Compartmentalize & Context Switch Like A Pro

Karthik Lakshminarayanan
4 min readDec 18, 2020

Like it or not, we are constantly multi tasking at work. You might be in a meeting and a Chat message pops up communicating a piece of news, distracting you from your meeting and getting you thinking about the piece of news you just received. Or you wrap up a difficult meeting but the bitter taste from the meeting lingers a bit longer. Life is a series of mini-transitions like these. If these transitions are not managed well, they have the real potential to derail you and cause more damage to your brand and reputation than you can anticipate.

I ran into this and it took me a painful time to discover the unfortunate side effect I had caused, because I was unable to recognize and make the transition to the next meeting. Let me share my story.

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

I had finished a particularly contentious meeting. It was a heated discussion, and I didn’t like where the direction was going. That meeting ended, and I walked to the next conference room, still simmering and stewing about what happened. My next meeting was a 1:1 with someone who was based in a different location, in a different country, and was visiting our office for work. Let’s call her Holly. Holly had made the time to reach out to me and talk through a few agenda items. Unbeknownst to me, I later realized, I was not warm, I was not smiling and just engaged with her in a matter of fact way. I offered lukewarm support for her problems vs leaning in and helping. The meeting ended as scheduled, and I went on with the rest of my day, I didn’t think about the just concluded 1:1.

A few months later, one of my co-workers approached me and asked why I didn’t like Holly. I was shocked! I tried to think about my interactions with Holly — I had not met her that often and in the few times I had seen her work, I was actually impressed with how thoughtful she was and it showed in her work. I felt I had complimented her positively in emails as well, so I was at a loss for where this misconception was coming from.I started to dig in and understand — soon it became clear that my lack of warmth in that 1:1 was the root cause.

If this co-worker had not approached me and asked me, I would have never known and wouldn’t have had an opportunity to correct the erroneous notion. I reached out and sorted things out positively with Holly, but it left a lasting impression. These mini events that we experience throughout the day are important to manage, and we need to reset and start every new meeting or interaction with a positive mindset. Easier said than done, right? Here is what I have tried to do, to hit reset and start every meeting afresh.

Have meetings snap to the Pomodoro technique:

A Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) is a time management and focus technique that requires you to focus on one task uninterrupted for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. If you are hosting or running the meeting, keep the agenda to 25 minutes so you can use the 5 minutes as a break to reset your mind before the next meeting or activity.

Say nothing or stay neutral until you have had time to process

It is tempting to fire off messages — digitally or verbally to someone as a way of blowing steam after a bad meeting. Or someone might ask you something innocuous like “what did you think of that meeting?”. Resist the temptation to speak your mind. I use stock responses like “Interesting meeting, definitely needs follow up and more work to be done”.

Getting 5 minutes to transition between meetings might be a luxury — in these days of video meetings, switching meetings happens a lot more quickly than the previous walk to a conference room. So have a quick reset routine that is easy to implement in 30 seconds or less. Here are my go-tos as examples.

  1. Breathing exercises — a quick breathing exercise can quickly reset and pep up your mood.
  2. Draw something. I draw an airplane (I am good at it) with my pencil as a go to thing. It is quick, I draw it well and helps me calm down.
  3. Watching a funny meme on my phone and in some cases, saying a quick prayer. It breaks the “overthinking loop” and gets me moving in a positive direction.
  4. Fix yourself a drink or snack — it switches your focus.
  5. Clean up or organize your desk. A quick clean up has you more organized and gives you a great way to feel more productive.
  6. List of quotes — I have “pick me up” or go to quotes that help me snap out of my current thinking and look ahead. All we need is a reminder. One of my favorite quotes is “There are only 2 rules in life.”

Rule 1: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Rule 2: It’s all small stuff.

Smile to yourself before you start your next meeting.

Before you walk in through the conference room door, or click join in your video conference meeting, just smile. It helps. For video meeting pointers, please read this.

I hope you find these techniques useful. Stay positive and build your brand at work by managing these micro-events in your life.

Originally published at https://www.karthikln.com on December 18, 2020.

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Karthik Lakshminarayanan

Product Executive, focused on turning great products into great businesses. Current: Google. Previous: VMware, AppSense and Microsoft. All views are my own.