Research circulated a few years back suggesting that each of us, in our workspace, is interrupted from our task approximately once every 11 minutes. Worst of all, it then takes us 25 minutes to deal with the interruption and return to our fullest level of concentration on the task we were addressing.
Depressing isn’t it? And even if you don’t find this to be true of your life every day, it is bound to be a problem for you part of the time.
Blame it on multitasking; a word that the Merriam Webster Dictionary says dates back to 1966. Before 1966, apparently people just ‘tasked’. After 1966, they had to ‘multitask’.
Hummm, so what was going in 1966 to so dramatically change the way people view the allocation of work time?
- Gemini 8 was launched and astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft.
- John Lennon proclaimed, “We (the Beatles) are more popular than Jesus.”
- The US Navy launched its first amphibious assault in Vietnam’s inland waters.
- The first ship-to-shore satellite radio message was sent.
- Star Trek debuted on NBC television.
- Texas Western University wins the NCAA Basketball Championship defeating powerhouse University of Kentucky.
- The US launched the first operational weather satellite.
- Peggy Fleming won the Ladies Figure Skating Championship.
- Golfer Bobby Cole set a record that stood for 43 years as the youngest winner of the British Amateur.
- Roberta Bignay became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon.
- Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California
- Walt Disney died in at the age of 65.
- President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act.
- And oh yes, Steven Gray founded the Amateur Computer Society, only 6 years after Digital Equipment introduced the first personal computer. Called the PDP-1 it was the first commercial computer to feature a keyboard and a monitor. It sold for a mere $120,000, and little did anyone realize just how much it was about to change people’s lives … forever.
Accepting the Challenge to be Fully Present in Your Business AND Your Life.
Computers are clearly an incredible tool for mankind. But perhaps multitasking is not; perhaps it is something that should be done only when a person is dealing with tasks that don’t require one’s full attention anyway. Folding laundry and listening to music could make a good multitasking duo while driving the car and sending text messages really do not combine all that well. We are all so conditioned to see the word multitasking as a virtue that we may have overlooked just how much trouble we get into because of it.
- What if you decided to give each client on customer your fullest attention during the time you are with him or her, or working on his project?
- What if you stopped interrupting your work to take a phone call, answer an email, or respond to a text message and said, “While I am doing task “A” I intend to be fully present in that task”?
Stewart D. Friedman is Practice Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia. He is the founding director of Wharton’s Leadership Program and of its Work/Life Integration Project; the former head of Ford Motor’s Leadership Development Center; and is the author of Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life.
In Friedman’s blog, he writes about the Art of Interruptability. He says:
“Here’s an experiment to try: think of an instance in your typical week when you might deliberately choose to focus on just one thing, something important to you. It should be a person or project that is crying out for your uninterrupted attention, even for a short amount of time, but you’ve been unable to provide it because of torrent of demands coming at you. Now, think of the people or tasks that need to be halted during that short of amount of time in order for you to focus.
Finally, think through in detail how your ability to focus on this one thing will actually benefit those other people or tasks, the ones that are part of the unending stream. Yes, it’s a kind of paradox. How will the setting of an attention boundary that shuts off others actually make things better for the very people you’re shutting out? Things will be better because you’ll be more focused and energetic with them when you are attending to them.”
Let’s face it. The ’60s gave us many great things, from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, to giant leaps into outer space, amazing sports heroes, and a whole new perspective on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The 1960’s saw computers transition from room-size to desk-size. But among the really meaningful things we took away from that decade, multitasking just wasn’t one of them.
Multitasking is not a sign of greater intelligence, greater capabilities, or greater accomplishment. It is nothing more than what Merriam Webster tells us it is, “The performance of multiple tasks at one time.” And in most cases, multitasking is not good for us, not good for our clients and customers, our business, or our bottom line.
But after its been around this long, don’t expect giving it up to be easy.