#508 Task Switching Is Expensive

A Super-Quick Exercise to Calculate the Costs

We talk a lot about the value of going deep and creating, as Peter Drucker puts it in The Effective Executive “large quantums of time” to focus on ONE Thing as Gary Keller puts it. (In fact, as we’ve discussed, Keller tells us that creating “time blocks” where we single-mindedly focus on the most important thing is THE #1 “power tool” of time management.)


We’ve never quantified the costs to see just how expensive all that task switching is.


Today we’re going to take a moment to do a super-simple exercise to quantify the costs of all that task-switching we all do.

Here’s the basic idea. You (and I and all of us) think we can switch from one thing to another and do all of them really well. That would be awesome if it was true. But, it’s not.

Try this out.

Please grab a stopwatch (ideally you have one that’s NOT connected to your ever-present phone but, alas, my hunch is you’ll use your phone… 🤓). (I highly recommend my deliberately basic Timex Ironman watch that looks like it hasn’t seen an update since it was introduced in 1986. Laughing. Seriously.)

OK. The experiment:

First: Time yourself as you say the alphabet from A to J. (How long did that take you?)

Now: Time yourself as you count from 1 to 10. (How long did that take you?)

Now… Time yourself as you switch back and forth and go from A-1 to B-2 to … J-10. (How long does THAT take you?)

If you’re like me and Professional Futurist Alex Pang who introduced me to this test in his book The Distraction Addiction, it probably took you around 1.5 seconds to count from 1 to 10 and another 1.5 seconds to do the alphabet from A to J.


If you’re like us, it probably took you at least 10 seconds to do the A-1 to J-10 series.

Here’s the Captain Obvious analysis: You can do one super-simple task in 1.5 seconds. Another super-simple task in 1.5 seconds. BUT… When you combine the two super-simple tasks (which should take you, in aggregate 3 seconds if you did them separately), it takes you over THREE times longer to complete. (And your brain hurts at the end to boot. lol.)

Now, that’s obviously a mundane example but we’ve GOTTA know that task switching comes with an enormous cost in terms of efficiency—not to mention the failure to drop into an energizing state of flow as you blow your nervous system up with one enervating stimulus after another.

Today’s +1.

If you’re feeling it, do the experiment. Then reflect on that math for a moment.

Then apply those calculations to everything you do when you’re NOT doing one thing.

And, most importantly: When can you create a nice chunk of time to do ONE thing today?

Have fun and here’s to your lightspeed A to J’s and 1 to 10s!!!

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