Executive Coaching University

Leadership thoughts from The Executive Coaching University

Multitasking to Success? Not Likely!

I was meeting the other day with a new corporate client.  This young woman was an up and coming executive within the health care industry.  We had just begun our work together, with this being our second meeting.

While our time together progressed, my client must have glanced towards, or checked in some way, her “smart phone” three or four times over the course of our first fifteen minutes.

I commented on her split attention and asked her to turn off the phone and just be focused on our time together for the next forty five minutes – fully focused upon our work.  The look on her face would have lead someone not knowing my request, to think I had asked her to do something exceptionally distasteful…maybe even illegal!

Through our discussion around my request it became quite clear that she had NEVER turned off her phone – it was always on.  This meant she was always connected, always available, always “on.”

She explained that this level of being available and connected was the status quo at her corporation and essentially had been the status quo since she was at University.  “What if I miss something really important?” she asked. “I’m not productive if I’m not juggling a number of issues, projects, or conversations at once!” she stated.

This multitasking misconception arises quite often, especially with high performers who see their success as driven by the ability to do many tasks at the same time.

Yet, there is a downside to always being “on.”  Consider:

  • “Attention Deficit Trait,” a new condition rampant in the business world, which mimics Attention Deficit Disorder and results from extreme multitasking behavior.
  • Researchers at the University of California found it took workers on average, 25 minutes to recover focus and attention after interruptions such as phone calls or answering email.
  • Dr. Rene Marois of Vanderbilt University found evidence of a “response selection bottleneck” that occurs in the brain when it is forced to respond to multiple tasks.  This results in diminished productivity.
  • In a 2008, a piece within the New York Times by Jonathan B. Spira, an analyst with the business research firm Basex, “estimated that extreme multitasking – information overload – costs the U.S. economy $ 650 billion a year in lost productivity.”  And that was in 2008!

Is it possible that any of the above might contribute to the 33% worker productivity rate in the U.S? 33%!!!

There are also other, more personal costs.  This particular client was referred to me due to increasing conflicts between her staff and those in her chain of command – she had become “hard to work with” and was close to losing the job she so valued.

Additionally, her marriage was on the verge of divorce and she had been diagnosed with digestive/intestinal issues primarily caused by stress.

Coincidence?  Not likely!

Sound familiar?  Chances are if you are reading this then you have experienced, or know someone close to you who has experienced, a very similar chain of events.

Take time to focus within the moment, express gratitude, and disconnect at least once daily.  You will find you are actually more productive, healthier, and happier.  Then lead all those around you to do the same!

 

Greg Styles

Director of Special Projects

Executive Coaching University

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