Cost Of Context Switching For Product Managers: A Basic Overview (2021)


If you use a computer or Smartphone, it’s sure you know the concept of context switching. So if we dwell down and think, what is context switch?

Have you ever noticed that you can initiate the CPU to stop doing one thing and do some other task? Just like you do it with a computer, you do context switching with your brain too. We, humans, are the greatest creation by god. But we aren’t operating systems. The same applies to product managers. When they work simultaneously on two projects, they are doing context switching. But people say context switching is a great productivity killer.  

  1. The Cost of Context Switching for Product Managers
  2. Context switching diagram
  3. Why the Cost of Context Switching is Harder to Avoid than Ever
  4. Context switching penalty
  5. Tips to Reduce Context Switching

1. The Cost of Context Switching for Product Managers

Every product manager has a different task list. They come from varied backgrounds. But all product managers share a core function: drive the development of products and ultimately be responsible for the success of those products.

Context-switching example: On any working day, a manager might have to communicate with subordinates, sales executives, marketing manager and designers.

The digital world is making product managers focus on a thing even more difficult. Whenever they sit to brainstorm ideas, a buzz or a ding from chat apps and text SMS distract them. It may seem OK to do context switching, but there is a downside to this.

2. Context switching diagram

Below is a Venn diagram for product management:

As an article on Psychology today correctly points out, context switching costs you 50% of your productivity every day.

Advantages and disadvantages of context switching are:

Advantages: As multitasking is very much required for a product mangers’ job, it becomes essential to organize and make a work schedule. Hence pushes an individual to make the best use of their time.

Disadvantages: We need time and effort to focus on a task. So every time we switch tasks, we lose focus.

3. Why the Cost of Context Switching is Harder to Avoid than Ever

In the modern world, to grow, we have to multitask. It’s the need of the hour. As product managers, one has to focus on different things at the same time to grow in their career path and be a leader. 

We have to manage our schedule to optimize multitasking. This way we can learn a variety of things and gather more experience. To accelerate our nervous system, we have to think and do content switching. 

As an entry-level player, one may have the leisure to focus on one thing at a time. But as a product manager goes up the corporate ladder and becomes a leader, one has to learn to multitask and manage one calendar.

One of the best examples is Elon musk ( CEO of Tesla Motors ).

Elon’s random access memory is huge. Through the pitches and interviews, there are no more silos or separate categories, and Elon has reached a sort of synaesthesia with respect to the unions of Venn diagrams of the sets.

  1. Engineering 
  2. Business 
  3. Government 
  4. Full public disclosure

4. Context switching penalty

Every time you switch your attention from one subject matter to another, you invite the cognitive switching penalty. Your brain spends time and energy whipping, loading and unloading. Neurologically it is impossible to multitask. That’s why it’s not a good idea to talk on a cell phone while driving. When we try to focus on two things, our response time decreases.

There are many context switching penalties like an additional cognitive load on the brain, Delay in decision making, and the most destructive is multitasking may weaken cognitive ability.

Context switching penalties become very problematic when they start compounding. For example, if a person is reading an official document and receives email notifications repeatedly. 

In the email notification example, the reader might recover their concentration after receiving one notification. But it’s diverse after five notifications in five minutes. Those five minutes of effort are essentially rendered useless because of the compounding effect of the penalties.

5. Tips to Reduce Context Switching

Keep your digital alerts at bay: Remember that constant buzz and ding from your mobile apps? They could still pull you away from your focus, forcing costly context switching.

The familiarity of the subject:  Master your subject so that no interruptions can shift your focus.

Schedule a calendar:  Block your calendar while doing something significant at a specific time of the day or week.

Group similar tasks: For example taking all the queries from your subordinates, feedback from a customer survey and aligning meetings.


If you’re an artist and trying to create something, the nastiest thing you can do is try to fit artistic tasks between managerial tasks-context switching to kill your productivity. Multitasking is unavoidable in today’s technology-driven fast world. But organizing the task and allotting different times of the day to different tasks will make it possible. 

Big business tycoons and business magnets build different companies producing various products, but they are aligned for one corporate goal. 

Interested to learn all about Product Management from the best minds in the industry? Check out our Product Management Course. This 6-month-long program takes place online through live instructor-led sessions. It is the only program in India that offers the ‘Bring Your Own Product (BYOP)’ feature so that learners can build their product idea into a full-blown product, and go through an entire Product Development lifecycle. Not only this, but this is the only program in India with a curriculum that conforms to the 5i Framework. Post completion, learners receive a joint certification from the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, and Jigsaw Academy. 


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