How to Find Flow and Avoid Context Switching in Software Development

Dan Pickett

By Dan Pickett

October 6, 2022


As a society, our understanding of the habits and behaviors that make people productive has changed significantly over the past few decades. 

Business thought leaders once placed a high emphasis on multitasking—working on multiple tasks or projects at the same time. While the ability to multitask—the term actually comes from the computing world—seems efficient, it can actually be counterproductive. Have you ever had a work day where you constantly jumped between tasks, only to feel like you didn’t accomplish anything at all? 

That phenomenon is known as context switching. Context switching almost always results in a trade: you sacrifice a smaller amount of high-quality work to accomplish a larger amount of low-quality work. And if you spend your days doing knowledge work like software development, it’s probably doing you more harm than good. 


The Importance of Flow for Software Developers

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, coined the term “flow,” a highly focused mental state that helps us accomplish meaningful work. Flow requires fully immersing yourself into a task, and it can’t be achieved until you have focused on the same task for at least 10-15 minutes. To maximize the full potential of flow, you should devote at least 50 minutes to a single task. 


Flow requires fully immersing yourself into a task, and it requires at least 10-15 minutes to begin. To maximize the full potential of flow, devote at least 50 minutes to a single task.


Context switching is the enemy of flow. Research suggests that when you switch between projects, it can take you up to 23 minutes to reorient yourself and get started again!

For software developers, context switching comes at a high cost, resulting in a huge loss of productivity. Every time you change screens or jump to a new project, you pay a price. So how can you work in a more focused way and spend more time in flow? 

How to Avoid Context Switching

Here are some of our favorite tips to avoid context switching in a software development environment: 


Turn off all “noise makers” 

We give fledgling software developers this piece of advice the day they join coding bootcamp: turn off all the notifications that pop up on your screens or mobile device. 

Every notification is a distraction. When you have cognitively challenging work to do (like coding), it’s all too easy to be pulled away by reading a text message or checking out that new post on Instagram. These distractions are significant obstacles to flow, so don’t hesitate to activate “Do Not Disturb” on your devices. 


Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity booster that encourages people to focus on one task for at least 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break to help the mind reset. The objective is to fully immerse yourself in work for the allotted time, then give yourself a break between workflows. 

At Launch Academy, we believe software developers should aim to spend at least 50 minutes on each task to achieve optimal flow. Still, the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to build your focus muscle. Start with 25-minute work sessions, then ramp up to whatever time interval works best for you. As long as you’re successfully eliminating distractions, you’re doing it right. 


Let your coworkers know you’re entering flow

An essential aspect of flow is creating an environment that allows for uninterrupted focus. Being too easy to reach at all times is highly distracting. Thankfully, in a virtual world, there are simple ways to let your colleagues know you’re in the flow zone—like putting up an away message or turning off your messaging services. 

In a team setting, we’ve found it’s helpful to dedicate certain times to work that’s heavy on context switching. For example, we might designate one software engineer to respond to bugs each day. They take on all the “interruptible” work, allowing other team members to maintain their focus on bigger projects. 


Block focus time in your calendar

The simplest way to create flow? Plan for it! Block off 90-minute increments in your calendar for focused work. This alone will give you the permission you need to separate yourself from distractions and stay productive. Research shows that dedicating a significant amount of time to a task or concept enhances focus and can help you reach your goals. 

At Launch Academy, we realize many of our students are new to knowledge work (like software development) that requires high levels of focus to be productive. Avoiding context switching is key to finding and maintaining this state.

The immersive nature of our coding bootcamp optimizes flow—which, in turn, optimizes learning. The result? You become a great software developer and a productive knowledge worker. 

Ready to begin your path toward becoming a software engineer? Check out the syllabus for Launch Academy’s coding bootcamp today!