Context-switching is killing your firm’s productivity

Does it feel like you have too many ‘mental tabs’ open? Do you find yourself shifting from one task to a completely unrelated one, and back again?

You're not multitasking. You’re context-switching.

It’s the process of moving your attention from one task to another, stopping and starting again and again.

Think of context-switching like a game of Whac-a-Mole, where you move from one distraction to the next, trapped in a never-ending mental loop that can lower productivity by 80%.

A threat to productivity

The average professional checks their email 15 times per day, or once every 37 minutes. On top of that, they look at their phone 96 times per day—browsing social media, checking the news, and doomscrolling.

These interruptions are more harmful than you think. On average, it takes 23 minutes to return to a task after a single interruption.

A huge cause of context-switching are these distractions. Consider how many times your emails ping and your phone rings during a typical day running your accounting practice. Each time it happens, you’re shifting your focus, even if it’s for a few moments. And a few moments are enough to throw your focus completely.

You’re now distracted and need to claw your way back to focusing on the task you were originally completing. Chances are, by the time you get there, your phone will buzz again.

But there are strategies you can put in place to minimize this context-switching, and increase your productivity.

Recommended reading: Evaluating accounting firm productivity


This involves pre-planning your days in increments or time blocks. They can vary in length, and they each have an assigned focus—meetings, email focus sessions, even meals.

As an accountant, blocking your time might be based on:


You may choose to time-block your day based on your clients. For example, you might allocate three two-hour sessions in a day to focus on three clients, with one two-hour block dedicated to emails and administrative tasks.


It might make sense to batch onboarding tasks for several clients in blocks. Think of it like a conveyor belt process, where you complete the same tasks several times in a row to boost productivity.


Time blocking based on specific projects is a great idea when the projects are complex matters that require your full attention. Setting yourself time aside to focus on these types of work—distraction-free—will help you concentrate.

Themed days

Themed days are similar to time-blocking. But instead of blocking hours, you block entire days.

By breaking your workweek up into five buckets, you know exactly what you’ll be working on each day of the week.

And if you communicate your schedule with your team, they’ll know exactly when you’ll be in the best position to answer their various questions.

Themed days are particularly useful for strategy planning, when you need your full attention focused on bigger picture-type tasks.

Use your time correctly

Context-switching is the silent productivity killer, responsible for procrastination and poor performance.

Switching from one task to another won't accomplish anything other than confusion and a lack of focus. Implementing time blocking or themed days into your organization provides a solution to that.

And tools like Karbon can help you organize and visualize your time management, so that you’re using the most effective methods for your work-style and your accounting firm.