Monitoring multitasking

By Tom Dowd | Apr 28, 2016

I have been involved in many meetings, especially conference calls, in which people were obviously not engaged. The disengaged population is often multitasking. Besides the people who readily admit that they are multitasking (you would be surprised at the number of people who come right out and tell me), there are the people who don’t say a word during the entire meeting, other than to say hello in the beginning and goodbye at the end. The multitaskers also are the obvious ones who say, “Huh?” or, “Can you please repeat the question?” when they hear their name directly. Some are bold enough to say, “Johnny and I were just instant messaging and I didn’t catch all that.”

In 2009, Ryan Buxton referenced a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found multitasking may do more harm than good. Citing the study’s findings, the article states, “Multitaskers are more susceptible to memory interference by irrelevant details.” The effort to move from one topic to another and the exertion required to return where you were impacts the true retention of information for multitaskers. What does this have to do with time management? Everything. Anything that takes your concentration away from the present will create extra work for you. Stop kidding yourself by thinking that multitasking saves time. It actually does the opposite.

I recently saw a presenter request the audience to write out their first name and last name. He asked them to write out the first letter of their first name followed by the first letter of their last name, and so on. It obviously took much longer than simply writing their names out normally. The point was powerful.

Start an exercise over the next three days at work. I want it to be based on true experiential facts, not by looking at the past and creating a time study—you want facts, not subjectivity. Start to monitor the number of times that you try to multitask in a day. By being conscientious of it, you will reduce the pull to do it. Mark down the number of attempts, even if you went back to concentrating on the first item. The goal is to improve this by ten percent each day.

I won’t be a hypocrite and say that I have never done it. However, since I’ve limited my multitasking, I have found myself asking What just happened? in a meeting much less frequently than I had in the past. Additionally, I will say that my concentration level and my engagement has grown substantially since I made a concerted effort to concentrate on one task, one meeting, and one conversation at a time. A conversation that only needs to happen once—thus saving everyone time.

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