For the past few months, I have been taking multi-tasking to a whole new level. If you work in role that involves managing different assignments or you are self-employed, this might resonate with you. I have been juggling three very different roles within three very different projects and three very different industries. After several months of this intense activity, I noticed my brain beginning to find it harder and harder to keep up!
I was doing an excellent job of managing my time efficiently and effectively, but my brain developed, what I can only describe as a “lag” when I tried to go from one thing to another – which had to happen a lot and not just on what I term “split days” – where I work on one job in the morning and another in the afternoon for example.
I was discussing this with a friend in IT and he referred me to a term in the world of computing called “context switching” – in fact, he said “context switches kill” – thankfully, context switching doesn’t kill your brain!
“A context switch is the computing process of storing and restoring state (context) of a CPU so that execution can be resumed from the same point at a later time. This enables multiple processes to share a single CPU. The context switch is an essential feature of a multitasking operating system. Context switches are usually computationally intensive and much of the design of operating systems is to optimize the use of context switches. Switching from one process to another requires a certain amount of time for doing the administration – saving and loading registers and memory maps, updating various tables and list etc.”
For me, the most interesting part of this is the final sentence, which I believe likens my brain to a computer or should I say a computer to my brain?!
Both my brain and the computer need time to switch from one process to another, time for storing information and time for recalling information.
I wanted to find out if this function of my brain could be improved, like it can be with a computer and guess what; I found the perfect improv tool to do it!
I’ve long been a fan of an improv game called Shift Left (also know as Shift Left, Shift Right)
The game: Four actors stand in a square formation. The two actors at the front at any given time are in a scene based on audience suggestions. The actors, who are at the front, and therefore the currently played scene, can be changed by a caller who calls “shift left” or “shift right.” Each pair at the front is given a theme for their scene – I usually play with one emotion, one object, one relationship, one non-geographic location. (You could also use one occupation, a starting line of dialogue, or a film/book genre). The director/coach calls Shift Left or Shift Right at random and the actors either move one square to the left or right accordingly. The scenes can go round and round in different directions and at different speeds. The audience always sees a continuation of the scenario/characters set up initially by each pair.
I’ve found this clip to show you what this would look like (for understanding structure only)
You will notice as an improviser, that you are playing two different characters in different scenarios when you play this game and it is this aspect of the game that I believe exercises the appropriate part of my brain, to develop my context switching skills. It’s important that you have a director/coach who is shifting the scenes at varying speeds – but this should be down to seeing the right moment for the edit – not just at random.
Games like this can really improve your ability to move from one set of thoughts to another at speed – although I have to confess it is pretty funny when people forget which character they are and continue their scenario 1 with their scenario 2 partner or vice versa.
If you get the chance to try this game, please do. If you’d like a lesson in “how to”, just get in touch and I’ll be happy to help.