Context Switching

written by Eric J. Ma on 2019-05-10

programming coding data science

Context switching is hard. I noticed this when I was at the PyCon sprints, where I was bouncing from sprinter to sprinter, trying to give them each the necessary attention to get their chosen sprint tasks done. After a while, it took a toll on my brain, and I started finding it hard to concentrate on the next problem.

Under such circumstances, when one is context switching often (most hopefully out of one's own volition), how do we communicate that we need some ramp-up time, and how can others help us help them?

I think one practical thing that can be done is to frequently communicate on each context switch that context ramp-up is needed. In the future, when I switch contexts, first thing I'm going to ask is something along the lines of, "What context do I need to help me help you?" Or, if I'm lost, I can clearly communicate what I'm missing - if it's context that I'm missing - by stating, "I think I'm missing some context. Can you bring me up to speed?"

At least while sprinting, sprinters can definitely help me help them by providing the necessary context up-front. Perhaps this applies more generally as well: when we're asking someone for help, we may be able to help them out by asking them, "What context from me would help you get up-to-speed here?"