s for the next day, before I retire for the day. Keeping my goals nothing more 4 to 5 in number made the next day look feasible. I also arranged them on the list in a complex to easy format. This helped me to get my hands on the tasks that needed attention first, without losing out on any time. Time saved was again a feather in the productivity cap.

AND FOR FUN, WORK UNIFORM WORKS LIKE A CHARM: It was crazy to even imagine myself to have a work uniform for my own personal office. But when I tried this, it saved me a whole lot of time in selecting what to wear and getting ready. On the days I chose to work from home, there was lesser time wasted between getting ready and getting to work. Thus, lowering the switching cost. It also put my mind in the work-mode for a stipulated number of hours each day. This pre-planning helped me reach my work-station always on time. My mind began to differentiate between work-time and personal-time just by merely changing my outfit choice. This hack could be specific to those who sail in the ‘I-don’t-know-what-to-wear-today’ boat and might be irrelevant to others.


The ability to multitask is a boon. Research shows that optimizing your multitasking efforts can help to increase your work productivity. Lowering the switching cost can definitely help in better output.

At the same time, productivity is subjective and cannot be quantified by certain set of rules only; and to each is their own.

Which is your favorite productivity hack?

Share your thoughts with me on .

To your growth,

Ishana Luthra

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