Component/Fundamental #9 – Switching v2

One of the most important tasks that a user of any time management system must perform is to switch from one task to another. While this may seem like a simple action, the more capable users include practices that are unique.


Switching is defined as stopping one task, looking at all the time demands, and deciding what to do next.


Advanced users take great care about switching, knowing that there is always a temptation to switch too quickly. To do so is to court disaster.

  1. Firstly, the most advanced users cherish the moments when they are in the flow of any activity – in fact, a major goal of their system is to stay in the flow as long as possible without interruption. They switch only when they must, either based on an interruption coming from their “interrupter”, or upon the completion of the task. Other interruptions are rare, and they turn off land-lines, ignore cell phones and put their email on manual download to prevent interruptions of any kind. They give 100% to what they are doing at any time whether it be writing, reading, sleeping, exercising or problem-solving.The Switching practice they adhere to protects their moments of flow against disruption or intrusion.
  2. Secondly, at the end of most of the tasks performed by a professional, there are frequently activities that result from the task being complete. For example, completing a simple task such as setting a meeting date results in other follow-up activities such as advising the meeting participants of the date, setting the agenda, providing refreshments and ensuring that the requisite tools are placed in the room before the meeting.The mistake would be to assume that the follow-up tasks would take care of themselves – in fact, they need to be either added to a list or placed in the schedule so that they can be done at a future time. Once the follow-up actions have been reliably planned out, the user can then safely decide what activity to work on next.At this moment they have several choices: start a new activity in the schedule, take time to recuperate from the prior task or perhaps look for an item to complete from one of their lists. There is no right answer, but an advanced user takes all factors into account such as time of day, energy level, pending due dates, interest level, degree of difficulty, etc. before starting the new activity.

The important choice of what to work on at the start of a new day or week, is an important choice. The more advanced user will always close out items that have not been completed, instead of trying to start new tasks. Here, the Switching practice is to carefully ensure that all follow-up items are safely included in the time management system.

  • A Novice or White Belt hardly consults their schedule or list of tasks, and instead makes decisions on the spur of the moment, or depending on what is urgent or what is taking most of their attention. More often than not, actions are left either incomplete or the follow-up items fall through the cracks, only to reappear as future emergencies. They are frequently in an emergency mode, and often feel very tired by it all.
  • A Yellow Belt has begun to remember to schedule follow-up items, and periodically checks lists and schedule before taking the next action.
  • Orange Belts make decisions about the majority of their next actions based on their lists and schedule. Most follow-up actions are entered into their time management system.
  • A Green Belt has developed the habit of carefully considering what activity to enter into next, based on a variety of factors. At times, they must respond to emergencies, but they do so knowing that all their other commitments are set up in their system to deal with once the emergency is over. Therefore, they can devote all their attention to dealing with the emergency. They also know how to protect what they are doing at any time from intrusion and disruption.