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Episode Transcript

Your day is peppered with short bouts of chaos. They’re called transitions. And they’re a big contributor to the stress of your engineering day.

You transition between tasks during your work day. The shift involves wrapping up what you’re doing now and refocusing on what you’re doing next. 

They’re disruptive, those little shifts.

You also transition from home to work. And work to home. These transitions are even tougher. And you go through that cycle at least once a day. Maybe multiple times.

If you manage these shifts well, you feel more relaxed and in control. So today let’s explore these transitions. And I’ll share some tips for how you can make them easier.

In your typical engineering day, you make countless transitions between items on your to-do list, requests, projects, thought processes, conversations… It never stops. 

It’s part of what makes you feel overwhelmed and inefficient. What makes you feel persistently behindschedule and wondering why you didn’t get as much work done today as you planned.

First of all, some of this is illusion. Because you, in fact, did accomplish quite a bit today. But, second of all, you can also gain a little more control by managing your transitions well.

How to Make Efficient Transitions Between Your Engineering Tasks

A good transition between tasks is short enough to be efficient but long enough to allow you to mentally make the switch between one activity and another. 

Long enough to allow you to let the previous task go and be fully focused on the next one.

You can make transitions more “efficient” by using some common approaches, like:

Notice I didn’t include multi-tasking on my list. Because actually multi-tasking is a misnomer. You can’t do multiple tasks at the same time. 

What you’re actually doing, as you go back and forth among several tasks, is a bunch of mini transitions. Many mini hasty transitions.

When I was younger, more agile, and didn’t have as many complexities in my life, it seemed like I could multi-task pretty well. But I can’t do that efficiently anymore. 

And I’m wondering how efficient it actually was back then. So, my point is, don’t rely on multi-tasking.

Tips for Smoother Transitions During Your Engineering Day

Beyond efficiency, you want to make the switch from one task to another smoother. Here are 7 tips for easier transitions:

  1. Include breaks and getaways.

If, during the transition, you can move away from where you’re working, you’ll make more of a distinction between tasks. It’ll give your brain a chance to reset. And the physical motion will reinvigorate you. 

Go get a drink of water or do some stretches. Have that conversation with your colleague. Or if you’re at home, take out the trash or fold the towels.

  1. Create Rituals

You can even make your transition more of a ritual

For example when it’s time to switch tasks for my Thursday afternoon meeting each week, I stop 15 minutes beforehand, review what our discussion topic is for the day, jot a few notes, and get myself some water and a healthy snack.

Same thing every week. After following my ritual, I’m ready for the meeting.

  1. Watch out for squirrels – or, um, don’t.

Little distractions (or big ones) have a tendency to creep in during transitions. Don’t let distractions run away with your schedule. For the most part you want to keep these in check and stick to your plan.

  1. Set and keep boundaries.

Boundaries are the rules you want to follow to honor your priorities and preferences. Some examples: 

…You get the idea. It’s up to you to set boundaries and enforce them. They help with self-care and work-life integration.

  1. Remember the why for each task.

Remembering the why helps to set a reasonable timeframe to accomplish each task. It keeps things in perspective. And knowing the why makes it easier to stop working on this task when it’s time to move on.

It also keeps the guilt factor down. Remember why you’re doing this task. Why you have this job and this career. What it means to you and how it contributes to your life goals.

  1. Identify as a Blender or a Separator.

When it comes to work and family, you’re either a blender or a separator.  

Meaning, some of us are good at blending work and family activities while others (like me) can handle things much easier if we keep work and family activities more separated. 

You can learn about blenders and separators in Episode 24. Knowing this about yourself will help you optimize transitions between work and family activities.

  1. Prioritize by importance and satisfaction.

Back in Episode 10 we talked about time satisfaction and the fundamental axiom of time management: You’ll never get everything done. 

So focus on tasks that are most important to you and leave the rest. Do the tasks that raise your level of satisfaction. If you’re working on what you love, transitions are a whole lot easier.

For something so common and invisible in our lives, transitions can really make or break your work day. Once you pay more attention to them you realize how pervasive and influential they are. 

Favorite Hacks for Engineering Task Transitions

Before we close I’ll share with you 3 of my own transition hacks. Maybe you’ll find these useful too:

  1. When I get stuck between tasks and can’t seem to get started on the next one, I just push myself to take action. Any small action to get started. Because once I start, then I can get momentum going.
  1. I find that talking myself through a transition helps me stay focused and on schedule. I might say to myself out loud:

Yep, sounds kinda silly. But, ya know, it works.

  1. When I’m getting ready to leave for the day or a weekend or a business trip or a vacation, I write myself a note of what one task needs to be done first when I return. 

This saves me from having to remember where I left off. And it helps me transition back to work quicker.

If you’d like help managing transitions and making better progress toward your engineering career goals, sign up for a strategy session with me. We can brainstorm together the approaches that work best for you. 

Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast, we’ll talk about the decisions that are key to your engineering success and a fulfilling career. Be sure to tune in for Episode 103.