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Entries in multi-tasking (6)


Multitasking And The Restroom

Studies have shown that the brain is not "wired" to handle complete focus on more than one task at a time. Multi-tasking is truly the brain bouncing back and forth rapidly between two tasks. It is recommended that the most effective multi-tasking is when you are doing mundane or routine tasks that don't require too much thought. (Actually, I must admit that walking and chewing gum at the same time for me is a challenge.)

That being said, I must mention a multi-tasking pet peeve I experience way too often. I don't know if this is happening in the Women's Restroom but it happens all the time in the Men's-especially in the airport. Men will go into the restroom while talking on their phones and will carry on a conversation while taking care of business. (I guess you could say that some are taking care of business while taking care of business). I wonder what Emily Post would think about the etiquette of that? Multi-tasking should have some boundaries.

As an aside, when someone is talking on the phone in the public restroom and I am next to them, I personally like to see how many times I can flush so that the person on the other end of the phone is wondering what is going on.


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The Juggler In Chief

Most of us could never begin to imagine the pressures of being the leader of the premier global power. It's mind boggling. An article at entitled Obama as Juggler-Multitasking mold shapes today's Presidency highlights the frenetic pace faced by today's President.

But the source of the President's need to multitask bears a striking resemblance to our own situations. Alan Silverleib, author of the article, writes:

But in recent years, he said, the daily pace has accelerated due to the rise of the internet, wireless, and other facets of the communications revolution.

There's a "kind of blinding rapidity" in which one event quickly overtakes the next, said Dalleck. Our attention -- and that of the president -- is whipped from the latest economic crisis to the newest tornado wreckage to the latest protest or outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

Faced with a pressure for constant response, modern administrations face times "of great pressure and intense demand over a series of compelling issues," he said.

The solution highlighted for Presidents, which would also serve us well was given by Wendy Schiller, a political scientist who said, The key challenge for presidents in the 21st century is knowing when to respond immediately and knowing when to take their time to manage a given situation.

Wise words for all of us-regardless of our situation.


Another Assault On Multitasking

If you have ever been in one of our training programs you know that we are ardent dissenters on the net value of multitasking. In our opinion it only works when there is a singular purpose involved (like safely driving a car) or when the two tasks involved are of a different nature-one being physical and the other mental. Even then, the benefit is suspect.

Well, we have found another source that affirms our suspicions. In his HBR Blog, Peter Bregman highlights research that shows the downsides of multitasking based on research. Based on some of the research he found that:

  • People distracted by incoming calls and e mails saw a drop in their IQ of 10 points. That's a larger effect than losing a night's sleep. Twice the impact of smoking marijuana!
  • Productivity actually goes down by as much as 40%. The loss comes in what we actually do when multitasking, which is "quick switch tasking." And we lose precious time switching back and forth from one task to another.
  • The more you multitask, the worse you actually are at it. You reach a point where you are simply switching-and getting very little work done.

What I really enjoyed was his sharing of the results of going one week without multitasking. It was insightful to say the least. But you'll have to read his blog to get the full effect of his experience. This guy is truly the ringmaster of his circus-and knows that the ringmaster can not be in multiple rings at once and expect to get a standing ovation.


Minimizing Mistakes In Our Lineup

Make a mistake today? Okay so you made more than one. You're normal. But have you ever thought about WHY you make those mistakes? If you have, get the book, Why We Make Mistakes, by Joseph T. Hallinan. In his book he offers well-researched and studied reasons why we aren't always perfect with our words and actions. One that made me chuckle was "When we multitask, we get stupid."

Not to leave us wallowing in our errors, he gives 8 simple ways to minimize our errors. Get the book to get the full list, but a couple key ones are:

  • Think small. Don't overlook details.
  • Think negatively. Always looking at things positively can blind you to possible problems. Thinking negatively helps you prepare for them.
  • Slow down. Multitasking may put more things in process, but focusing on one task at a time is actually a more efficient use of your physical and mental resources.
  • Get more sleep. Simply put by the author, "Sleepy people make more mistakes."


Accelerated Irrelevance

What a pungent phrase! A recent review of the "Big 3" automakers in the United States used the phrase "accelerated irrelevance" in describing how the industry had reached it's current poor state of affairs. I think it could aptly apply to how many of us move through our day, week and sometimes, our very lives.

The phrase brings to mind the idea of moving more quickly away from what is relevant or important. It means choices made that are not grounded in a person (or industry's) purpose or mission statement. It is shaky ground to say the least.

Think about the last choice you made that moved you quickly away from what was more important. Was it an unimportant task you took on at home? How about a management decision you made at work that not only took you away from what was relevant, but it also propelled the people on your team in the same direction as well? One poor choice led to another until you were on a fast track to nowhere-nowhere important to be more specific.

The antithesis of the phrase is even more interesting: "Accelerated relevance." What choices could you make today that would move you more quickly back to what is important? Remember, we are all working and living at a breakneck pace-but in what direction (and how quickly) are we moving?