Ever since my first management job, I’ve been confronted with a very unpleasant truth about myself: I don’t switch modes well. As a project manager, I was also doing some of the individual contributor work on the project. It was a disaster for me. When I was being Manager Boy, I would lose my place in the work I was doing and often fall behind. When I was being Individual Contributor Boy, I would lose my perspective and get totally engrossed in the project. Priorities would slip, relationships would fray, and things would fall apart.

I found that switching contexts like that is very hard for me. I can perform well as a manager. I can perform well as a worker. But I can’t switch between them or keep them both in my brain at once. I’m just not built that way.

Different roles require different kinds of thinking. Take a good look at yourself and decide: (1) are you good at all the kinds of thinking you’re being asked to do, (2) are you good at switching between the kinds of thinking you’re being asked to do, and (3) are you actually turning in the quality you know you’re capable of?

Arrange your life so you’re spending your time working in your strengths, or in areas that you want to become strengths. If you aren’t great at switching, at any given moment, try to limit your responsibilities to related tasks that minimize your need to change thought styles. Team up with people whose skills complement yours, to take care of the rest. In the long run, you’ll be happier and more productive.

Switching Mental Modes

read time: 1 min