By: Michael Beiter
No matter how hard we try to exercise effectively there is one barrier that keeps us from doing our best. It seems harmless and you might not even be aware of the consequences that hold you back. Whether you are aware or not, we all have fallen victim to context switching.
Modern gyms are designed to keep you distracted. Besides the lurking need to capture your workouts for others to consume on social media there is constant noise, spaces cluttered with equipment and people, and the inevitable passing hellos that often lead into full blown conversations. On top of this we are asked to switch between different modes of exercise at prescribed times.
Our need to juggle multiple demands within our exercise time reinforces our belief that we should be multitasking and doing so will help us accomplish more in less time. It's a bummer that this is never the result. Every time we switch our focus from one type of exercise to another, from a conversation to work, we do more harm to our workout and brain than we think.
Context switching means moving between separate, unrelated tasks. The idea started in computer sciences but quickly was able to be applied to our mental tasks and how we perform.
Traditional multitasking has us doing more than one task at the same time. Context switching happens when we abandon our current task and move on to another before completing the first one.
Such a quick succession of unfinished tasks clogs us up and makes it impossible to get anything done. It robs us of time and our most precious commodity in an age fighting for our attention: our focus.
Researchers have determined that every time we switch contexts it takes 23 minutes to switch back to what we were doing before and pick up where we left off.
We lose time, energy, and mental resources when we context shift and miss out on our ability to 'get int the zone.' Otherwise known as a flow state.
The detriments to the workplace from context switching are well understood. Most workers spend 1 minute and 15 seconds on a task before they are interrupted. The drop in productivity due to multitasking costs the world economy $450 billion annually. Multitaskers take 50% longer to finish a task.
The examples form the workplace can easily be transmuted to your workouts.
Every time you switch from lifting to stretching. Or from cardio to lifting you are switching the context of what you are asking your body to do.
The simplest way around this waste of your time and energy while improving your results is to bring clarity to your workout for the day.
Know what it is you are there to work on. Choose ONE thing. Either lift, do cardio, or do recovery work. You are making a mistake by trying to cram all of them into one day or trying to mix and match them.
If you want to get the most out of your workouts pick your task for the day and spend a whole hour on JUST THAT THING. By about the 30 minute mark you will be in a state of concentration many call 'the runners high' where your body secretes massive amounts of fell good hormones in response to your continuous exercise.
This same hormonal response does not happen when your workout looks like this:
5 minute stretch
5 minute cardio warm up
20 minute lift
20 minute hard cardio
10 minute light cardio
5 minute stretch
That is 5 context switches within an hour. Your body has no idea what the hell you are asking it to do in this case and because of that your results will be subpar and you will never feel the elation of those hormones coursing through your veins. It will be impossible to reach a state of flow.
Reduce the clutter and get clear on what you are doing with your workout.
Pick one thing and do that for an entire hour and note the difference in your focus, energy, concentration, and results.
Leave the context switching at the office. It doesn't belong in a gym.