By Walter Rogers, USDR Contributor
What are you thinking about as you begin to read this section?
□ How long will this take?
□ Is this really worth my time?
□ Are there bullet points I can scan instead of reading the whole thing?
□ How much is being added to my to-do list, right now, while I’m doing this?
□ Is there anything else I could be doing while I’m reading?
If you are asking yourself these kinds of questions, especially the last one, you are a prime candidate for a “multi-tasking make-over.” That’s because the activity that you spend so much time trying to get better at– multi-tasking– is the very one that’s interfering with your productivity.
A major clue to the problem of multi-tasking can be found in the definition: doing more than one, and usually several, jobs at one time, without giving adequate or appropriate attention to any of them. In other words, the symptom is the disease. With too much to do, we behave as if none of the tasks is worth a good, honest effort, much less our best. And we reap what we sow.
Why do police beg us not to talk on our cell phones, and not to send or receive text messages, while driving? Are they just trying to crimp our productivity? No, they are trying to save lives and to prevent accidents, which statistics show increase when drivers are distracted. That’s why more and more cities have passed laws forbidding cell phone use in school zones.
Everyone has 24 hours to use every day to accomplish a variety of tasks. No one gets more, no one gets fewer. This also means that no one has the ability actually to stretch the space time continuum in order to do more than one thing at the same time. People who juggle texting and emails and searching the Internet for information for an important project that is open on their computer while conducting a phone conversation via headset, are not getting more done or turning out a superior project. They are almost certainly overlooking important issues or ideas, making careless errors and frying their brains from the stress of trying to push so much input through their brains at the same time. At the end of the day, they will be drained from the pace and frustrated because they probably didn’t complete a single one of their most important tasks.
Author Dave Crenshaw famously said, “Doing it all gets nothing done.” Much of the time, multi-tasking is just “activity avoidance.” We shut ourselves off from the responsibilities we prefer not to tackle, and instead fill the time with “busy-ness.” You could search far and wide for a better way to reduce your productivity, and would not find one.
To get the increased productivity you are after, you need to reduce the time you spend multi-tasking. The pay-off for less scattered, and more focused, endeavors is that you accomplishing more that truly matters in less time, improving your overall effectiveness and enrich your relationships. Four keys Action Items that can help you rise above multitasking traps:
- Change your focus. Spend more time thinking about why you do things before you think about how you will do them.
- Plan your workday as addressed previously
- Turn off your cell phone for high focus periods of time. Yes, you read that’s right. When you stop to think about it, always being accessible by telephone and answering all calls on the first ring is a fairly new practice in our culture.
- Turn off your cell phone and email while you are on conference calls.
If you can implement these initial steps, it won’t be long before you find yourself increasingly losing patience with those things that take away your focus. You will still have plenty of tasks, but a higher percentage of them will be important, and your use of the prefix “multi” will decrease significantly.