Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five Reasons Not To Multi-Task

Somewhere along the line multi-tasking became a badge of honor. This concept of doing more than one thing at a time and then bragging about it as though it was an Olympic sport and you were training for a gold medal might at face value seem smart.  Logically it appears that doing several things simultaneously instead of just one must be more efficient and ultimately save time.

But it doesn’t.

To do things right one needs to focus. To pay attention. To check one's work. To give full concentration to the situation at hand.

Of course in today's world, not enough of us are concerned with doing anything right. Some of us aren't even sure what "right" looks like.  Our obsessions lie in the doing itself. As much and as quickly as possible so we have time left over. To brag about how great we are that we can talk on the phone and type an email while running three miles on the treadmill at the gym, all without breaking an ankle.

I blame technology. It was supposed to simplify our lives, but so far it seems to have only complicated things. It has left us with no choice but to multi-task our way through these growing co-dependent relationships. Who cares if we are rude, look like a fool or put ourselves and others in danger in the process?

Well, I do. 

Which is why I offer this list of reasons why you should think twice the next time you choose to multi-task.

1. It can be physically dangerous. We all know the dangers of driving while texting, but no one seems to take notice that it is equally dangerous to text  or email or chat on the phone while walking. It’s easy to spot in Manhattan.  People walk across the street with no heed to the bus that is about to hit them. They are too busy multi-tasking with their Smartphones in hand. Sometimes they pull someone else into the danger zone.

The other day I watched a father pushing his child in the stroller across the busy intersection that is Lincoln Center, his eyes fixated on his thumbs and his phone, not his child. I guess he thought he was saving time by multi-tasking, but I’m not sure risking a trip to the ER is a true time saver.

2. It can make you look like a fool. We’ve all done this one. We are busy at our desks, multi-tasking away, trying to read and answer emails while having a phone conversation. And just like that we hit send and that email goes to the wrong person.  It might be a benign mistake that gives someone a chuckle or you might inadvertently copy the entire company on a private email that admitted you were cheating on your boyfriend, as was depicted brilliantly in a recent episode of The Newsroom.  

If you do something with half an eye on it, your work reflects it. Sometimes that means shoddy quality and sometimes, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, you got some “splaining to do” to get yourself out of a mess you created.

3. Multi-tasking in the presence of another sends the message that you’re just not that important.
An employee is sitting across from her boss for her semi-annual review while he multi-tasks, checking his email every time she asks a clarifying question. Not only is he wasting her time while she is forced to sit there, waiting for his focus to get back on their meeting, his unspoken message is clear. She’s not important enough to the company to get his undivided attention for twenty minutes.

Outside of the office an attractive couple sits at a beautiful outside cafe on a warm summer evening, holding hands across the table. Their eyes are intent, not on each other but on multi-tasking, their free thumbs busy texting away on their Smartphone to someone, somewhere, who doesn't get to hold their hand.

Not giving another person, in work or play, your undivided attention is a statement of their importance in your business and your life. It does not help to build relationships.

4. It’s rude. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had to listen to the sordid details of other people’s private conversations on a cross-town bus, or had to wait to get a container of yogurt because a mother had cornered off the dairy case with her child in one of those oversized strollers, her cell phone pressed to her ear, engaged in a conversation I really didn’t need to know about, while oblivious to the line of people she was creating behind her. And don’t get me started on the dog lovers and those retractable leashes that never seem to retract. They on one side of the sidewalk, on the phone making a date, their dog on the other, both blind to that the fact this is a public walkway and that leash that has been stretched to knee length is blocking it. All multi-taskers. All, in my opinion, rude.

5. True genius requires focus and concentration. If you want to be successful, to do something important in this life and build good relationships, you have to give it your time and your undivided attention. Even for just a portion of your day.  

Multi-tasking is not a badge of honor, nor is it a time saver. In fact it’s can be the fastest route to inferior work and relationships.  Unless of course, you're in the kitchen and trying to time the mashed potatoes to be done at the same time as the pork chops. In which case, multi-task away!

For more on the hazards of multi-tasking and ways to create more time for the stuff you really want to do, pick up your copy of It Takes An Egg Timer, A Guide to Creating the Time For Your Life today!


Carrie said...

I am so guilty of multitasking! And just when I think I'm getting a lot accomplished, I make some ridiculous blunder because I'm not focusing. Those blunders usually take up an incredible amount of time to correct as well.

Thanks for this post.

Unknown said...

My pleasure! Glad it helps!

Jennifer Kennedy said...

I'm starting to work on being more present and focused on the one thing or person I am talking to at that moment.

For number #3, I really try to listen to what the other person is saying, repeat the information in my head, AND try not to formulate my response while they're speaking.

I've missed information because I'm quick to think of something to say in response. I'm working on this though!

Unknown said...

So wise to pause instead of rushing in to offer up a response!