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Posted by on Mar 1, 2011

Let’s Single-Task

One problem with writing blogs is that you have to admit when you do things you wish you hadn’t.

After all, how real is the post, if not?

In this vein, I need to make an embarrassing confession: It started at home, then quickly spread to the office, and now I hardly notice it anymore. It was so innocent at first.

Yes, I am now multi-tasking while in meetings.

To those of you who were expecting something more shocking or salacious, or those of you who have been doing that a long time, hold on – we’re going to circle back to the damage done.

But first, the slippery slope. It started while I was on a conference call while at home. The topic had nothing to do with my part of a project, and so I just sneaked a quick peek at email, where potentially something far more relevant may have popped up.

But I instantly realized it, right then; I was no longer really hearing or processing what was said.

Then it happened again: marginal topic, quick diversion of attention to something else. I had stepped into the waters.

Then, while in the office, I noticed in one meeting that half the participants were doing something on their smart phones. I was waiting to learn about something “important” through email, and so I joined them. I felt guilty, and passively disrespectful of the speaker.

But I am putting a stake in the ground now, am going to “Just say no,” and here’s why.

What I really noticed while multi-tasking was that although I may technically have heard what was being said, I was — and this is crucial – not able to process it in the same way.

I think the implications of this are pretty profound.

Not fully processing content means that although you get the quick “hit,” you do not:

  • Think about what it means
  • Connect it to other things
  • Explore how it could be used to improve something
  • Creatively play with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that these four qualities are what everyone keeps saying is missing in a high-speed, reactive, hit-and-run culture. It means thoughts run out of steam, and everyone just goes back to work.

Maybe it’s just me, but I keep seeing examples of failure to connect dots, particularly in customer-service interactions, political debate, problem-solving sessions and any time the topic is the future.

You can also sense the superficiality, impatience and craving of one fast, right and simple answer to life’s problems and challenges. People are encouraged to “bottom-line it, boil it down,” or “get to the point.” Not that this kind of communication is sometimes useful (such as an emergency), but it has become the default mode almost everywhere.

The other two things to know about multi-tasking are that A) There is no such thing; people rapidly bounce from one thing to another, but they do not do two things simultaneously of any cognitive complexity. B) Performance degrades the more multi-tasking occurs.

Please join me in putting away the smart phone. Listen. Pause. Process. Think.

If you find vast amounts of your time are being wasted, focus on the meeting design and agenda. That’s probably where the real problem is. Otherwise, see what single-tasking can do for you.

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