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Strategic Discipline Blog

The Big Lie REVISITED - Multitasking

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Dec 7, 2017

Multitaksing Interrupted Workflow -The One Thing Book Page_06.jpgFor the next 12 days I’m traveling to visit my customers for Annual and First Quarter Planning. For my customers and myself, determining the One Thing for the Year and next quarter is critical to making the start and 2018 a great year.  I don’t have any statistical evidence to support this, however I believe this time a year most of us are in the midst of having too much to do. The holidays do that!  It’s more likely you’ll be attempting to multitask to get more done.  DON’T.  This is a repeat of a blog I wrote two years ago in December.  My hope is to do a follow up for Monday if time permits with more data from the problems with Multitasking.  In the meantime, please read this.  Please think twice before you multitask.  Science has shown driving while talking on your phone places your skill at the level of a drunk driver.  It’s why we ask our children, especially our teenagers not to drive and use their phone, speaking or texting.  Eliminate Multitasking and you’ll get much more done this holiday season!  

Negative-Impact-Of-Multitasking.pngMultitasking is a lie.

You’re one of the majority who don’t believe this, aren’t you?

We fully expect pilots and surgeons to focus on their jobs to the exclusion of everything else. We expect anyone in their position caught doing otherwise, will always be severely taken to task. We accept no arguments and have no tolerance for anything but total concentration from these professionals.

Would you agree with me - multitasking can even be fatal when lives are at stake?

So why is it, the rest of us live another standard?  Do you not value your job or take it as seriously?  Why would you ever tolerate multitasking when you’re doing your most important work? Just because our day job doesn’t involve bypass surgery shouldn’t make focus any less critical to your success or the success of others. Your work deserves no less respect.

The One Thing - Extraordinary Results.jpgIf you’re joining us for the first time on this subject, recall in The Six Lies Between You and Success we shared Gary Keller, author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, six lies about success that keep us from living the One Thing:

  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big Is Bad

Don’t believe multitasking is a lie?

Would you drive your vehicle and text on your phone?  Of course not!  This is an extreme or bad example of multi-tasking, isn’t it?  You probably don’t believe speaking on your phone is multitasking either.

In 2009, New York Times reporter Matt Richtel earned a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting with a series of articles (“Driven to Distraction”) on the dangers of driving while texting or using cell phones. He found that distracted driving is responsible for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities and nearly half a million injuries annually. Even an idle phone conversation when driving takes a 40 percent bite out of your focus, and, surprisingly, can have the same effect as being drunk.

This evidence is so compelling, that many states and municipalities outlaw cell phone use while driving. This makes sense. Though some of us at times have been guilty, we’d never condone it for our teenage kids. All it takes is a text message to turn the family SUV into a deadly, two-ton battering ram. Multitasking can cause more than one type of wreck.

Multitasking & Attention.pngIf you don’t believe multitasking is an issue, consider this: Workers who use computers during the day change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour.

Being in a distractible setting sets us up to be more distracted. Or maybe it’s the high. Media multitaskers actually experience a thrill with switching—a burst of dopamine—that can be addictive. Without it, they can feel bored. For whatever the reason, the results are unambiguous: multitasking slows us down and makes us ‘slower witted’.

Is this the explanation for why you find most of your co-workers so dull and simple?

In the book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan, they provide this research example to further underscore the unproductivity of multitasking:

In the summer of 2009, Clifford Nass set out to answer just that. His mission? To find out how well so-called multitaskers multitasked. Nass, a professor at Stanford University, told the New York Times that he had been “in awe” of multitaskers and deemed himself to be a poor one. So he and his team of researchers gave 262 students questionnaires to determine how often they multitasked. They divided their test subjects into two groups of high and low multitaskers and began with the presumption that the frequent multitaskers would perform better. They were wrong. “I was sure they had some secret ability” said Nass. “But it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.” They were outperformed on every measure. Although they’d convinced themselves and the world that they were great at it, there was just one problem. To quote Nass, “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”

Multitasking is a lie.

It’s a lie because nearly everyone accepts it as an effective thing to do. It’s become so mainstream that people actually think it’s something they should do, and do as often as possible. We not only hear talk about doing it, we even hear talk about getting better at it. More than six million webpages offer answers on how to do it, and career websites list “multitasking” as a skill for employers to target and for prospective hires to list as a strength. Some have gone so far as to be proud of their supposed skill and have adopted it as a way of life. But it’s actually a “way of lie,” for the truth is, multitasking is neither efficient nor effective. In the world of results, it will fail you every time.

“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” —Steve Uzzell

When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. If you think multitasking is an effective way to get more done, you’ve got it backwards. It’s an effective way to get less done.

Keller ends each chapter in One Thing with BIG IDEAS to sum up the chapter.  Here are his three from chapter 5 Multitasking:

  1. Distraction is natural. Don’t feel bad when you get distracted. Everyone gets distracted.
  2. Multitasking takes a toll. At home or at work, distractions lead to poor choices, painful mistakes, and unnecessary stress.
  3. Distraction undermines results. When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.

In order to be able to put the principle of The ONE Thing to work, you can’t buy into the lie that trying to do two things at once is a good idea. Though multitasking is sometimes possible, it’s never possible to do it effectively.

As a Gazelles Coach, Positioning Systems’ Strategic Discipline make us experts helping mid-sized($5M - $250M) business Scale-UP. We’ll help you discover your business’ One Thing!  Are you avoiding a conversation with yourself on how you can grow your business? Contact for expert help to Scale Up your business!  Or take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

Less Multitask = More Productive.jpgNext Blog – Multitasking Reduces Your Productivity

Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”  Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness. We’ll share why this is and how you can prevent it next blog.

Topics: productivity, Multi-tasking, The One Thing

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Doug Wick, President

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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