My client, sitting across the desk at an accounting firm, laughed. They had just finished describing the challenges they were having keeping up with clients who were missing deadlines and/or submitting documents at the last minute, had unreasonable expectations and were, in their words, “high maintenance.”
“Well, that would be great,” they said in disbelief. And then I asked them one of my favorite questions: “How often, and how well, does your team multitask?”
“We’re always multitasking. We have to. And we do it really well,” one of them boasted. “If you can’t multitask, you aren’t going to last long here.”
“That’s why you’re always overwhelmed and losing up to 40% productivity by the end of the week,” I said.
Good multitasking has become one of the merit badges for many, if not most, organizations. “Must be an excellent multitasker” is a requirement on almost every job description I see. And this is causing huge productivity issues in those organizations.
The first problem is that multitasking is impossible. I mean, physiologically impossible. Humans cannot do more than one thing at a time (beyond involuntary biological functions like breathing). So even when you think you’re “multitasking,” you aren’t. What you’re actually doing is “task-shifting.” And many people task-shift rapidly and believe they are multitasking.
Another problem with task-shifting is that jumping from one thing to another is causing a huge breakdown in efficiency and accuracy. The constant stop/go, start/re-start is much like driving a car in the city. Stop and go traffic creates inefficiency in your car’s engine and your gas mileage drops dramatically compared to when you’re driving at a constant speed on the highway.
When you allow yourself to focus on one task at a time, several things begin to happen that improve your work:
1. You get into “flow.” Focusing on the task at hand allows you to get into a rhythm with the task and you perform it with increased efficiency. (It’s like cruise control!)
2. Work product improves. When task-shifting, there is an increased chance of making mistakes. Perhaps you will forget to review something or neglect to include an important piece of information. By giving your task undivided attention you are more connected to it and dramatically decrease the potential for mistakes – which prevents you from having to go back and fix it later. (Like focusing on your phone while driving and rear-ending a stopped car – don’t do this!)
3. Increased fulfillment. When you prevent yourself from being distracted by other things, your mind is more at peace and you actually FEEL better, not to mention the increased fulfillment experienced with regard to a job well done. (A much more relaxing and stress-reduced drive.)
Of course, this is all much easier said than done. In order to move out of the “whack-a-mole” multitasking habit, it requires a paradigm shift in the way you think about your work. Here are some tips to help you make the adjustment:
1. Relax. Take a breath and release any anxiety or feelings of panic or stress, knowing that you’re awesome at what you do and you know it. You got this!
2. Empower yourself. You don’t “have” to react to other things. That is a victim mentality. “Reactive” and “victimhood” are NOT conducive to success. You are the driver of your car and taking directives from the back seat isn’t helpful.
3. Be FULLY present. Bring yourself fully present by taking a moment to notice and experience everything that is happening. Do you hear the air conditioner? Can you feel the weight of your body in your chair and your feet on the floor? Do you see your colleagues walking by? Notice everything about your environment.
4. Block your time. Time blocking is a tool that all high-performers use to manage their work. If you don’t own your calendar, it will own you.
5. Establish and maintain your boundaries. Don’t let other people’s agendas dictate your day. It’s YOUR day, YOUR work and YOUR job to do the best you can. Don’t let others sabotage you – not even your boss. People respect boundaries if you do.
Think about last week at work. Where could you have used the above steps? Commit to trying this for a day, or better yet, this week and let me know what was the difference in your experience. Then like, share or comment on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!
Go from status quo to Status Flow.