One of knowledge workers’ most common actions is switching between applications on their computers. You’re writing an email and you need to reference a data point in a spreadsheet so you switch from Outlook to Excel. Or doing research for a presentation you’ll be giving, so you copy information from your browser and paste it into a Google Slides slide.
According to University of California researcher Gloria Marks, professionals switch between applications every 3.5 minutes on average. For the average 9.5-hour workday, this adds up to over 160 context switches per day. If you’re using your mouse to switch between applications, you’re wasting time. It probably doesn’t feel like you’re wasting time in this way in much the same way that it doesn’t feel like you’re losing time when searching for files on your computer. Research published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction showed that keyboard shortcuts are twice as fast as using a mouse. Shortcuts are also more accurate, eliminating drag-and-drop errors.
Using the shortcuts demonstrated in this video will save you almost five minutes a day, which amounts to two to three full workdays over the course of a year. Check out the video to learn how to switch between applications and move, minimize, maximize, and split application windows on your computer screen so that you can reduce time spent moving between applications.
While it’s good to know how to switch contexts more efficiently, you do want to minimize the number of context switches you make during the workday. Some switches are necessary and unavoidable, but many times, people switch to a new application because of a notification or because they get distracted by something else and pull themselves out of focusing on the task at hand.
To reduce context switches, you can begin with the following best practices:
- Turn off notifications
- Close windows and applications when you’re not using them
- Close browser tabs when you’re doing using them
- Maximize the window you’re using so that you can’t see other windows
- Block a specific amount of time to work on your tasks to help you focus for specific periods of time