During a report on CNN a doctor talked about why innovation is happening at a faster rate on the battlefield then back here in the United States hospitals and doctor’s offices. He said the fact that on the battlefield the doctors and nurses have fewer distractions than the doctors and nurses here in the States. Because of the situation they are thinking about how to improve day and night. They have a single focus. The sad truth is they don't have the distractions of family life and day to day activities outside their work.
This led me to think about multitasking and how this hurts our productivity and innovation. We have so many things we are trying to juggle we feel we have to do everything at once. This leads to us being less effective. Just in case you need more convincing, here is a great article I read some time ago about why multitasking is a bad and dangerous thing, How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking.
It seems to me our society views multitasking as a good thing, it’s all the rage, it’s the “in” thing. I hear managers say they need to hire people that can multitask. I hear people claim their multitasking skills are above the rest. Multitasking is like a badge of honor. I just did a keyword search on LinkedIn and over 14,000 people had the word “multitask” in their profile and over 22,000 had “multitasking”. There is even a company name that includes “multitask.”
When it comes down to it, you don’t multitask. You switch task. Every time you switch, you lose focus on the original task and it takes time to get back into that original task. Not only do you take more time, you don't do the task as well as you could.
I see consultants that come in to work on a project are more effective. Is it because the consultant is a better business analyst (BA) than the employee BAs? In some cases yes. In most cases I think the reason relates to the fact that the consultant is working on "a" project. They don't have to multitask anywhere near the amount of an employee of the company. They can have a single focus on the project they are working on. I recently spoke to a group of BAs and BA managers and some folks said they were working on 25 projects. Talk about distractions.
The view of needing multitaskers and having BAs on multiple projects will not change overnight. So, what you can control now is your work. There are two areas I think you should try to eliminate multitasking.
- Don't multitask when you are in a meeting. Many of you have multiple meetings in a day and it's hard to resist thinking about the next meeting while you are in a meeting. Give your attention to the meeting you are in. Stay in the present. This really holds true if you are leading the meeting!
- Try to schedule your work and meetings around a single project each day or 4 hr chunks. The analysis part of our work takes time. You need to think through the information you are receiving in meetings and discussions. You need to review your work to see where you have gaps. Giving yourself 30 minutes here and there is not ample time to do your best work.
I think we can all agree we’d like to be more productive and more innovative. Try stopping the “multitasking” and see how you start to improve.
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