Saying you can multi-task is like saying you can juggle.
There are jugglers and then there are the rest of us. I can juggle maybe three balls and NOT WELL at that. Then you see those guys and gals at Cirque Du Soleil and your mind is blown. You know the ones that have 14 plates spinning at one time and while balancing on a ball they are singing show tunes. Now THAT is multi-tasking!
Outside of the circus world multi-tasking is utter crap.
Now I am not knocking you if you can ACTUALLY juggle but you have to admit it’s pretty rare that someone you know can physically juggle especially like those professional types.
Speaking of professionals aren’t we are always looking for ways to improve what we do so that we can become the Cirque Du Soleil of our industry? That’s right! I am suggesting that we raise the bar and compare the direction of our careers to the blue ocean that Cirque Du Soleil has brought to the circus world and as a result exponentially increased the level of professionalism just as they did in their form of live entertainment.
So off I go to spent a bit of time researching to see if there are actually some ways, tips and tricks to multi-tasking and after a while I confirmed, at least to myself, that it’s total bulls**t. I don’t know about you but I already knew that I can’t multi-task successfully and if I actually try I know its curtains for both tasks.
I have to do one thing at a time. Maybe I’m just too ADHD prone.
For example, I am either reading email or I am contributing to a meeting or discussion. Or I am working on a proposal or I am listening to someone who has an issue or problem they want my help to resolve. If I even try to do both I start to lose context in one or the other.
Let me ask you this. Who do you know that can read their smartphone and listen to you at the same time? If you are involved in a discussion and someone’s mind wanders to their smartphone or they are losing you its likely there is one of three things going on.
- You’re not that interesting. Sorry.
- You’re repeating yourself. Stop that.
- They are being rude and disrespectful. Likely the case, my friend.
That’s pretty crappy, right?
Screw that! If it happens to you then try this sometime.
When you see someone start to wonder off ask a question that is completely unrelated to the conversation and then STOP TALKING. It is amazing the reaction you will get. I can GUARANTEE that they will have no idea what you just said or will stare at you with a confused look on their face.
Bingo! Case closed there Mr. Multi-tasking Guru Guy. Gotcha!
Anyway, that’s just a silly example to demonstrate that we should not attempt to do more than one thing at a time. Really. I have done that exact thing in the past and every time I find myself drifting I have to consciously stop myself. It’s palpable when you get caught not listening and you have to admit it is extremely unprofessional and embarrassing to boot.
It’s very hard in today’s world to not want to try to do 10 things at once.
There is plenty of research that shows the level of productivity lost when you shift between ongoing tasks. This is not new information for anyone of us, is it? Take a look here for a bunch of good reasons why multi-tasking blows. Just the opening paragraph will have you nodding your head.
So, Mr. Stating the Obvious what rocket science solutions do you have for me that haven’t already been said?
I don’t have any other than stop f**king doing it!
FOCUS. That’s it.
Yeah, you can read a thousand white papers on the subject, read a thousand self-help websites and talk to a million life coaches and they will all tell you, in a myriad of different ways, that multi-tasking is NOT GOOD for your ability to remain productive.
Personally, I have to consciously concentrate on a single task and force myself to shut out peripheral influences so that I don’t get distracted by the 20 other things that are vying for my attention. For me focus is tied directly to nuance and moderation. The nuance to understand why that one task holds priority over all the other ones sitting there furiously waving their arms at me and moderation to understand that doing things to the extreme is no way productive for me or the result that I am trying to achieve.
I know, I know. It’s hard.
Everyone wants everything RIGHT NOW all the time. The age of the internet, personal computers, mobile devices and the need to be there first makes it very, very difficult to focus on a single task at a time.
So here’s what I try to do.
Notice I said TRY. Do these ideas work every time? I wish. If I said they did I would be LYING TO YOU and there one thing I dislike more than a liar. A douchbag and nobody likes a douchebag, do they?
- I put my smartphone down or tuck it away in my man-purse (yes, I said man-purse) during meetings.
- I understand very early in a conversation if I need to be there. If I don’t, I LEAVE (after excusing myself – I wasn’t born in a barn after all)
- Now that I know I need to be there I actually pay attention to the person who is talking to me. I give them my undivided attention. It’s just the right thing to do.
- If I slip (which I do – Geez, who doesn’t?) I apologize for not listening, refocus and try to stop blushing.
- When I am actually at my desk I try to segment my day so that I answer emails or address phone calls only during specific periods in the day. This leaves me time to FOCUS on an actual task. That means minimizing my email service and disabling the little pop up at the bottom right that is just there to tease the ADHD out of you.
- My door has to always be open. I have to be able to deal with interruption. That’s just the way it is, therefore, when approaching someone else I try to recognize if they are themselves focussed on a task. If I notice it – i.e. read their body language – I try to LEAVE THEM ALONE. After all, the WORLD does NOT revolve around me. I can certainly wait. Hopefully.
Try it out.
You may well see your productivity increase or at the minimum some people in your life might actually smile at you because they know you HEARD them and you are not just pretending to have understood what is being asked of you.
Are we just masking our egos or personal selfishness to get our job done with the guise of multi-tasking? We are all guilty as charged and we can simply CHOOSE to recognize it and DO SOMETHING about it. I really do think I am doing someone a disservice if I don’t pay attention. I actually think Who the heck do you think you are? if I get a half-ass answer back from someone because I KNOW that they were multi-tasking.
All kidding aside, there are certainly tons of other ways to avoid that productivity killer and build on our own Cirque Du Soleil moments.
What are yours?