Stop Multi-Tasking

Despite the number of stories that are on the news at night telling us that the economy is starting to slowly improve, and that the economists are starting to see the beginnings of job growth, it seems we are all plagued by the same mantra at the office: We need to do more. It still seems that staffing levels are precariously low, and that the demands for more production and productivity are still as high as ever, if not higher. This has given rise to the new office buzz word, Multi-Tasking.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting the idea that everyone should be doing only one thing at a time, all the time, but it seems we have gone to the limit and beyond when it gets to the point when we are asking (or are being asked) to attend multiple calls or meetings at the same time and we accept.

How many of you have been in the middle of what you believe is a very important conference call and the crucial question has been posed, and you wait for the subject matter expert to respond, and you wait, and you wait and you wait. And finally someone realizes that they are the one everyone is waiting for, and they come on the line and say….

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat the question?”

They were doing something else. They could have been on another call. They could have someone else in their office. They could have been playing solitaire on their computer. It doesn’t matter.

They weren’t paying attention to the conference call that they had agreed to attend.

When I have mentioned this phenomenon to friends they are quick to defend the offender (in some cases themselves) with the statement that due to the number of meetings that they are requested / directed / ordered to attend that they must behave this way. I counter with the simple question:

Would you behave, or conduct business in this way if the meeting were in person, or was with a customer, or with your boss?

Invariably the answer is no, of course not. But it seems that it is acceptable for everyone else.

Two things concern me here. The first is in regard to the behaviors that we are fostering in business. It seems that it has almost become some sort method to feel indispensable by noting the number of calls, meetings and conferences that we have simultaneously. It seems that some feel compelled by the requirements of their job / boss to do this, but with others, I am not so sure.

The point here is that I think we need to change the statement from “We need to do more”, to “We need to do New”. By this I mean as we are requested to take on and perform new tasks, we must be willing to examine our own work load, and get rid of older tasks that may no longer be as useful as they once were, or may not be as useful as the new tasks we have been asked to take on. We each have a limited availability and we need to decide how we can best apply that limited availability.

We need to learn that sometimes we must say “no” when it comes to the ever increasing number of requests for our time. I have previously writing an article on the Value of “No”, and I think it is starting to apply more than ever.

My second concern is that we now seem to be trying to do our jobs without paying our full attention to any one thing that we are doing. Perhaps this is the reason that it seems that the number of people on any one conference call keeps growing. Is it possible that 30 people on a call paying attention half the time are as good as 15 people on a call paying full attention? I don’t think so.

We all have many projects or topics that we are working on at any one time. That is the reality of the world. My view is that when we try to work on two (or more) at the same time, just as when we try to be on two phone calls, or attend two meetings at the same time, we do not do justice to either of them, and we end up with an inferior output from them as a result.

We need to be fully engaged in whatever we are working on, whether it is a meeting, a call or a project, while we are working on it. If there is another demand, then we need to stop and get fully engaged on the new topic. If we try and stay engaged on one topic, while trying to engage on a new topic, we should expect to continue to hear, or sometimes to ask:

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat that?”

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