# Context switching helps when you get stuck

Context switching is bad for productivity. It's the reason why Multitasking is an impossible task. It's the reason why you should prefer to measure your productivity by uninterrupted hours (DeMarco and Lister 63). It's also the reason why you shouldn't interrupt a programmer. But is context switching always harmful for productivity?

When Luhmann got stuck, he will write on a different book (Luhmann always worked on something easier and interesting). Authors, who are Slow-motion multitasking, also switched context when they got stuck. In the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2020, 54.4% of the respondents would Do other work and come back later when they got stuck; considering that this is the highest option after Visit Stack Overflow, it is quite a significant number. Context switching, therefore, can be helpful when you get stuck. If getting stuck is unproductive, then context switching is not always harmful for productivity.

Why does switching context help us get unstuck? It seems like not only it's slow to fill up our working memory, but it's also difficult to get what we have in our working memory out without switching context [citation needed]. When you're stuck with the wrong answer on a crossword puzzle, for example, you need forget the wrong answer by switching context first (Tim Harford).

# References

@AnneLoVerso drew the pair programming version of Heeris why shouldn't interrupt a programmer: https://twitter.com/AnneLoVerso/status/973421282707505152

Tim Harford: How Can "Slow Motion Multitasking" Boost Our Creativity? | TED Radio Hour (transcript)

The first is that when you switch out of a problem where you're a bit stuck, the new context helps you forget your old wrong answer. You know, you're - it's the crossword puzzle problem. You know, you're stuck on a crossword puzzle. You've got the wrong answer in your head. All you need to do is forget it for a second. So just a change of context helps you solve a problem.

Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (p. 68).

DeMarco, Tom, and Timothy R. Lister. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. Third edition, Addison-Wesley, 2013 (p. 62).

Unfortunately, you can't turn on flow like a switch. It takes a slow descent into the subject, requiring 15 minutes or more of concentration before the state is locked in. During this immersion p period, you are particularly sensitive to noise and interruption. A disruptive environment can make it difficult or impossible to attain flow.